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Four Years: We’ve Had Our Phil
Today is the fourth anniversary of Phil’s arrival in Hanover. And how’s the Age of Hanlon going? Well, we have no Dean of the Faculty, a soon-to-be-gone Provost, a dead-as-a-doornail capital campaign, and a house system that was expensive and is of little value. Although in some ways Phil is an out-of-touch-with-reality, Homer Simpson-like figure, there is an arrogance there, too, one that keeps him aloof from the people who might help him deal with his many weaknesses. To distort Churchill on Clement Atlee: Phil is not a modest man, even though he has much to be modest about. How long will everyone put up with the guy? If the Trustees ran the College with the rigor they impose in the real world in their own endeavors, Phil and Carolyn would have been given the boot ages ago.
Let’s take a look at a few specific parameters in measuring Phil’s productiveness, or lack thereof, as our President:
Hiring: A leader of a large organization must have a nose for talent. You can’t do it all by yourself. But look at Phil’s picks: Carolyn Dever, Bob Lasher, Bruce Duthu, James Tengatenga, Rebecca Biron, Inge-lise Ameer, Denise Anthony, and on and on. The only non-disasters are EVP of Finance Rick Mills, who was chosen independently by a search committee (Phil was not interested in that choice — a sign of his lack of organizational understanding), and Admissions Dean Lee Coffin, who is too new in town to merit review.
Fundraising: Four years in and the capital campaign limps along. No formal announcement is in the offing, and the quiet phase is, as they used to say in Western movies, too quiet. But then Phil doesn’t set a room alight with his presence (attendance at dinners for big donors is often well below expectations), and the news about twenty years of mismanagement at the College has made it to the donor class. There was hope a few years ago that Phil might turn things around, but people now see that it’s more of the same. Beyond that point, Phil’s ongoing infatuation with Bob Lasher runs counter to everyone else’s attitude towards a manager who is well beyond his level of incompetence.
Problem Solving: Moldering dorms and academic buildings, underpaid faculty, silly parking policies, a compressed calendar due the huge winter break, and other similar problems are issues that Phil has not tackled, even though they could be solved by Presidential fiat. Not only would solutions make Dartmouth a better place, they’d earn him political capital with the faculty that could be spent later when tough calls are required. But then Phil just doesn’t understand people.
Cost-Cutting: It now seems that there are $15-20 million of cuts on the horizon, i.e. over the next few years. But in the background is the continuous growth of the bureaucracy under Phil: +63 new non-Geisel staffers in 2016 alone — 172 new non-faculty staffers since he arrived. Of course, such profligacy has meant that tuition has risen each year by twice or more the rate of inflation, despite Phil’s early assertions that superinflationary increases are unsustainable.
The Bully Pulpit: Phil has been wan at best in taking a stand on the moral issues of the day. There have been occasional thin e-mails following embarrassing campus events, but our leader chose to cancel Convocation, formerly a serious moment where students were encouraged in the presence of the robed faculty to reflect on their education and the upcoming academic year. Given the various issues (free speech, BLM, diversity, the nature of truth in the news) roiling campuses and the nation, Phil could set a theme for the College, as predecessor Presidents have done. Is he bereft of ideas? Listen to him talk and then you can answer that question yourself.
The Faculty: Phil and his Provost both started off on the wrong foot vis à vis the faculty. Neither made the rounds of department meetings to introduce themselves and listen to faculty concerns, nor do they meet with any regularity with faculty members high and low. In fact, Phil and Carolyn have succeeded in giving the College’s professors the sense that they believe that most people in Hanover are rubes and second-raters. Dartblog’s Guide to the Stars was created after several professors asked for our help in educating Phil and Carolyn about the faculty’s many and varied achievements.
Work Product: From forgetting or mistaking the names of donors, and leaving correspondence unanswered, to being unprepared for meetings, it is clear that Phil does not do his homework. At an Ivy school where preparation and precision are admired, our President comes across as sloppy and uncaring.
The Human Touch: Great leaders must connect on an emotional level with the people that they hope to manage and direct. And Phil? Geez. Abbey D’Agostino ‘14 was the inspiration of the Rio Olympics and Kyle Hendricks ‘12 pitched in the World Series (he started the seventh game!), and yet Phil could not tell us how proud he was of these young alumni — thereby indicating how proud he is of all the College’s students. As E. M. Forster wrote, “Only connect!” Does anyone feel a connection with Phil Hanlon?
Originality: An energy institute, diversity and inclusiveness, cluster hires, a house system, growing the size of the student body, diversity and inclusiveness, kowtowing to every underrepresented minority demand no matter how petty, prestige research, diversity and inclusiveness — is it too much to ask that Phil do something that had not been done a hundred times at other schools. Analysts can only pick from things that have already been done elsewhere. For an annual salary of $1.2 million, might we expect something original from our President.
Tenure Evaluations: The only positive evaluation that I hear of Phil is his rigor in determining who merits tenure (a critical issue, given that Jim Wright handed out tenure like bonbons to a whole generation of professors who are stuck at the Associate Professor level, and who are also stuck in Hanover for the duration because no other school will have them). Demanding the best of faculty, and turning down professors who don’t rate tenure at the College can be politically difficult — but Phil has stayed the course. Good for him.
Conclusion: As we enter Year 5 of Phil’s time in Hanover, let’s hope that it will be his last. The College is floundering and morale is low — the evident outcome when an institution has no leadership. If the Trustees took their responsibilities seriously, they would make a change. Call it a health issue or something, but get us a President who will work with dispatch to make Dartmouth a better school.
Addendum: A senior member of the faculty writes in:
Good assessment of Phil Hanlon’s four years. The unflattering Homer Simpson analogy is spot on. Thanks, Joe! It is a sorry state of affairs, and your piece is a perceptive reading of the facts.
You paraphrased Churchill. If you permit me to paraphrase Trump about Jeb Bush: Phil is low energy.
I also wonder to what extent his bad appointments are less a reflection of incompetence than an obsession with hiring other than white men. Wherever one perceives the needle to point between incompetence and reverse discrimination, it is not presidential.
Addendum: An alumnus shared a missive that he wrote to a Dartmouth College Fund fundraiser in response to a College solicitation:
Last year was the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Tuck school, one year after my A.B. from Dartmouth. I had an extended conversation with the Tuck classmate responsible for promoting attendance at the reunion. Like me, he was an alumnus of the College; he was contacting that half (roughly) of our Tuck class who had attended both schools.
He made a comment in connection with charitable giving (I paraphrase): “All of my money goes to Tuck; the College has gone so far off the rails over the years that no donation can be merited or justified.”
In our day (uh, oh—trigger warning), Dartmouth and her alumni prided themselves on the nation-leading percentage of graduates (66%) who participated in the annual alumni fund. halcyon days! I understand that the number is now less than 50%. Do you, or anyone in the Hanover fundraising leviathan, ever wonder why? This is not a function of declining loyalty, only of sadness at our beloved school’s decline.
Note: Alumni giving at Tuck is still in the 70% range, leading all business schools.
Addendum: Another alum, a close observer of the College, writes in:
Thanks for your honest assessment of Phil today. I couldn’t agree more. At best, it’s been an uninspiring four years. The Trustees can no longer turn a blind eye to his deficiencies. If Carolyn is on her way out as Provost, maybe they can find the next president to fill that spot on a temporary basis while allowing Phil to exit gracefully. I had always assumed that we were stuck with Phil for a minimum of 7 years to save face, but I don’t think the College can endure another few years of such lackluster leadership and misdirection.
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