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Capital Campaign: All That For This?

After three or four years of the administration bruiting about a capital campaign of between $2.5 and 3.0 $billion, alumni class leaders are now being told that the goal will be only $2.0-$2.4 billion. The big announcement will come next month, just short of the fifth anniversary of Phil Hanlon’s arrival in Hanover. Oh, Phil.

Given that Jim Wright’s big fundraising effort, the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience, which was announced in 2004, had a goal of $1.3 billion, and inflation over the intervening fourteen years has been about 34%, that’s a modest increase, indeed — especially given that the Dow Jones was at 10,500 or so in November 2004, and today it stands at about two and a half times that figure. Big bucks have been made, but clearly no one expects many of them to come to Hanover.

The official name of the campaign will be “A Call to Lead,” a title that has no little irony to it, given the absence of effective leadership at the College today. Fundraising will last until 2022. Here are the stated goals:

1. Teacher-Scholar Model ($500mm): investing in the faculty — teachers and undergraduate research

2. West End District ($450mm): where Computer Science and Engineering will
share space, ideas and learning while including Tuck

3. Art District: Hood renovations and Hop needs updating

4. Big Bets on Discovery: Focusing on what we are good at — Arctic Studies, A L
Irving Institute (energy) and Healthcare Delivery

5. School of Graduate and Advanced Studies: The College has had graduate
students since 1890. We need to invest in this group

6. Residential Communities: Bringing students together and giving them a
place to belong

7. Leadership through Experiential Learning: Student learning outside of the
classroom (i.e. Moosilauke, athletics, Rocky)

8. Financial Aid (DCF $420 mm): In order to stay competitive and get the best
and brightest to Dartmouth

Recall that the campaign’s numbers are all pretty soft. Way back in the day, a capital campaign means giving for capital expenditures — buildings and such — and figures did not include donations for operations, financial aid, and specifically targeted gifts like “Friends of [your favorite team here]” programs. These days every donation and eventual donation, even bequests that won’t come to fruition for many years, are thrown into the pot. Anything to plausibly help achieve the Big Goal.

I experienced this transition myself. For nine years I fully funded the Departmental Editing Program (DEP) salaries of three editors (nine years in Art History, seven years in Religion, and four years in Math). But I was told explicitly that my gifts would not count towards the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience — right up until I received a thank you note stating that I was one of 1,111 donors who had given more than $100,000 to the campaign — 85% of all donations. Seems like Jim Wright had trouble making his goal, too, so he swept everything possible into the campaign. And so it goes.

Addendum: These large numbers are not abstractions; they have real meaning. If Phil could raise an extra $100 million in his capital campaign, this money, if placed in the endowment, would throw off an extra $5.1 million or more each year forever. That figure is almost exactly equal to the $5.4 annually that the Committee on the Faculty estimated would be needed to bring Dartmouth faculty salaries in line with those of our peer institutions.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

Leading is fine, but do we despair of repair? Does ye olde “capital” campaign totally ignore the vast effort needed to rehab existing facilities?

Addendum: And another:

1. I firmly believe that administrators desperately want softly sketched goals. This means no accountability. Furthermore, as more money goes to the endowment, donors and accountability become even more irrelevant. Wait till you see what happens then…

2. The DCF and fundraising operation double count the hell out of giving, when it suits them… as was your experience.

Addendum: And yet another:

Well, it’s easy to nitpick, but can we think about “A Call to Lead” for a sec? A call for what or who to lead what or whom? For donors to lead the giving? For the College to lead the Ivies or the world? Or is the emphasis more on the “call”? A call to get donations? Theoretically (and hopefully, in the case of our apparently depleted Development office), such campaign names are vetted and tested, because it’s the results that count.

If “A Call to Pickles” tests best, then so be it. But the most successful names of any type of campaign have a specific action and a specific target, e.g., Moving (better: Move) Dartmouth Forward, Make America Great. Build Dartmouth’s Future? Ironically, though, the more nebulous the desired outcome, the greater the prospects, because this erects a bigger tent for the various reasons that would cause donors to contribute. Let’s hope it’s successful, but “A Call to Lead” is just sort of meh—a passive, mediocre moniker at best.

Addendum: And yet another:

Many are to blame for the degradation of Dartmouth: surely Freedman, Wright, Kim, Hanlon and their fellow travelers. But even more blameworthy are the Trustees, faculty and alumni who enabled, hired, supervised, approved of, cheered on and financially supported the foolishness for over three decades.

Notwithstanding more than three decades of regression and failure, there are amongst us a group of people who still wish financially to enable, support and contribute to the ongoing foolishness and degradation.

Money has now become the problem, not the solution. Until the money dries up, the degradation and foolishness will continue.


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