Trustees Determine This Year’s Strategic Priorities

News subtitle

The board will focus on campus climate and positioning Dartmouth for the future.

Dartmouth Hall cupola and weathervane
(Photo by Eli Burakian ’00) 

The Dartmouth Board of Trustees held its first meeting of the academic year with a focus on two issues of strategic importance to the institution—developing a more welcoming and inclusive campus environment and considering how to position Dartmouth for enduring success into the future in the rapidly changing higher education landscape.

As was the case in June, the meetings on Sept. 10-11 were held via Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This was not a typical summer break,” President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 told the board at the beginning of the meeting. Staff and faculty have worked hard throughout the summer to plan for the return of students to campus for fall term, he said. The vast majority of Dartmouth students have been away from campus since March due to the health risks associated with the pandemic as spring and summer terms were conducted remotely.

“The return of half of the undergraduates, who join more than 1,000 graduates and professional students on campus for fall term, made for the best week at Dartmouth in months,” said President Hanlon. “The students are excited to be here and we are all energized by their return. We look forward to working together as a community to support the learning and education of all students, whether in residence or remotely. We are all in this together and we will get through it together.”

Strategic Priorities for Trustees, Senior Leaders

During previous meetings, the board had identified the two areas of strategic focus for the year ahead. There was unanimity that if Dartmouth is to continue to thrive, creating a more welcoming and inclusive campus is essential. Relatedly, given the changing demographics of incoming students and the skill sets necessary to succeed in an increasingly globally connected world where critical thinking, creativity, and communicating across difference will be key, Dartmouth’s positioning within the future landscape of higher education is equally important.

“In the year ahead, we will focus on building a strong foundation for Dartmouth’s future,” said trustee Chair Laurel Richie ’81. “We look forward to partnering with the president and his team and engaging the community in the mission-critical work to create a more inclusive campus culture and strengthen our academic profile. The current financial crisis is a stark reminder that these priorities must be supported by a sustainable business model.”

Richie said the focus on campus culture will result in greater visibility and accountability. The board will make certain that ongoing initiatives such as Moving Dartmouth ForwardInclusive Excellence, and the Campus Climate and Culture Initiative are effective and organized in the most efficient manner. Board members will bring additional accountability, measure the effectiveness of the efforts, recommend new actions, enhance effective existing actions, and eliminate work that is not of value to the institution.

In a discussion on the second priority—Dartmouth’s future and its place in higher education—board members agreed to examine what choices and changes need to be made in order for the institution to continue to deliver an academic experience that ensures Dartmouth’s continued leadership in education in a manner that is financially sustainable. The board’s undertaking dovetails with senior leadership’s work on the Dartmouth Budget Project, which was launched in November 2019 to ensure the institution has a solid financial footing in the decades ahead. The work has gained urgency since the COVID-19 outbreak, Senior Vice President Rick Mills told trustees.

As part of their work with senior leaders to develop a vision and direction for the future of the institution, trustees will consider questions including what students and their families, research sponsors, and employers need and want from Dartmouth; what essential services Dartmouth should provide and what services and activities the institution no longer needs to provide; and what key considerations should be used in shaping the institution’s future.

Board members enthusiastically agreed to work on the two priorities and will create workings groups on the topics. The groups will be composed of trustees and members of Hanlon’s leadership team.

Professional Schools: One Dartmouth

Deans of the professional schools presented to the board on the opportunities and challenges ahead as they offered their vision for the future and discussed what distinguishes their programs within higher education. Each highlighted an interdisciplinary culture that exists at Dartmouth and the ease with which the schools can and do collaborate. Likewise, Dartmouth’s scale figured in each presentation as an opportunity to be leveraged and a challenge to be navigated. That size and culture, for example, promotes an amount of interaction among the professional schools and between the schools and undergraduates that is rare in higher education.

Geisel Dean Duane Compton said the medical school is hitting its stride six years after a major strategic reorganization and is more focused than ever on emphasizing its dual mission of teaching and research. Compton noted that since the reorganization, Geisel has thoroughly aligned its budget to prioritize activity critical to its mission. One component of the reorganization was the creation of a Department of Medical Education, which is designed to enhance the student experience and advance medical education research.

Compton said that the average scores for Geisel students on the first step of multi-step licensing exams are the school’s highest ever. He emphasized the success of the Geisel faculty in bringing in research grants and pointed out the importance of extramural research funding to support the research mission. Compton stressed the challenge of increasing faculty and staff diversity, and pointed out that for a decade, the medical school’s classes have been about 60% female, at the same time as women make up about 50% of the pool of medical student applicants.

Compton also applauded how the Geisel faculty have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic through research and patient care.

Thayer Dean Alexis Abramson highlighted Thayer’s focus on human-centered engineering as a bridge between technology and humanity, the result of the school’s integration with the liberal arts. The Center for Engineering and Computer Science, now under construction on the West End of campus, will allow Thayer to increase the size of its faculty, offer additional courses dedicated to design and experiential learning, and open new research laboratories.

Like Compton, Abramson explained that Thayer would benefit from additional sponsored-research funding as a result of the expansion. She said the school is known for its entrepreneurial focus, with more than half the faculty having started companies, and for Thayer’s ability to attract women, as evidenced by its standing as the first U.S. research institution to graduate a majority-female engineering class in 2016. Unlike many engineering schools, Thayer attracts faculty who want to be in the classroom with undergraduates and conduct world-class research, Abramson said. “Faculty choose to work at Thayer because they embrace the commitment to impact our students and the world.”

Tuck Dean Matt Slaughter emphasized the school’s strategic goal of offering the best full-time MBA experience in the world, guided by the core values of offering each student a personal, connected, and transformative experience. Slaughter discussed how tomorrow’s learners and the organizations that recruit them continue to value the rigor and teamwork that distinguish Tuck—and continue to value how the school is bridging out to the world through technology and offerings such as TuckGO.

At the same time, the school is refining and growing its One Dartmouth programs—including the hybrid Master of Health Care Delivery Science program with Geisel, and its new undergraduate offering TuckLAB, a partnership with the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship that provides business skills to Dartmouth liberal arts undergraduates. In support of Tuck’s strategic intent, Slaughter discussed the school’s investment initiatives, such as pushing educational frontiers and building careers for today and tomorrow.

The board will hear presentations on the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences its next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 5-7.

COVID-19 Planning and Preparation

Provost Joseph Helble briefed board members on COVID-19 testing and the planning that has taken place in order to bring students back to campus. He underscored both the overall number of tests administered to undergraduates, graduate, and professional students, faculty, and staff in the recent weeks and the relatively low number of positive tests. Since the end of August, Dartmouth has administered almost 4,400 tests to just under 3,350 people (some people have been tested more than once). Two people have tested positive for the virus, 53 are currently in quarantine, and seven are in isolation.

(Those in quarantine have not tested positive but have been identified as having close contact with someone who has the virus, or they are required to be in quarantine due to travel. Those in isolation have symptoms of the virus and are awaiting test results, or they have tested positive and may or may not have virus symptoms. Dartmouth is currently using less than 1% of the 550 beds it has available for quarantine and isolation.)

Helble said Dartmouth’s experience so far is similar to small peer institutions in rural settings that have comprehensive testing and quarantine procedures in place and have also experienced very low numbers of students testing positive for the virus. If there continue to be few cases of the virus in the coming weeks, Helble said he’s hopeful that there can be more opportunity for engagement among students, faculty, and staff later in the term.

Also Noted

Helble told board members about the imaginative plans by centers and institutes on campus to create online events and activities for members of the Dartmouth community and for residents of the Upper Valley and beyond. The Hopkins Center for the Arts will host online conversations with comedian Trevor Noah on Sept. 22 and CNN anchor Jake Tapper ’91 on Sept. 24. The Hood Museum of Art has created a “Virtual Conversations and Connections” series that on Sept. 16 will feature a talk about three artists whose innovative works began with a problem.

The board meeting marked the first session for new members Susan Finegan ’85, Odette Harris ’91, and Gregg Lemkau ’91, who are serving as alumni trustees; and Susan Huang ’84, a charter trustee. Their terms began on July 1.

Board members paid tribute to James Jackson, a charter trustee and scholar on the impact of race on life development. Jackson, who was the Daniel Katz Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, at the University of Michigan, died on Sept. 1. Appointed to a second term on the board earlier this year, Jackson was the first trustee who had not graduated from Dartmouth, and had been adopted as a member of the Class of 1966.

Susan J. Boutwell can be reached at

Susan J. Boutwell