The Hanlon Years

News subtitle

Through a decade of change, Dartmouth’s president bolstered academics, global standing.

Philip Hanlon
Philip J. Hanlon ’77, who has been president of Dartmouth since 2013, plans to step down next year. (Photo by Robert Gill)

President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 has announced plans to retire at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year—a full decade after his inauguration in 2013 as the 18th president in Dartmouth’s Wheelock Succession.

“As the vision I set forth almost 10 years ago becomes reality, the time is right to pass the torch,” President Hanlon wrote in a message to the community on Tuesday, relaying what he told the Dartmouth Board of Trustees at their meeting on Friday. “It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve Dartmouth, an institution that did so much to transform my life when I was a student here in the 1970s.”

Hanlon told the board he intends to spend the next 17 months working on meeting the financial aid goals set by the Call to Lead campaign, launching plans to modernize and expand the Hopkins Center for the Arts, and preparing the institution for a smooth leadership transition.

“President Hanlon leaves a legacy that will be felt generations from now,” says Trustee Chair Elizabeth Cahill Lempres ’83, Th’84. “From day one, Phil understood that institutional progress takes both innovation and the conscious cultivation of what already makes Dartmouth strong—from our core infrastructure to our talented and diverse community. Because of that dual vision, Dartmouth has been able to adapt and thrive through some of the most challenging times in its recent history. On behalf of the board and the entire Dartmouth community, I am profoundly grateful.”

Origins and an Early Inspiration

The son of a physician and a teacher, Phil Hanlon first came to Hanover in 1973 from Gouverneur, N.Y., a small town near the Canadian border.

He wasn’t an immediate academic success at Dartmouth (“English 5” with Donald Pease, now the Ted and Helen Geisel Third Century Professor in the Humanities, was particularly challenging, he told Dartmouth Alumni Magazine in 2013), but he soon found his stride as a math major. A probability course taught by then-President John Kemeny became an early inspiration for his career as both a mathematician and a Dartmouth president who always found time to teach.

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, Hanlon went on to earn his PhD from the California Institute of Technology and took a job teaching at MIT. Around that time, Alpha Delta fraternity brother Bill Gentes ’77 introduced him to his sister, a returned Peace Corps volunteer who was earning her MBA at Boston University. Gail Gentes and Hanlon were married two years later.

President Philip J. Hanlon '77 and Gail Gentes
“Gail and I are profoundly grateful that you welcomed us both with open arms,” President Hanlon wrote in his announcement Tuesday. (Photo by Robert Gill)

The couple followed Hanlon’s academic career around the country, moving first back to CalTech, then to the University of Michigan, where Hanlon received tenure as he helped grow the burgeoning field of algebraic combinatorics.

Over more than two decades, Hanlon took on increasing administrative responsibility at Michigan. He was serving as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs when the Dartmouth Board of Trustees tapped him to return to Hanover to lead his alma mater.

Steady Leadership in Challenging Times

The Hanlon era has been one of steady leadership through often-tumultuous times for the world, higher education in general, and for Dartmouth. The COVID-19 pandemic, economic and political upheavals, the climate crisis, and a social justice reckoning continue to leave their stamp on the institution as much as any presidential initiative.

Despite these challenges, Hanlon has presided over the most significant advance in academic excellence Dartmouth has seen in decades. Hanlon has also overseen Dartmouth’s increasingly important presence on the world stage, a dramatic increase in diversity on campus, and a strengthened campus culture and student experience.

Not least of all, under Hanlon’s leadership, Dartmouth has regained the firm financial footing that will ensure its dynamic future.

Advancing Academic Excellence

Early in his presidency, Hanlon set his sights on raising Dartmouth’s profile as a center of academic excellence. And by every measure—the number and caliber of student applications, the success of faculty and staff recruitment, the expanding institutional commitment to research, and Dartmouth’s increased international stature—this effort has paid off.

On the student front, undergraduate applications have increased 26% since 2013 to a record high of more than 28,300 last year. The admissions yield—the number of admitted students who decide to come to Dartmouth—has grown from almost 48% in 2013, for the Class of 2017, to more than 73% in 2021, for the Class of 2025. The number of enrolling students who graduated in the top 10% of their high school classes rose from 90% to 95%. In short, Dartmouth has become both significantly more popular among and more selective of prospective students.

Philip J. Hanlon at a community barbecue
President Hanlon serving veggie burgers at a recent community luncheon. (Photo by Robert Gill)

At the same time, investments in faculty have helped keep Dartmouth’s recruitment and retention of world-class scholars competitive among its peers. Annual research spending has grown by more than 50% since 2013.

Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives Barbara Will says Hanlon has been especially committed to supporting scholars early in their careers, citing a 2019 gift from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation that bolstered the Burke Research Initiative, which awards research grants to junior faculty. Will herself was the recipient of such a grant at the beginning of her academic career.

“It takes a far-sighted leader to recognize that early-career funding for research is a shot in the arm for new scholars that can pay dividends throughout a career,” says Will, who is the A. and R. Newbury Professor of English. “Phil understands that for Dartmouth to succeed, we need to cultivate the faculty of the future.”

Hanlon also helped shepherd two important markers of Dartmouth’s stature as a research and scholarship powerhouse. First, in 2018, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education reinstated Dartmouth as an R1 university—a ranking given to the nation’s leading research institutions.

Then, in 2019, Dartmouth was elected to the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 65 of America’s leading public and private research universities—including all of Dartmouth’s Ivy League peers—that collectively help shape higher education policy, promote best practices, and amplify members’ contributions to American society.

“This is a great day for Dartmouth,” Hanlon said when the AAU membership was announced, calling the news “an affirmation from our peers that we are delivering on a scholar-teacher model that provides extraordinary learning experiences for all of our students while producing research that is expanding the boundaries of knowledge and solving some of the most pressing challenges of our time.”

Duke University President Vincent Price visited Dartmouth in October 2019, heading an evaluation team assembled by the New England Commission on Higher Education, the organization that reviews Dartmouth’s accreditation every 10 years. The commission reaccredited Dartmouth in March 2020.

“President Hanlon’s focus on elevating the already high quality of Dartmouth’s liberal arts education, while building on the institution’s long and distinguished history in graduate and professional education, was clear from the moment I met with him,” says Price. “As a committee, we were especially impressed by a deep commitment to the teacher-scholar model and the success during Phil’s tenure of recruiting and retaining world-class researchers with a passion for teaching. Dartmouth’s decade of accomplishment is a testament to Phil’s prioritizing of academic excellence and is a credit to his strategic vision.”

Elevating Dartmouth’s Impact in the World

One of Hanlon’s most ambitious goals has been to place Dartmouth at the center of tackling some of the world’s greatest problems.

Two early initiatives set the tone for the Hanlon administration: the establishment of nine academic clusters, cross-institutional centers of expertise organized around critical interdisciplinary problems; and the creation of the Society of Fellows, which brings an influx of leading postdoctoral fellows to campus, with new ideas, international perspectives, and intellectual engagement across disciplines.

The academic clusters have hired 30 new faculty members to study the impact of the climate crisis on the Arctic, digital humanities, cybersecurity, globalization, the neural code, health care delivery, cystic fibrosis treatment, computational science, and decision science.

Hanlon has also overseen the creation or expansion of academic centers and institutes, including the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy in Society, the Susan and James Wright Center for the Study of Computation and Just Communities, the Initiative for Global Security at the Dickey Center for International Understanding, and the Byrne Family Cancer Research Institute at Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

And in 2018, the trustees announced the establishment of the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies—the first new school established at Dartmouth in more than a century.

For two years, beginning in 2017, Hanlon chaired the Matariki Network of Universities, a seven-member consortium of leading international institutions of higher learning. Dartmouth is the only U.S. university in the network.

Expanding Access to the Dartmouth Experience

Earlier this month, Dartmouth announced a major gift that expands its longstanding need-blind admissions policy to include international students, who make up a record 14% of the current first-year class—up from 8.5% when Hanlon took office. Dartmouth is now one of only six institutions in the United States to admit all students, regardless of citizenship status, without considering their families’ economic circumstances or the level of scholarship required.

The announcement is the latest in a series of measures Hanlon has overseen in recent years to ensure that the best students from every corner of the globe and all socioeconomic strata can not only attend Dartmouth, but thrive here.

To that end, Hanlon has made financial aid a cornerstone priority for the Call to Lead campaign. Among other financial-aid initiatives recently announced: Undergraduates from families earning $125,000 or less are no longer offered federal loans as part of Dartmouth’s financial aid award, and families making below $65,000 annually no longer need to make a parental contribution toward educational costs.

And Dartmouth now provides scholarship support to all financial-aid students participating in off-campus programs in the U.S. and abroad. The annual financial aid budget has grown 59%—from $85 million in fiscal year 2015 to $135 million this year—a period that saw the smallest rate of tuition increase since the 1950s. Before he leaves, Hanlon would like to raise funding to allow Dartmouth to remove loans from all financial aid packages.

The campus community is more diverse and global than ever. Some 40% of U.S. citizens and permanent residents in the undergraduate Class of 2025 identify as students of color, including students from 38 federally recognized tribal nations and other Indigenous groups across North America. Among the Class of ’25, a record 15% are the first generation in their families to attend college. Dartmouth’s First-Generation Office was established this past summer to institutionalize support for first-generation and low-income students on campus.

Among faculty across the institution, 24% identify as people of color, up from 17.5% a decade ago, and the deans of the graduate and professional schools have committed to a cohort hiring initiative that will create 15 new faculty lines for scholars of racial injustice, systemic racism, and institutional equity.

Alumni have stepped up to support Dartmouth’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts including through a $10 million gift to establish 10 scholarships in honor of alumni trailblazers from underrepresented groups and a $20 million gift to enhance the representation, success, and leadership of historically underrepresented groups in STEM, named for E.E. Just, Class of 1907.

Building a Resilient Community

A hallmark of Hanlon’s legacy has been the effort to make Dartmouth a community in which every member feels included, supported, and safe.

To that end, he has overseen the launch of three major campus climate initiatives: Moving Dartmouth Forward, an effort to prevent high-risk behavior; Inclusive Excellence, which seeks to increase diversity, equity, and inclusivity among faculty, staff, and students; and the Campus Climate and Culture Initiative, aimed at creating a learning environment free from sexual harassment and the abuse of power.

These initiatives have transformed every facet of community life, establishing a house community system that gives every undergraduate a community to belong to within the greater Dartmouth campus, setting guidelines for hiring from broader pools of talent, creating uniform policies and procedures around sexual violence, and much more.

In addition, Hanlon has elevated the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity to the Office of the President and appointed an inaugural senior vice president and senior diversity officer.

Campus Renewal

Hanlon’s presidency has also seen major investments in facilities integral to the academic and student experience—investments that will shape life on campus for generations to come.

Two major anchor buildings have gone up on the West End of campus: the Center for Engineering and Computer Science and the Irving Institute. The Hood Museum of Art has been thoroughly renovated and expanded, and Anonymous Hall—home of the Guarini School—opened on the former site of Dana Hall.

Hood Museum at Dartmouth College
President Hanlon’s tenure saw the renovation and expansion of the Hood Museum of Art. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Dartmouth Hall is being renovated, as is the Tuck School of Business’s Murdough Hall. Plans are underway for the renovation and renewal of the Hopkins Center for the Arts.

Hanlon’s tenure has also seen the construction of the Graham Indoor Practice Facility for varsity athletes, a new boathouse, and the reconstruction of the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge and the Dartmouth Outing Club House.

To ensure that Dartmouth can adequately budget for ongoing building maintenance costs and necessary infrastructure improvements, Hanlon established an innovative infrastructure renewal fund. The fund pools 0.5% of endowment returns toward investments in the long-term life of Dartmouth’s facilities—from upgrades of energy and IT systems to renovations of aging academic and residence halls.

“We proceeded carefully and deliberately as we assessed using the endowment in this way,” Hanlon said at the time of the announcement. “Ultimately, we concluded that it is appropriate for future generations to bear some of the cost of these enduring, mission-enabling infrastructure projects as they will support tomorrow’s community members as well as today’s.”

Financial Sustainability

From the beginning of his term, Hanlon was determined that Dartmouth’s spending priorities should align with its teaching and research mission and reward innovation. He implemented a rigorous internal budget reallocation process that closed deficits while allowing the institution to be nimble in investing in major improvements in infrastructure, academics, and financial aid.

The result: Dartmouth’s long-range budget projections are in the black for the first time since 2013—a testament to Hanlon’s fiscal discipline and strategic focus.

During Hanlon’s tenure, Dartmouth’s endowment has more than doubled, from $3.75 billion in 2013 to $8.5 billion in 2021, the result of strong fundraising performance and wise investment decisions.

Another measure of Hanlon’s financial acumen is the support from alumni, family, and friends whose annual gifts to Dartmouth have more than doubled during Hanlon’s presidency.

More than 90,000 contributors have invested in Dartmouth’s mission and its future through The Call to Lead campaign, which has raised more than $3 billion for programs, facilities, and financial aid—more than 2.5 times as much as any fundraising effort in Dartmouth’s history. Successfully completing the Call to Lead is among the goals Hanlon has set for the final year of his presidency.

Setting the Stage for Dartmouth’s 19th President

In his message to the community this week, President Hanlon wrote, “Gail and I are profoundly grateful that you welcomed us both with open arms.”

Of serving as president, he said that the opportunity to engage with Dartmouth students stands out as the most personally meaningful part of his tenure.

“It is a privilege to personally greet every matriculating first year undergraduate student as they begin their college career and to salute every graduate up to and including our PhDs as they set forth into the world strengthened by what they learned and accomplished at Dartmouth,” he wrote.

As for Dartmouth’s next president, Hanlon said, “I am committed to supporting that person through a smooth leadership transition while we continue the important work that lies ahead.”

President Philip J. Hanlon '77 at Dartmouth commencement
President Hanlon addressing the Class of 2019 at commencement. (Photo by Robert Gill)
Hannah Silverstein