President Sian Leah Beilock’s Inaugural Address

News subtitle

Sian Leah Beilock delivered her inaugural address as Dartmouth’s 19th president.

Sian Leah Beilock speaking at her Inauguration
Watch the complete Inauguration ceremony from Sept. 22, 2023.  

What a sight!

To be looking out across this green at new colleagues, all of whom have distinguished themselves in their own right…

students who inspire me with their boundless imaginations and entrust us with nurturing their passions and ideas…

Trustees who put their faith in me to lead this great institution…

alumni who are undying in their devotion to their alma mater and to each other….

academic leaders who have traveled far and wide from their respective institutions to join this celebration, deep in these North Woods…

Governor Sununu and the distinguished elected officials who serve and represent the great State of New Hampshire, the United States and the Town of Hanover…

Presidents Emeriti Kim and Hanlon, whose shoulders I stand on in this moment as the 19th President—and proudly the first woman—in a distinguished line known as the Wheelock succession…

and the friends, family members and mentors who have so profoundly influenced my life and career….

This is a moment I want to last forever. So indulge me if I take a minute to capture it all with a .5 right now.

Honestly, I think the only thing that could possibly make this moment any sweeter is if this podium were the storied tree stump. But alas, I’m told it’s reserved exclusively for Commencement.

Something to look forward to.

It’s difficult to be standing here, overlooking the Connecticut River, between the White and Green Mountains and just feet from the Appalachian Trail, without appreciating the perspective afforded by this special place.

Indeed, so many different perspectives have shaped my introduction to Dartmouth.

Perspectives of the Dartmouth community, yes, but also perspectives informed by where we are as a society and by this very specific moment in higher education.

For centuries, higher education has been the epicenter of new knowledge creation.…in large part because of the unparalleled freedom we have to pursue new frontiers.

Unlike industry, often constrained by constant pressures associated with profitability….or government, where partisanship can sometimes impede progress, institutions of higher ed are unique in their ability to break new ground across the full spectrum of disciplines…This is our calling. It’s a responsibility we feel deeply because the betterment of society depends on it.

We don’t have to look far, or even beyond the Hanover plain, to find examples of academic discoveries that have improved the human condition. It was right here, at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, where structural biologist Jason Mc-Lell-an conducted the research on spike proteins that sparked the successful development of the COVID-19 vaccines estimated to have saved more than three million lives.

Even still, we find the public questioning our value and the foundational premise of the academy as a place of innovation and knowledge creation. 

A recent Gallup survey found that Americans’ confidence in higher education has fallen to an all-time low of 36%. 

Even Dartmouth isn’t immune.

Although President Dickey and others who came before me focused outward in so many ways, we are still often accused of being in an Ivory (or Ivy) Tower, with a perceived elitism in which our only focus is inward. Even those within our community haven’t always felt welcome. It’s no secret that Dartmouth has an imperfect past when it comes to including people of different races, faiths and—something I am acutely aware of—women.

But, our histories fuel us to do better. And we must. 

The complex problems facing the world today demand urgent, sophisticated solutions, making our push for discovery and breakthrough innovation ever more vital. These problems also need leaders who have an understanding of the human condition, of history, and of the value of interpersonal relationships. Leaders who know how to work effectively with individuals and governments and businesses to encode innovations into societal and planetary impact.

Discovery and leadership are timeless in Dartmouth’s mission, that is true. But today, at Dartmouth, we commit to that dual mission in new ways that will drive impact faster and farther than ever before.

My proposal is that we approach this work, systematically, through five key areas of focus. 

Two of these areas are aimed at cultivating a campus full of healthy minds and brave souls eager to reap the benefit of the full diversity of our community. This is imperative.

The first is wellness. We know that anxiety, stress and depression, particularly among young people, are at an all-time high, having been exacerbated by the global pandemic. 

Fortunately, understanding how anxiety and stress play out in the brain and body has been the focus of my research for the past 20 years. What I’ve learned is that there are discrete steps we can take to better care for ourselves and others and that well-being is directly linked to academic achievement.

So, the single greatest service we can do for our students, our faculty, and our staff, is to support them on their wellness journeys.

In the next two weeks, we will be rolling out a comprehensive plan to center mental health and well-being across the university. The plan is aimed at strengthening wellness among all our students—from first-years to the graduate and professional schools, enhancing their capacity for learning, and putting them on a path to realizing their full potential.

Just last week, we announced important policy changes that will enable students who take time away for care to stay connected to campus. We will also significantly expand mental health training for faculty and staff to enable them to better support students who come to them for help. This is just the beginning.

We are also actively working to alleviate one of the biggest sources of stress within our campus community: housing scarcity. Today, I’m pleased to announce the single largest investment in Dartmouth’s residential learning experience in more than a generation. Through it, we commit to introducing at least 1,000 new beds for undergraduate, graduate, staff, and faculty housing within the next decade and to breaking ground on the first of these projects for each population (with undergrad dorms situated closest to the heart of campus) within the next 24 months. 

Of course, the housing crisis we face isn’t limited to our campus. It pervades our entire Upper Valley community. So, we are doubling our investment in the Upper Valley Loan Fund, an effort that helps create affordable workforce housing. 

We are deeply committed to working with the Town of Hanover and our Upper Valley community partners as we undertake all of this work.

I also understand, very personally, that having access to quality childcare contributes to our ability to do our jobs well. Earlier this week, we announced that—for the first time ever—we will be providing all benefits-eligible Dartmouth employees with childcare subsidies. And we won’t stop there. Over the coming year, we will be partnering with Dartmouth Health and organizations across the Upper Valley to expand childcare options. 

Our holistic approach to wellness includes a renewed commitment to Athletic excellence, too. Eighty percent of undergraduates participate in varsity and club sports. That’s a great thing, because in addition to promoting a healthy lifestyle, sports imbues us with a healthy, competitive spirit. 

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a highly competitive person, and that competitiveness was born, in large part, out of my participation in sports. Even though my high-level athletic days are over, my competitiveness continues to motivate me to do and be my best.

But perhaps the greatest lesson in sport, which applies to every aspect of life, is that winning requires more than great talent. No one knew this better than Buddy Teevens, whose loss we feel so deeply today. A team can have the best players in the world, but if those players are unwilling or unable to work together effectively, winning will be out of reach. 

At Dartmouth, we are already making great strides in bringing the best and brightest to campus through historic investments in financial aid and recruitment of the best faculty.

Yet it’s how well we work together, and how freely we express and capitalize on our differences, that unlocks our true potential. For this reason, making brave spaces a hallmark of our campus is a second area of focus.

I want our campus to be a place where every member of our community not only feels comfortable expressing unpopular views, but in questioning others who hold views they disagree with. The best solutions are developed when a diversity of perspectives are brought to the table; so, we must commit to centering viewpoints and voices that aren’t always heard and to brave spaces to let that diversity of thought and lived experience shine through. 

In a recent survey, a majority of college students thought free speech and diversity and inclusion were at odds with one another. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. You can’t have the former without the latter.

We must also commit to evidence-driven discussion. The principle of freedom of expression isn’t about saying whatever you want whenever you wish. It’s about individual members of our community holding their own opinion, doing their homework about an issue, and actively debating it with others.

We cannot squash an idea simply because there’s a certain faction of our community that doesn’t like it, or stifle dialogue on a controversial topic because it makes people uncomfortable. To the contrary, we must foster an environment where ideas of integrity are responsibly aired and debated. This is difficult and sometimes unpopular work, but Dartmouth is the perfect place for it. Research shows that people who know and trust one another are more apt to push one another productively, and Dartmouth is the most tightly-knit community I know.

Having spent 12 years at the University of Chicago—as a faculty member and then as an administrator—I often hear the Chicago Principles cited as the de facto standard for the free and open exchange of ideas on campuses around the nation. While I believe it’s essential that we, as an institution, live by the spirit of these principles, they don’t go far enough. 

At Dartmouth, we will move beyond simply safeguarding freedom of expression to facilitate, practice, and teach dialogue across difference. 

Next month, Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Elizabeth Smith, will launch a new signature program known as the Dartmouth Dialogue Project. This project will intentionally teach the skills of open, honest and respectful communication, both in and out of the classroom. One of our initiatives this year is to support faculty in teaching controversial topics in their courses, and to develop a co-curricular transcript where undergraduates will be able to document their achievements in developing dialogue skills.

To supplement that work, I have just joined College Presidents for Civic Preparedness. It’s a group committed to ensuring today’s young people are well-informed, productively engaged citizens and to measuring discourse on campus. 

Finally, I’m thrilled to announce—today—that Dartmouth is forming the first-ever university-wide partnership with StoryCorps. We will be bringing the One Small Step initiative to campus which, as you may know, is a time-tested methodology whereby strangers with vastly opposing views come together to engage in respectful conversation, even in the presence of strong political disagreement. 

If we can strengthen these dialogue skills on our campus, we will ultimately strengthen these skills in society, because Dartmouth operates as a basecamp to the world, and our alums are out there leading in virtually every sector, in every industry, in every country, every day.

While other universities may be limited to a four-year experience, Dartmouth is for life. This is precisely why a third imperative (along with centering wellness and creating brave spaces at Dartmouth) is to double down on the lifelong bonds that are the hallmark of our Dartmouth community. 

Already, our recent transformation of the West End of campus, and our equally dynamic transformation of the arts district, have created new hubs of innovation that celebrate a broader range of career paths. But we know we can do more to enhance students’ careers. 

Imagine a day when a student arrives at Dartmouth, and right from the start, we instill in them a confidence and curiosity about their post-Dartmouth future. Imagine if internships were centralized and easy to find for all. Imagine if there were twice as many career counselors and an army of alumni mentors—from college grads, to alumni of Tuck, Thayer, Geisel, and Guarini—to advise in different fields, yes in finance and consulting, but also in the arts or public service. And what if we re-orient advising to serve alumni throughout their careers, helping them successfully transition to new roles under the mentorship of a fellow alum?

This is the life-long support we aim to build, beginning with an early commitment to move career advising to the heart of campus. 

Of course, none of this matters without a healthy planet. 

Earlier this year, a UN report concluded that human activity had “unequivocally” caused warming of our planet and that to avoid the most catastrophic outcomes, we must cut global carbon emissions 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050—a path that the global community isn’t currently on. 

If we are to live up to our title of Big Green, we must do more and hasten our pace, and we will.

A fourth imperative—action on climate—includes an aggressive push to achieve Real Carbon Zero on our campus. That means that we won’t buy offsets that come from halfway across the country or halfway across the globe to decarbonize our campus. We will invest in solutions right here in Hanover and within our New England electrical grid. 

Later this year, we will roll out specific and aggressive targets for 2030 and 2050. And, over the next three years, we will invest over a quarter of a billion dollars into our campus decarbonization efforts to improve the efficiency of our buildings and install non-combustion technologies like heat pumps, geothermal and solar across campus.

But that’s not all. Our focus on sustainability will extend from our campus to the community and to the world as we apply our unique understanding and sense of place to becoming the world leader in cold weather climate solutions. 

Dartmouth is home to some of the most accomplished scholars on the planet working on these issues. Thayer engineering professor Mary Albert and her incredible team developed a model for arctic energy transitions that was recently short-listed for the most prestigious international award for climate adaptation in the Arctic. Back here at home, Earth Sciences professor Erich Osterberg co-founded and leads the Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup dedicated to engaging our local, cold weather New England community in informed, resilient climate solutions.

What’s more, students across the country are choosing to come to Dartmouth because of the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society and its physical proximity to our engineering and business schools. 

Concerned alumni are eager to apply their talents, too. If we galvanize our community successfully, we can move the sustainability needle in a hugely significant way.

Mental health and wellness, brave spaces, Dartmouth for life, action on climate…these are the ground conditions that will propel us to our fifth area of focus: innovation and impact. 

Dartmouth can and will become a place of rapid, boundless beginnings…

Where students and faculty alike come to Dartmouth because our undergraduate education is significantly enhanced by our graduate and professional schools, and vice versa… and because it’s the best place to unleash their ideas and tap into the power of our community to help bring them into being. 

Already, our entrepreneurial ecosystem is second to none. Dartmouth ranks 4th among U.S. universities in the number of alumni entrepreneurs based on size, and 5th in female founders. Nearly 50% of our engineering faculty have started venture-backed companies, themselves. Tuck is becoming one of the great global thought leaders on innovation—just look on the stage next to me at VG, who literally wrote the book on future-forward innovation. And, our teacher-scholar model is innovative above all else—it affords students unparalleled opportunities to work alongside faculty at the leading edge of discovery. 

Indeed, our approach of a full education, across the arts and sciences, complemented by our emphasis on students and faculty working and learning together, differentiates us from others. Because of our size and scale, we have the ability to spur innovation at the intersections of disciplines and amplify this combination in service to society. It is in that space between where there is ample ground for new approaches and invention. That’s the Dartmouth way.

We know that the biggest issues—health care, climate, growing economic inequality, racial justice, peace and security—will not be solved within a single discipline. They may not even be solved within a single institution. 

So, once we have this combustion of possibility firing across campus, we will focus on impact.

We’ll begin by investing historic royalties generated from the Dartmouth vaccine research into our core facilities and research enterprise to bring the best ideas to scale and, ultimately, to market. I want to facilitate more projects like Assistant Professor Cesar Alvarez’s experimental new musical, Noise!, which challenges traditional notions of what constitutes a theatrical experience. Or the incredible app-based platform developed by Geisel Professor Karen Fortuna and student Julia Hill, which has the potential to identify Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias up to 10-15 years before symptoms arise.

Don’t get me wrong; discovery is important for its own sake, and our commitment to exploration across the arts and sciences will not waver. But we must strengthen our ability to translate our creations and discoveries into impact. 

To do this, we will mobilize our unsurpassed network of alumni to mentor, advise, invest in and champion these ideas in the world.

And – in a departure from historical norms in higher education – Dartmouth will accelerate and amplify our impact through strategic partnerships. I cannot underscore this enough; it is the brave, new frontier.

Choosing a path of partnership will enable us to verify, amplify, and apply the sparks of new knowledge that come from our innovation.

Already, our efforts in this area are bearing early fruits.

Next week, we are convening for only the second time in history all living U.S. Surgeons General to discuss solutions for the crisis in mental health experienced by young people. In partnership with Dartmouth Health, our neighbor and the most important medical center in northern New England, we are making strides in digital mental health therapies that target the rural poor. The work of Geisel Professor Lisa Marsch and her team, for example, has led to the first FDA-cleared prescription digital therapeutic for the treatment of opioid addiction, which has nearly doubled rates of abstinence among people with opioid use disorder. 

To promote STEM diversity, Brown University President Chris Paxson and I have brought together the only six U.S. research universities in the country with women presidents and deans of engineering. Our goal is to leverage the once in a generation moonshot of the CHIPS ACT to bring more women to the engineering workforce. Women make up only 15% of the semiconductor industry, and as the home of the first engineering school in the country that had gender parity at the undergraduate level, Dartmouth knows how to bring the best and brightest to the table—regardless of background or gender in this case. We’ll be formally launching our consortium—called the EDGE consortium—with government, private sector and higher education leaders in Washington, D.C. later this fall.

And because our unique history of Native American education is at the heart of our institutional Charter, we will build on this commitment in a new spirit of partnership next year with the launch of a Tribal Leadership Academy. This Academy will provide a place for experienced and newly elected tribal leaders to convene with one another to share best practices, discuss opportunities and challenges facing sovereign tribal nations, and engage the expertise of fellow participants, Native alumni, and Dartmouth faculty across campus.

Mental health, brave spaces, Dartmouth for life, action on climate, breakthrough innovation. This is my vision; these are our aspirations; and this is my call to action for you.

Higher ed is often a place of singular exceptionalism. Too many times in the past, our institutions have failed to look for partners – within our own communities and even among our peers.

But the best and fastest way to create new knowledge and translate it into impact is by working together, learning together, problem-solving together.

So, as I accept the honor and responsibility that comes with being inaugurated as Dartmouth’s 19th president, I invite you to be my partners…to be Dartmouth’s partners…as we undertake that work. Solutions to make the world a better place are out there; we just need to accelerate their development and apply them more broadly. And I have every confidence that we can.

Today, I have the honor of wearing the Flude Medal. It was a gift from John Flude of London to John Wheelock, then-President of Dartmouth in 1786 and is an important part of Dartmouth history.

On it is a depiction of Aesop’s fable “The Old Man and his Sons.” It is the story of a father who, in an effort to reconcile his quarrelsome sons, shows them how sticks that are easily broken individually, cannot be broken when bound together. The lesson, of course, is clear: in unity, there is strength.

Thank you, to all of you at Dartmouth, for joining me on this journey and for making our bonds to each other, this institution and our mission, unbreakable.

Office of Communications