An Update on Dartmouth’s Call to Lead

Image Courtesy of Dartmouth

Image Courtesy of Dartmouth

Since its official announcement in April, Dartmouth’s “Call to Lead” capital campaign has come under scrutiny. Many have noted the significant increase from the last capital campaign in 2004 of $1.3 billion to the current target of three billion for the new campaign. The general mission of the campaign focuses on three main areas of improvement for Dartmouth: 1) improving the general educational model, 2) creating more opportunities to benefit humankind, and 3) expanding leadership development for students. To accomplish those broad goals, the website now cites nine “strategic priorities” to explain the intended numerical distribution of the three billion that the college hopes to raise:

  1. Improving the educational model ($512 million)
  2. Creating leaders with more experiential learning ($149 million)
  3. Improving the Tuck School of Business and Thayer engineering facilities ($496 million)
  4. Enhancing the arts center on campus ($125 million)
  5. Investing in resources to combat global problems facing humanity ($405 million)
  6. Making Dartmouth’s graduate school nationally acclaimed ($50 million)
  7. Improving residential life and expanding the housing community budgets ($285 million)
  8. Expanding financial aid ($500 million)
  9. “Energiz[ing] annual giving to keep Dartmouth affordable for all students” ($478 million)

Even though the general mission of the campaign seems admirable, there has been very little in-depth justification for actual projects that will amount to the three billion dollar target, and the campaign website has had several inconsistencies in its’ project descriptions. The campaign’s website initially only provided the justification for $2,571,700,000 of the three billion dollar campaign goal, leaving $428.3 million unaccounted for. The website has since been modified after The Reviewinitially reported this mishap in the spring. There were some minor changes in the website, but a significant change was a new ninth strategic priority described as “energizing annual giving to keep Dartmouth affordable” even though the eighth priority is already about expanding financial aid. Now that the website has nine strategic priorities instead of eight, the numbers now add up correctly to three billion, but the addition seems to be an arbitrary filler to correct for the previous miscalculation. In fact, the entire paragraph description for Priority 8 ($500 million) was copy/pasted into the explanation for Priority 9 ($478 million). The number of 478 million clearly seems to be an randomly chosen dollar amount intended to make the math work. It appears that the college noticed the initial mathematical error in the sum of their subtotals, and decided to just add half a billion to financial aid to cover the difference.

It has become clear that the three billion amount for the campaign target did not organically arise from the specific needs of the Dartmouth campus, but that the target of three billion came first, and the numerical allocations of those funds came second. The sensible way to come up with a target for the campaign would be to use the needs and improvement areas of Dartmouth to compile a list of specific projects and reach a total based on that, but it seems like this method was not the one that was used.

These vague and shifting explanations of where the funds will be allocated creates doubts about how detailed the campaign preparation was, and also leaves potential donors unsure what specific projects will be executed to accomplish the stated goals. Additionally, the broad descriptions of funding needs will make it harder for members of the Dartmouth community to hold the school accountable for its promises. As shared in Joseph Asch’s post in Dartblog, one alumnus stated that “administrators desperately want soft sketched goals” which effectively means “no accountability.” The same alum went on to say that “as more money goes to the endowment, donors and accountability become even more irrelevant.” The generic justifications for funding numbers on the campaign website is not a coincidence. The website currently states 9 “strategic priorities,” but each one only has vague bullet point descriptions, rather than concrete numbers for expected capital expenditures. The error-riddled and overtly inspecific campaign website for The Call to Lead suggests endowment expansion as the true motivation behind the campaign, rather than campus improvement.

The relationship between the Dartmouth administration and the alumni base is getting increasingly tenuous as more and more alums are concerned about the effectiveness of this campaign and are losing faith in the Dartmouth administration. In his blog post on Dartblog about the capital campaign, Joseph Asch ‘78 laments how Dartmouth seems to define a “capital campaign.” He states that in the past capital campaigns used to mean funding for traditional capital expenditures such as buildings, and would not include “operations, financial aid, and specifically targeted gifts like ‘Friends of [your favorite team here]’ programs.” Dartmouth clearly has shifted away from that definition, with about $1 billion out of the $3 billion going directly to financial aid.

The campaign website provides very few concrete examples to color the obscure overarching mission of The Call to Lead. The language on the website is consistently unspecific, with plans to “expand opportunities” and “establish programs” in various parts of campus, but without the necessary details to justify the numbers they came up with. Fundraising for the three billion dollar capital campaign is expected to continue until 2022 when the school hopes to have reached its target. In the past several months since the campaign’s announcement, Dartmouth has already received around $1.6 billion of the three billion dollar goal. Only time will tell if Dartmouth alumni will continue funding this campaign, despite the ill-defined and ambiguous explanations of how the campaign’s goals will be accomplished.

  • Joseph Asch ’79

    Uh, that’s the Class of 1979, please.