Eulogizing a Perfunctory President

By Adam I. W. Schwartzman

In 1821, Daniel Dana resigned after serving just one year as Dartmouth’s fourth president. Dana’s tenure remains, by a wide margin, the shortest in the Wheelock Succession.

Clocking in at just below three years, Jim Yong Kim is poised to become the only other president to serve the College for less than half a decade. If he is the 17th member of the Wheelock Succession, President Kim must also be recognized as the second link in the Dana Chain.

Admittedly, this comparison may be a bit unfair—to Daniel Dana. A member of the class of 1788, Dana was wary of assuming the presidency of the College, a role that had quite literally seen the death of his predecessor, Francis Brown. President Brown oversaw Dartmouth’s bitter struggle with the state of New Hampshire, culminating in the famous Trustees of Dartmouth College vs. Woodward case, from which Dartmouth emerged battered, yet victorious. Brown, his health rapidly deteriorating, served only one more year before dying in office at the age of 35. Before his death, however, the trustees of the College had already made provisions for other faculty to “perform all the public duties pertaining to the Office of President of the College.”

Thus the position inherited by Dana had been virtually unfilled for over a year. To make matters worse, the College was riddled with debt and Dana’s own health had taken a turn for the worse. Indeed twice during his brief tenure, President Dana left campus to “restore his shattered nerves,” and the majority of his presidency was spent outside of Hanover. Perhaps submitting his resignation was the best decision of Dana’s presidency; he resumed his life as a minister in New England and lived to be 88.

In contrast, the circumstances surrounding President Kim’s arrival in Hanover—and imminent departure—bear little resemblance to the reluctance of President Dana’s. President Kim came to Hanover with head held high, citing his desire, among other things, to increase the value of the Dartmouth degree. And yet less than three years on, his presidency shares the defining characteristic of Dana’s: brevity. So what can we take away from President Kim’s three years? $35 million sunk into a half realized Health Care Delivery Science program? More committees than students still Occupying Dartmouth?

In an interview with the Review this summer, David Spalding ‘76 praised President Kim’s commitment to Dartmouth, noting his focus on the long term. “You want a visionary who is laying markers towards work in an extended period of time,” he told the paper. Compare that to a recent Daily Dartmouth article, in which Chief of Staff Spalding lists a new softball field and the 1953 Commons Dining Hall as “real, tangible accomplishments” of the Kim presidency. The contrast between Spalding’s statements is illuminating. The problem with President Kim’s legacy is that there isn’t one.

How can a renovated dining hall compare to the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis? President Kim has gar- nered thousands of views for Dartmouth’s YouTube account, but how can those keyboard clicks be weighed against the millions of people now being treated for HIV/AIDS as a direct result of his actions?

It comes as little surprise that Jim Yong Kim has left many in the Dartmouth community feeling shortchanged. He came from a background of tremendous success and, when tasked with running the College, somehow things fell short. Is the call to national service an answer to his quick departure from the College? Yes. Does it excuse his lackluster presidency? No.

President Kim is a brilliant man. His work with Partners in Health, for instance, has had a truly remarkable impact in Haiti and across the globe. If his nomination to the World Bank is confirmed, Kim’s departure from Hanover to a position on the world stage will continue to reflect positively on Dartmouth, as he has throughout his relationship with the College.

In 2009, then Editor-in-Chief Andy Erickson wrote that the Review was “cautiously optimistic about President Kim’s selection.” Three years later, we once again temper with caution our optimism about his departure. Hopefully a silver lining will reveal itself in an inspired choice by the Board of Trustees.
The College had a difficult enough time finding a suc- cessor to Daniel Dana. After electing Gardner Spring, a reverend who declined after considering the school’s pitiable financial state, the trustees considered and eliminated a number of candidates. They finally settled on Reverend Bennett Tyler, a member of the Yale class of 1804. Not much is recorded of President Tyler, a mysterious figure in Dartmouth history, who partially assumed minesterial duties of the College and began to settle debts with President Allen of the short-lived Dartmouth University.

The search that landed on Dr. Jim Kim of Harvard University took over a year. With the national eye focused on Hanover, it is likely this time around will be a little different. We can expect to see little enough of Kim and a bit too much of Provost Folt. As for the 18th member of the Wheelock Succession, plenty of names have been floated by a number of news sources, but as of press time the Board is operating under
complete confidentiality.