Kim’s Turnaround — The Conversation Continues!

Is President Kim merely a politician-cheerleader? Or will he only have made an impact at Dartmouth once he’s vanquished the twin scourges of course oversubscription and professorial bias in the classroom? Yes and yes, if Joe Asch at Dartblog and Paul Mirengoff at Power Line have anything to say about it. Both have responded to my post defending Kim’s accomplishments against Mirengoff’s allegation that Kim is presiding over a “pseudo-turnaround” in Hanover. 

Of course, as much as I admire Joe and Paul, I can’t let these assessments stand unchallenged. Why? Because Kim has done so much to enact the agenda that alumni like Joe and Paul have been advocating for years, and because he has done it under trying circumstances. One understands the criticism. After decades of adversarial College politics, the natural inclination of many combatants is to retain a healthy amount of skepticism about the opposing side. In Mirengoff’s case, this means an unwillingness to believe that Kim is making a good faith effort at initiating a Great Issues curriculum; Asch, for his part, uses my own words against me to suggest that Kim’s thin record of action on academic reform at Dartmouth is an indictment of his presidency overall. 

In each case, I get the sense that Joe and Paul are moving the goalposts on Kim. After all, both Power Line and Dartblog made clear in the past that the College’s most pressing problems were its budget woes and administrative bloat. Kim came into office and almost immediately embarked on a tough austerity plan that brought on a torrent of criticism from the campus’s liberal quarters, and which saved the College tens of millions of dollars a year. He proved his bona fides on the budget immediately, and rightly earned Asch’s praise at the time. It’s worth reiterating what a beating Kim took on this issue from many on campus, particularly among faculty. My impression from conversations with members of the faculty is that Kim used up just about all of his honeymoon capital and then some with the faculty in his efforts to reorder Dartmouth’s fiscal house. 

Having dealt with that problem neatly, Kim then turned his attention to protecting Dartmouth students from the wrath of the Hanover Police, another hobbyhorse of Asch’s. We’re still waiting for resolution there, but it’s clear that Kim is putting forth his strongest effort to provide a safer social atmosphere for Dartmouth students by providing them with more autonomy.

He has revamped the College’s commitment to a strong athletics department with his outstanding appointment of Harry Sheehy as AD. Is this an administration likely to cut the swim team or complain about the role of athletics in college? Under Kim’s watch, it would appear not. 

Given all of that (and one could go on about Kim’s apparent commitment to working constructively with the College’s Greek system, his popularity with alumni, etc), is it really fair to call Kim’s young presidency a “pseudo-turnaround?” While Paul’s and Joe’s criticisms of course oversubscription and classroom bias are fair, those criticisms take aim at an exceedingly narrow slice of Kim’s responsibilities; they also fail to take into account that Kim’s been in office for only 18 months — hardly the length of time required to undertake a serious reform of Dartmouth’s academic program.

Kim is certainly much more than an effective politician or a great cheerleader for Dartmouth, though he is both of those things. His track record so far indicates that he’s a great manager; he’s been able to get things done. The College’s finances are healthy. Donations — a key yardstick of confidence in the College and the president — were up this past fiscal year. And that says nothing of Kim’s pre-Dartmouth accomplishments in the field of public health, which don’t need to be recounted.

In any case, the evidence for optimism abounds. I would submit to Joe and Paul that they might consider the whole body of Kim’s work at Dartmouth thus far, and would maintain that Dartmouth is lucky to have someone of Kim’s leadership caliber at its helm. Of course, there will always be room for improvement. But I share Peter Robinson and TJ Rodgers’ well-placed judgment that “under President Kim the College is poised to proceed from strength to strength.” Plus, the man can do one hell of a Michael Jackson impersonation.

Charles S. Dameron