Posted by: Martin Fox | September 22, 2009

New president has Dartmouth eager for change

During a recent rock climbing trip with two passionate Dartmouth Alumni, the late night campfire conversation turned to what makes Dartmouth so special. While I’m not a Dartmouth graduate, I spent time on campus last Fall and agree Dartmouth is a special place, filled with exceptional students. It was an interesting conversation, but the discussion was made much more interesting after receiving the following article from one of those passionate Dartmouth grads.

Dr. Jim Yong Kim is Dartmouth’s newly appointed 17th President. After reading the article and watching President Kim’s video, I am deeply inspired by his message to young people. The fact his message aligns with our Center’s work may leave me a tad biased, but getting highly-skilled and inspired young people engaged in the common good is a bias we could all use a bit more of.

Video link to a discussion with the Boston Globe.

Peace out – Martin Fox with the Center for Global Leadership

images-1New president has Dartmouth eager for change

By Tracy Jan, Globe Staff | September 21, 2009

HANOVER, N.H. – In an annual rite, incoming Dartmouth College students dutifully lined up to shake the president’s hand, one of many perfunctory events that kick off each school year.

But this fall, the tradition was marked by an extra jolt of excitement: More than 1,000 freshmen clamored to meet Dartmouth’s newly appointed leader. The crowd wound around one end of the indoor track, out the door, and along the glass walls of the field house. Many waited longer than an hour.

At the head of the receiving line last week, Dr. Jim Yong Kim delighted the teenagers by greeting them not with a handshake, but with a fist bump. Some reached out for hugs as classmates snapped photos and sought autographs; other giddy students likened Kim’s appointment to the election of President Obama.

“Thank you for coming to us,’’ said one student, finding it hard to fathom why the Harvard Medical School professor would leave behind his groundbreaking humanitarian work in public health to lead the Ivy League’s smallest school, tucked amid the hills of western New Hampshire.

A new college presidency is met by fanfare on every campus, but the change is particularly striking at Dartmouth. Faculty, students, and alumni have high hopes that Kim, who will be inaugurated as the college’s 17th president tomorrow, can usher in a new era for the 240-year-old university – an institution often viewed from the outside as a conservative bastion of white privilege dominated by raucous fraternities.

Kim’s appointment, these supporters say, signifies the college’s determination to look outward and adopt a broader, more global perspective to undergraduate education. It could also bolster Dartmouth’s public profile: Kim, born in South Korea, is the first Asian-American to lead an Ivy League school.

Kim, a medical anthropologist, replaces historian James Wright, who retired in June after 40 years at the college, 11 of them as president. While Dartmouth made great strides in diversifying its student body, both racially and socioeconomically, during Wright’s tenure, Kim acknowledges that outside misconceptions about Dartmouth prevent the school from recruiting and retaining an even wider range of professors and students.

“I had my own misperceptions that Dartmouth was roiled by pitched political battles and Neanderthal frat life,’’ Kim said during an interview in his office last week. “But that’s not the kind of family I discovered here.’’

Since the 49-year-old father of two arrived on campus in July, his down-to-earth demeanor and accessibility have endeared him to a wide cross-section of students.

The former Iowa high school quarterback, who also played on Brown University’s volleyball team, has practiced with Dartmouth’s volleyball and football teams. He’s teed off with the golf team at 5:30 a.m. And to better understand why nearly half of Dartmouth students belong to the Greek system, he’s dined in fraternity houses, including Alpha Delta, the fraternity that helped inspire the movie “Animal House.’’

“I’ve never seen students so excited about a change in administrative office,’’ said senior Jessica Guthrie, president of Dartmouth’s Afro-American Society. “It was almost like sitting there on election night and seeing the moment of hope in the air and progress on the way.’’

Frances Vernon, student body president, said Kim immediately put her at ease when she met with him in June.

“He wanted to know everything,’’ said Vernon, who filled him in on the fine points of Beer Pong (at the president’s prompting) as well as weighty subjects like minority retention in the faculty and gender-equity issues during their four-hour meeting.

Not everyone on campus was so welcoming at first. One day after Kim’s selection was announced last spring, a student sent out an e-mail over a satirical campus listserv referring to Kim as a “Chinaman’’ and bemoaning the loss of another “hard-working American’s job’’ to an immigrant. The incident sparked outrage on the campus.

Kim’s adept handling of the controversy hinted at the kind of president he will be, colleagues said.

Kim said he has since gotten to know the student quite well. He said the young man, a star rugby player and fraternity member, has apologized, taken a sensitivity course, and is planning to add East Asian studies to his major. He wants to go to medical school, and Kim now serves as his mentor, even promising to write a recommendation letter.

“He made a bone-headed mistake,’’ Kim said. “If I looked into his eyes and saw racist, my job would be different. I didn’t see an ounce of it.’’

Faculty say Kim has also demonstrated a deep level of concern for their work. At a recent meeting about reshaping the sophomore summer experience, Kim spent so much time getting to know the 10 professors that the group did not progress far in its discussion about the summer curriculum, said Amy Allen, chairwoman of the philosophy department.

“Dartmouth is not known to be a radical place and his presidency is hopefully going to be transformative in many ways,’’ Allen said.

It is clear that Kim, who worked in recent years with Harvard’s business and medical schools as well as MIT to improve the delivery of global health interventions, will push for more crossing of traditional academic boundaries.

As Dartmouth, like other colleges, adjusts to getting by on a diminished endowment, Kim said he must justify to students and their families why a Dartmouth education is still worth $50,000 a year.

Kim said he’d like to create a shared intellectual experience for students by teaching a course on social justice and leadership that would be required the summer after sophomore year – a time all sophomores spend on campus but take such light course loads that it’s often referred to as Camp Dartmouth. He began imparting his message of social responsibility last week during an evening lecture delivered with his Partners In Health cofounders and longtime friends Dr. Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl. The trio’s pioneering work in Haiti, Peru, and other countries was documented in Tracy Kidder’s book “Mountains Beyond Mountains,’’ the summer reading assigned to this year’s freshmen.

Students packed the auditorium and greeted the group with cheers and a standing ovation. Instead of a dry lecture examining the minutiae of delivering health care to the world’s poor, Kim’s key lessons were about the basics: human decency, the strength of friendships, and quiet and determined leadership.

“People think leadership is standing up and giving orders,’’ said Kim, who has advised the director of the World Health Organization and later led its initiative to combat HIV/AIDS. “But a big chunk of leadership is learning how to be a follower, to have an understanding of what it’s like to be of service to someone else.’’

And that helps explain why he’s at Dartmouth, drawn by the opportunity to shape generations of young people to make an impact in the world.

Following the talk, hundreds of students who had not had the chance to meet Kim earlier lined Alumni Hall. The crowd around Kim swelled to hear how he would respond to an idealistic young man asking for advice on whether he, too, should volunteer in Haiti.

Kim was gentle, but firm. “Don’t think your good will is going to be enough to be useful to those people,’’ he said. “Find your own passions and think hard about your skills.’’

As the clock ticked toward midnight, with what still seemed to be a never-ending line, an exhausted aide pulled Kim aside to ask what he wanted to do.

“I’m hanging out until all the students are gone,’’ he said.

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