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Business Schools

Will a $100 Million Mystery Gift Transform the Way Dartmouth Teaches?

Dartmouth College campus green in Hanover, N.H.

Photograph by Jim Cole/AP Photo

Dartmouth College campus green in Hanover, N.H.

An anonymous donor has given Dartmouth College $100 million, the largest single gift in its 244-year history, the school announced on Wednesday.

Dartmouth will use part of the gift to launch a “cluster initiative,” in which groups of scholars will focus on themes that cut across disciplines, departments, and schools.

This could mean that, say, accounting-focused graduate students at Dartmouth’s 12th-ranked Tuck School of Business will collaborate with undergraduates learning about the same principles, but the details of the program haven’t been spelled out yet.

“Plans for the initiative are still taking shape,” says Justin Anderson, a spokesman for the school. “But we do know that it will touch every corner of campus.”

Hiring in academia has traditionally been done in departmental silos, but interdisciplinary or “cluster” hiring is becoming increasingly popular. According to Inside Higher Ed, North Carolina State University, the University of Connecticut, Georgia State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of North Texas have all begun cluster hiring initiatives.

Some business schools have been criticized for promoting a set of limited management principles in their curriculum, rather than exposing students to other disciplines within their universities. The initiative, introduced by Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon when he took office last June, presents an interdisciplinary vision for Dartmouth that will likely bring Tuck more closely into the fold of the school’s liberal arts core.

“With engineering, business, and medicine so strongly represented alongside the nation’s premier liberal arts environment, Dartmouth offers just the right combination of schools to investigate challenges of global complexity,” Carolyn Denver, the school’s incoming provost, said in a press release.

The clusters also signal something of a reorganization among the school’s faculty. Instructors involved with the program will work for their cluster in addition to their academic department (or the equivalent in a professional school).

So far, proposed clusters have as many as eight faculty members, some of whom would be new hires. Each cluster can create up to three new faculty positions. The initiative will produce 30 to 40 endowed faculty positions over the next decade.

Dartmouth plans to develop as many as 10 clusters, the first three of which will begin before the end of the 2014 academic year. Once the school has decided on its clusters, each will receive as much as $100,000 from the gift.

How much the cluster initiative will affect Tuck remains to be seen, but it’s clear that significant changes await the B-school: Tuck has been searching for a new dean since Paul Danos, its longest-serving dean in school history, announced in March that he plans to resign.

Clayton Erwin is a freelance journalist and a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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