Kim Rekindles Dartmouth Alumni Amid Austerity Protest
When Jim Yong Kim left a March gathering of more than 600 Dartmouth alumni in New York, he received a standing ovation that no one could have expected for the new president at the Ivy League college with the most contentious relationship with its graduates.
Kim, 50, an authority on health care in developing nations who never visited the Hanover, New Hampshire, campus before 2008, won the crowd over by praising the college’s fraternities. He talked about attending a football game with a 102-year-old alumnus and introduced a star high school quarterback recruit.
As he prepares for his second academic year on the campus, Kim is showing graduates who battled Dartmouth over control of fraternities and funding for athletics that he belongs. Kim, an anthropologist and former professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, aims to win donors turned off by decades of rancor that spilled into the courts. Getting past the infighting may aid Kim’s quest to make Dartmouth a leader in reshaping health-care delivery.
Alumni who came to the event at the New York Marriott Marquis skeptical of Kim “walked out thinking we really need to get behind this guy and start pulling on the same oar with him,” said Mike McClintock, 53, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1980. “He did an excellent job of demonstrating that he understands Dartmouth.”
The Ivy League is made up of eight private universities in the northeastern U.S. Dartmouth, the smallest institution in the Ivies, was founded in 1769. Graduates include Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and chief executive officer of Fairfield, Connecticut- based General Electric Co.; U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner; and his immediate predecessor, Henry Paulson.
Kim wants to protect traditions while updating the institution by pursuing programs like the health initiative, he said in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York office.
“One of the things you learn as an anthropologist, you don’t come in and change the culture,” said Kim, the first Asian-American president of an Ivy League institution. “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the culture and trying to understand what the disaffected alums are so upset about.”
Alumni protested a 2002 decision by the Dartmouth administration to eliminate the swimming teams, which were later rescued by donations. They also opposed efforts by former Dartmouth president James Wright to reduce the influence of fraternities and sororities at the college. The criticism escalated into campaigns for seats on the board of trustees so contentious they cost board member Stephen Smith about $75,000 to win election in 2007, Smith said in a column in the Dartmouth, the campus paper.
“There’s a group that believes that attending Dartmouth college gave them the perpetual right to tell the college how it ought to be run,” said Ron Harris, a 1971 graduate and donor who said dissidents make up about 7.5 percent of alumni, based on this year’s trustee election results. “What they’re basically saying is that the alumni ought to be running the college.”
The college’s reputation also was marred in the 1980s by clashes over race involving The Dartmouth Review, a weekly student publication separate from the campus newspaper. The Review ran editorials opposing African-American studies and on March 15, 1982, published a column written in a parody of black dialect.
By helping Dartmouth move beyond alumni anger over past policies, Kim will be able to pursue the rest of his agenda, said Allen Collins, a member of the class of 1953 and a former president of the alumni association. One early indication of success was a trustee election, in March and April, in which a candidate critical of Kim’s immediate predecessors, Wright and James Freedman, lost.
Kim is “bigger than the petty issues,” said Collins, 79, a former clothing retailer who lives in Boston. “He’s so focused on students and sending them out to make the world a better place. That’s a great concept that everyone can wrap their arms around.”
Kim was first contacted for the job by Albert Mulley, a Dartmouth trustee, chairman of the search committee and a Harvard Medical School professor. Dartmouth hired Kim because of his international experience, his career outside of academia and his abilities to motivate and manage, Mulley said.
As a professor at Harvard, where he was chairman of the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, Kim said his influence was limited to mentoring “one student at a time.”
“The opportunity here at Dartmouth is to do it with 4,000 students at a time,” Kim said.
As part of his courtship of alumni and students, Kim evokes Dartmouth’s past to explain his vision for its future. He frequently quotes John Sloan Dickey, the college’s president from 1945 to 1970.
“The world’s troubles are your troubles,” Dickey said in a 1946 convocation address. “There is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.”
Dickey started “Great Issues,” a mandatory course for seniors taught from 1947 to 1966, which brought guest lecturers to campus to talk about the Cold War, civil rights and other topics in the news. Kim said he wants to revive the class and teach it to sophomores with other professors, beginning next year.
“There’s a hell of a lot of alumni that remember it fondly and wonder why they got rid of it,” said Jere Daniell, 77, a former Dartmouth professor and member of the class of 1955, who has written about the history of the college. Reviving the course “is one of several skilled ways, politically, that Kim is introducing himself to the Dartmouth community.”
In August, Kim announced the hiring of Harry Sheehy, the athletics director of Williams College, for the same post at Dartmouth. In each of Sheehy’s 10 years at Williams, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, the college won the award for having the best athletic program among the more than 400 colleges in its division. The appointment drew praise, in an Aug. 2 posting, on a blog for Dartmouth alumni, from Joe Asch, a 1979 graduate who was a frequent critic of Wright and an unsuccessful candidate for trustee this year.
Young people are often daunted by the challenges of making a difference, and his example of founding a nonprofit organization to provide health care in poor countries may teach students they are capable of similar acts, Kim said.
“I’m saying, ‘I’ve done it and I know you can do it,’” Kim said. “‘Go out and grab the world by your teeth and shake it, and do what you can.’”
Kim, the son of a dentist, was born in Seoul and grew up in Muscatine, Iowa, where he played high school football, basketball and golf.
He received medical and anthropology degrees from Harvard, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and went on to help found, with Paul Farmer, a Boston-based nonprofit organization called Partners in Health that opened clinics in Haiti and Peru. He later ran the Department of HIV/AIDS for the World Health Organization, in Geneva, and won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowship.
As a college student, Kim said he was torn between his father’s expectation that he study medicine and a passion for social justice he acquired from his mother, who studied philosophy at Union Theological Seminary in New York. A summer spent working at a health clinic in Manhattan’s Chinatown taught him he could do both, Kim said.
“I realized in the summer of my junior year that going into medicine is not giving up on social justice and politics, but a great way to tackle those problems,” Kim said.
Kim’s Asian-American identity and his experience working in developing countries will help improve Dartmouth’s image as an institution that promotes diversity, said John Donahoe, a Dartmouth trustee and the CEO of San Jose, California-based EBay Inc.
“Barack Obama, just being who he is and how he carries himself, has improved the United States brand outside the United States,” Donahoe said. “Jim is doing the same for Dartmouth.”
In the 1980s, racial tensions damaged Dartmouth’s image, Kim said. In 1986, Dartmouth students, with funding from the Review, used sledgehammers to dismantle a shantytown erected to protest the college’s investment in companies doing business in South Africa, which was practicing apartheid, according to the Associated Press. In 1988, three Review staff members were suspended for harassing William Cole, a black music professor, in his classroom, according to court documents. Two sued in state court and were reinstated.
“Starting from about 1982 onwards, when I graduated from Brown and so I knew a lot about the Ivy League, the sense was that Dartmouth was just a seething place of angry debate and that there was constant conflict,” Kim said. “I have come to find that that is just totally not true. It’s a very small group that is involved in that debate.”
Dartmouth graduates have a greater say in running the institution than alumni at other Ivy League schools, in part because they demanded the right to elect trustees following the Civil War, Daniell said.
“You have a tradition of alumni opposition,” Daniell said.
Criticism exploded into public view after four dissident trustees were elected to the university’s board from 2004 to 2007. The trustees responded by expanding the board to 26 from 18, adding seats to be filled by the trustees instead of through election. That move was challenged in a pair of lawsuits, filed in 2007 and 2008, that were dismissed. One is being appealed.
Alumni should be able to resolve their differences with the college without litigating, Kim said.
“My job is to really engage the alumni in a discussion about how Dartmouth should be run,” Kim said. “They expect a voice in the future of Dartmouth College and it’s my role to make sure they have one.”
Fraternities and sororities have a role in helping young people form bonds, said Kim, who wasn’t in a fraternity at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, where he spent one year, or at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, where he graduated.
“The Greek system is very important at Dartmouth College,” Kim said. “If you’re against it, you’re against two- thirds of your students.”
Fixing the college’s finances is the first priority, Kim said. He proposed $100 million in budget cuts in response to a 23 percent drop in Dartmouth’s endowment, to $2.83 billion, in the year ended June 30, 2009.
Kim said nonprofit organizations, including universities, are often run inefficiently. He isn’t afraid to upset people to make changes, he said.
“When you’re focused on social goals, it often seems to me that not only is poor execution tolerated, poor execution is celebrated,” Kim said. “You wear your Birkenstocks, you’ve got your Guatemalan rags, you don’t know what your budget is, you don’t know what your outcomes are, you don’t measure that stuff but, by golly, you’re on the right side. The time for that is ended.”
At Dartmouth, the goal is to reduce the cost of educating a student by as much as 25 percent, to $75,000 from $100,000 a year, and creating a “Dartmouth model” for efficiency that is “the envy of the educational world,” Kim said.
Kim’s emphasis on efficiency has been a “jolt,” said Kenneth Yalowitz, director of Dartmouth’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.
Dartmouth “has always been a collegial place and there has always been a premium on getting along,” Yalowitz said. “People accustomed to that atmosphere now are dealing with a front office that’s very different in its approach.”
Kim persuaded members of the Class of 1953, who collected $12 million over more than a decade to build a new student activities center, to abandon that plan because Dartmouth would have had to borrow an additional $28 million to complete the structure.
Instead, the alumni money will be used to help renovate the main dining hall, which will be renamed the Class of ‘53 Commons. Increased revenue from food sales and savings from energy efficiency will cover the debt service on the $18 million loan needed to finish the project, Kim said.
It was a “dazzlingly effective piece of footwork” to convince the trustees and alumni that the plan could work, said Collins, a member of the class. “It was such a total win-win for both the college and the class. Everyone was so enthusiastic. Even our most ardent curmudgeons were for it.”
Not everyone is so impressed with Kim’s handling of finances. Dartmouth students have held protests and organized teach-ins to argue against job cuts, and 75 faculty members signed a letter in January suggesting other ways to reduce costs. Dartmouth dismissed about 72 employees in 2009, and hired 28 back. This year, the college has let go 37 workers after earlier saying it could dismiss as many as 74. The college has no plans for additional terminations this year, according to Latarsha Gatlin, a spokeswoman.
Kim resisted suggestions about how to save money from other sources and has been “heavy-handed” in his approach to managing the budget cuts, said Eric Schildge, 22, co-founder of Dartmouth Students Stand With Staff, a group founded to protest employee firings.
“Staff and students and faculty aren’t getting their voices heard,” said Schildge, who graduated in June.
Saving money on custodial supplies and administrative salaries will allow Dartmouth to recruit and retain professors, and expand scholarship into new areas, Kim said.
Kim secured $35 million from an anonymous donor to found the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science. The center, announced May 17, will expand on the work of medical- school professors whose research into why health-care expenses differ around the U.S. has influenced the Obama administration, Kim said. Dartmouth should become the home of a new academic discipline focused on health-care cost and quality, Kim said.
“There’s no Nobel Prize in delivery,” Kim said. “It’s not respected. It doesn’t have the same kind of cachet. We need an environment in a college and university where you bring those researchers together and support them. We can launch the field.”
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