Last semester, my boss and I co-taught a class on college affordability. We met Tuesday evenings in a tiered classroom in the university art museum with 55 enrolled students. We would typically arrive ten minutes early, and my boss would immediately start roaming about the room, talking with individual students about what they were studying and what was happening in their classes. When 7 P.M. rolled around, I would generally need to tap him on the shoulder and let him know that it was time for class to begin.
My boss did not need to teach this class or the section of freshman calculus that he also taught, three mornings a week at 8 A.M. His required teaching load was zero because he has a more than full-time job as the provost of the University of Michigan. But my boss, Philip Hanlon, is not only passionate about teaching especially undergraduate teaching he is also the kind of person who wants to stay connected with and responsive to the people he's serving. And what better way is there to ensure that you are connected to students and their concerns than to interact with them directly in the classroom?
As everyone reading this knows by now, Hanlon will take the helm as Dartmouth's 18th president in July. The Presidential Search Committee could not have made a better choice. Hanlon has a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing universities and colleges today and a clear vision for responding to them. Over the course of more than a decade in top administrative positions at Michigan, he led the University through very difficult economic circumstances, always focusing on taking steps that protected Michigan's core academic mission. As a result, Michigan is stronger today than it otherwise would have been. He is an accomplished mathematician, with extremely high academic and ethical standards and a quiet yet compelling leadership style that brings people together around shared goals. He is approachable and connects naturally with faculty, staff, alumni and students. All these things would make Hanlon a great president at any college or university, but he is especially well-suited to lead Dartmouth.
Dartmouth is special in many ways, but there are two that really define it. First is its unwavering focus on undergraduate education. Whatever one thinks of college rankings, it is notable that U.S. News and World Report has named Dartmouth first in undergraduate teaching for four years in a row. Hanlon, like Dartmouth, is passionate about undergraduate education. It is no accident that he is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at Michigan, a status awarded to faculty members who have made outstanding contributions to undergraduate education. His vision for higher education in the 21st century centers on top-flight, innovative undergraduate teaching. But do not interpret that as meaning that he does not care about graduate or professional education, which of course are also important at Dartmouth. In fact, central to Hanlon's vision is the idea of interdisciplinary groups comprising faculty, graduate students and undergraduates, all working together and learning from one another as they grapple with complex real-world problems.
And this gets to Dartmouth's second defining feature: "It is a small college." This was true when Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, said it in 1819, and it is still true today. There are both advantages and disadvantages to that fact, but Dartmouth's size lends itself to Hanlon's vision of engaged, hands-on education. Dartmouth has long fostered this type of educational experience some of my own best memories of my time as a Dartmouth student include digging at an old Vermont homestead in an archeology course (after warming up the frozen ground by sitting on it!); teaching mathematics to adults who were studying for their GED tests as part of a Tucker Foundation program; and meeting weekly with my advisor as I learned to conduct research by writing a senior honors thesis on an interdisciplinary topic. Under Hanlon's leadership, Dartmouth's openness to and capacity for these types of experiences will enable it to reach even greater heights, demonstrating that world-class higher education is as valuable today as ever.
Dartmouth is an exceptional school, and Hanlon will be an exceptional leader for it. All of us at Michigan are sad to see him go, but we know that Dartmouth, and higher education in this country more broadly, will benefit enormously from his presidency.