A new president for Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College has announced that Dr. Jim Yong Kim will be its 17th president. Dr. Kim currently serves as Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He came to this country from South Korea at the age of three. His family settled in Muscatine, Iowa, where Dr. Kim went on to become valedictorian and president of his high school class, as well as quarterback of the football team. He graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1982 and went on to receive M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard.

Dr. Kim has worked for more than 20 years to improve world health, first as co-founder and executive director of Partners In Health, and then as Director of the HIV/AIDS department at the World Health Organization (WHO). I understand that he made particularly valuable contributions in Haiti, Russia, and Peru.

Dr. Kim has been described to me as a “non-ideological liberal.” If that proves to to be the case, we’ll be able to say that, in this respect, Dartmouth could easily have done worse.

Dartmouth faces huge challenges including, in my view, major challenges pertaining to the quality of the education it offers. This perspective may be viewed as driven by my ideology, and to some extent perhaps it is. However, it is not ideological to assert (for example) that all students should regularly attend class except when special circumstances prevent it. This does not occur at Dartmouth, even in some classes taught by popular professors. Perhaps Dr. Kim will look into this situation. Perhaps such an investigation will lead to the discovery of other matters of concern.

Dr. Kim’s background does not appear to be centered around the “humanities.” In one sense this is unfortunate because I believe this is the area where Dartmouth faces its greatest challenges. On the other hand, given the outlook of so many leading “humanities” academics, it is probably for the best that Dartmouth did not draw its new president from that pool.

The actions of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees (in concert, I assume with the outgoing president) have alienated some Dartmouth alums, including me. The decision to renege on the College’s commitment to permit alumni to select half of the Trustees was particularly galling. I doubt that Dr. Kim will be in a position to reverse the high-handed decisions of the Dartmouth power brokers who, after all, selected him. Thus, he will be hard-pressed to to win back many of the alienated alums. However, if he reaches out to us, I’m confident that we will engage him.

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