Today President Obama nominated Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank. The New York Times reports on the nomination here, the AP here. President Kim stuck around Dartmouth barely long enough to get his ticket punched (not quite three years). Except for his apparent lack of relevant background for the position — no one had guessed that Kim was in the running for the nomination — I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t be confirmed by the bank’s executive board.
At Dartmouth President Kim cultivated a cult of personality that resulted in his chosen speaker at the 2010 commencement ceremony paying tribute to none other than President Kim himself. I do not think there will be many tears shed over the departure of Dartmouth’s dear leader. He was liberally loathed by the faculty, and not for petty reasons.
In the video President Kim quoted his father and cited his father’s role in his his professional accomplishments. President Kim’s father was an immigrant unbound by the constraints of political correctness. Steering his son away from the study of philosophy as an undergraduate at Brown, President Kim’s father dramatically told Kim that “a Chinaman” needs to acquire a skill “to make it in this world.” Nowadays talk like that would be enough to get a student on most college campuses in trouble.
President Kim said he dispensed the same advice regarding the imperative of acquiring a skill to students at Dartmouth. The implication was that if you want to be a benefactor of humanity, as President Kim is has been in his medical work, you need to move beyond the traditional claims of a liberal arts education.
Yet Dartmouth holds itself out as providing an outstanding liberal arts education to undergraduate students (and charges a hefty sum for the goods on offer). Apart from my parents and my own family, I would say that going to Dartmouth is the best thing that ever happened to me in precisely this respect. It would have been interesting to hear Kim defend a liberal arts education on its own terms, but he had other things on his mind.
Later in the interview President Kim cited the great leaders in whose presence he has been. “You can smell” the quality of great leadership on them, President Kim said. Based on his personal exposure to them, he cited GE chief executive officer Jeffrey Immelt, Freddie Mac chief executive officer Ed Haldeman and Bill Clinton as such leaders. The first two were members of the Dartmouth College board at the time. President Clinton is the one and only. Clinton’s wife appeared with Obama at the announcement of Kim’s nomination this morning. Dropping the right names is one skill that can come in handy climbing the greasy pole.
I wondered about other members of the Dartmouth board at the time whom I know but whom President Kim did not mention in the video. I was a classmate and friend of Leon Black. Leon is the founder, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Apollo Global Management, LLC and a managing partner of Apollo Management, L.P. He is an incredibly successful businessman. He ain’t chopped liver.
T.J. Rodgers is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Cypress Semiconductor. T.J. was a Sloan scholar at Dartmouth, where he graduated as salutatorian with a double major in physics and chemistry. In President Kim’s terms, he acquired a skill or two at Dartmouth. Wikipedia also helpfully adds that he is known for his public relations acumen, brash personality and strong advocacy of free enterprise. At Dartmouth, he is known for his support of free speech on campus. Indeed, he has played something of a leadership role in making the campus safe for free speech.
Peter Robinson is the former Reagan speechwriter who now hangs his shingle out at the Hoover Institution and Ricochet. At Dartmouth Peter studied English literature under Professor Jeffrey Hart, a teacher who opened and sharpened the minds of a few generations of Dartmouth students.
Peter put his Dartmouth education to especially good use when he drafted the speech in which President Reagan demanded that Gorbachev “tear down this wall.” He therefore had a direct hand in some history that benefited humanity.
I speculated last year that Kim would not be long for Dartmouth. It was briefly of use to him, but it offered way too small a stage for him. I may be wrong, but my guess is that President Kim’s nomination to the World Bank is probably a source of celebration today at one place above all others — Dartmouth College.