Who played whom at Dartmouth?

Dartmouth president Jim Kim is leaving the College after only three years to become head of the World Bank. Scott reported about this development here.

Kim made good use of Dartmouth. It represented a relatively prestigious place to hang his hat for a few years until the Obama administration came to its senses and found a suitably important place for him. And his Dartmouth connection with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner may have helped Kim secure the World Bank presidency, a position for which the doctor-anthropologist seems ill-qualified.

In any case, Kim clearly used Dartmouth.

At the same time, Dartmouth’s trustees made good use of Kim. Consider the situation prior to his arrival. Alumni were disillusioned with President Wright’s regime to the point that they had elected dissidents to the Board in three recent trustee elections.

The trustees had fought back by violating the longstanding agreement under which alums could elect half of the Board. And they made this bad faith breach of contract hold up by finally winning an election, after the dissidents alienated alums by suing the College. Yet the underlying discontent with the administration that had provided the impetus for the dissidents’ victories remained. And another trustee election loomed.

By selecting Kim, a young, fresh-seeming outsider, the trustees were able to create the impression that the rot would be reversed. This perception became the basis for an importatnt talking point of the trustees’ supporters. During the campaigning in the first post-Kim trustee election, some trustee supporters acknowledged (at last) the College’s drift, but argued that with Kim in the saddle, the problem was resolved, leaving no need to elect dissidents to the Board.

This was nonsense. Far from working to stop the rot at Dartmouth, Kim perpetuated it by entrusting major responsibility to holdovers from President Wright’s regime, including Dean Carol Folt who had presided over and helped perpetuate Dartmouth’s academic drift. To be sure, Kim made some needed budget cuts, as he had to do. Beyond that, he seems to have devoted most of his energy to burnishing his image and to pet projects involving health care and the Med school, matters having little or nothing to do with Dartmouth’s traditional mission of educating undergraduates.

At trustee election time, Kim could not, of course, explicitly endorse a candidate. But he did all he could, within that constraint, to promote the Board’s hand-picked choice for the one contested seat. In describing the kind of trustee he preferred, Kim described an “anti-Joe Asch,” the dissident candidate. And Kim appears to have worked behind the scenes to assist the Board’s favorite with minority members of the alumni. The Board’s man won handily.

Kim was thus the vehicle through which Board played Dartmouth.

He was also an outsider, though, and a very ambitious one. It’s unlikely that, having served his purpose, the Board is unhappy to see him go.

And with Kim gone, the Trustees now are well-positioned to return to a more conventional kind of president – a college lifer who can be depended on never to have a thought that might rock the boat. Indeed, Dartmouth has selected as its interim president the aforementioned Carol Folt, the epitome of such a disastrous lifer.