A Q&A with the New President of Dartmouth, Philip J. Hanlon

On August 19, 2013 by Grad Forum

pres_interview_thumbnailMedia Production Coordinator Lisa Jackson recently sat down with Philip Hanlon, the 18th president of Dartmouth College, to learn more about how it feels for him to be back on campus (Hanlon graduated from Dartmouth in 1977), what the future of Dartmouth might look like, and where graduate students fit into the mix.

Lisa Jackson (LJ): What excites you most about Dartmouth now that you’re back on campus?

Philip Hanlon (PH): Dartmouth is the place that transformed my life more than any other. What excites me most about Dartmouth is its unique ability to unleash the potential of its incredible students. It has always been Dartmouth’s legacy to create citizen leaders, by which I mean people who will go out and not only engage in public discourse and debate, but actually shape the debate and lead the way forward. My wife Gail and I have had a lot of discussions with students over the summer that have reminded us more than ever about the amazing potential in our students who are so articulate, smart, and passionate.

LJ: What have you found has changed the most since your time as a student here?

PH: Without any doubt the thing that strikes me the most is the diversity of the student body, which is terrific! I was here at a time when coeducation had just begun, and so to look at today’s student body, and its diversity along all dimensions, is really a fantastic sight.

LJ: What do you consider Dartmouth’s greatest strengths as an academic institution?

PH: Dartmouth is an institution which has the dual mission of preparing leaders who will go out and change the world, while also working to advance the frontiers of knowledge in ways that will take on the world’s most vexing problems. I think amongst all the institutions that fit in the national university category, Dartmouth stands out as the one that has put the most emphasis—and in some ways has had the greatest success—in creating and preparing leaders. There are a lot of reasons for it, but one is the tightknit community here, and another is the setting. Here there is a strong ethic of connecting with the outdoors, and understanding one’s place in the world by one’s connection with nature. I think all these are unique features and strengths of the College.

LJ: Could you discuss some of your biggest goals and priorities for Dartmouth?

PH: One thing I’ve been really struck by in talking to students (both graduate students and undergraduates) is their involvement in entrepreneurship and innovation on campus through organizations like Mitosis, for one example. They are really doing amazing things with a very modest amount of support from the College. One thing I would really like to do is increase the way in which we support these activities. What these students are already doing is really, really amazing in terms of having ideas, taking the steps towards turning them into action whether through companies or social entrepreneurship ventures, getting their own advice from the business community along the way, and raising their own funds. I would like to see Dartmouth really help them with these ventures.

I would also love to figure out a way to get a greater flow of “young scholars” through the institution—by young scholars, I mean people who are between undergraduate and regular faculty, either graduate students or post-docs. Young scholars bring a lot of energy to campus, a lot of new ideas, and they really challenge the senior faculty to think in new ways and be more productive. And when they leave here and go into the academic world, they carry Dartmouth’s reputation forward.

LJ: What is your long-term vision for Dartmouth?

PH: Certainly I feel that Dartmouth offers the best undergraduate education in the country; this has been part of its history for a very long time. I would like to keep us there at the forefront. But, this is not a matter of doing what one has always been doing because the external world around the academy is changing more rapidly then ever. The workforce is diversifying rapidly and our graduates need to develop a functional set of skills to be able to work effectively with people from different backgrounds and perspectives in a global setting. We need to adjust to this change and demand.

Information technology (IT) also offers us amazing opportunities to change the way we teach and learn, and this applies to both undergraduates and graduates. We need to seize these technological opportunities and figure out how we can use them to enhance the human interface.

And then of course affordability is another really big factor that is weighing on higher education. We absolutely have to slow down the growth of our tuition increases to something that is a more reasonable index of inflation.

Overall there are a lot of challenges to the traditional model of education, undergraduate education in particular. In this period of change, I would like Dartmouth to stay at the forefront.

LJ: Where do you see graduate students fitting into these plans; what role do we play in the overall profile of the College?

PH: I’m a big advocate for experiential learning where one is learning by doing and by being out there, confronting the complexities of the world in some direct way, as opposed to passive learning where one is just sitting in a classroom. This can be through research, but it could also be through some type of service learning, entrepreneurial activities, or performance. When you think about that, the professions—whether it’s public health or business or medicine or engineering—are really platforms to take intellectual learning and apply it to the real world. As we advance action-based learning, which I think is crucial, our graduate students can play a very key role in a sort of intergenerational way. As undergraduates come here to have these educational experiences, graduate students can play a very important role as mentors. They can also play an important role in conducting the research that comes from action-based activities.

LJ: Outside of your workday, what are some of your favorite activities to do here in the Upper Valley?

PH: Gail and I are big outdoors people. We’ve been on several great hikes; we’ve been on a couple of terrific bike rides; we’ve been kayaking a number of times. We went swimming in the river one day, and we also enjoy playing golf a lot. Lots of outdoors stuff!

President Hanlon will continue his weekly office hours in the fall for students who would like to meet and chat with him. Otherwise, students are encouraged to send an email or contact the Office of the President to make an appointment. To read more about President Hanlon and learn about his background, please follow this link to his biography on the Office of the President’s webpage.

by Lisa Jackson

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