Look Back, Looking Forward

Durden office hours

by William G. Durden '71 

One of the highlights of serving as president of Dickinson for the past 14 years has been to engage with the college community in multiple ways—whether it be on campus, at off-campus alumni and parent gatherings around the globe, through phone and e-mail exchanges, through my writings in the national media or through this column. Throughout all of these exchanges, my goal has been to inform, to inspire, to speak out on issues that matter and to position Dickinson appropriately as a top national liberal-arts college.

As I pen my final column for this magazine, I can’t help but reflect on these aspirations and how the hard work and determination of the entire community have built a platform of accomplishment upon which the college can continue to build well into the future. And with the help of the many talented individuals who have made up my leadership team over the years, we have worked with great purpose to achieve an evolving and broad-based set of key performance indicators that have taken Dickinson to the next level.

A snapshot of those accomplishments from 1998 to 2012 demonstrates the results of this extraordinary effort:

  • First-year applications rose from 3,030 to 5,844 (with an all-time high in 2011 of 6,067).
  • The average SAT scores for incoming students went from 1189 to 1293.
  • The percentage of domestic students of color increased from 5.4 percent to 13.8 percent.
  • The amount of gifted scholarship/
  • institutional grant monies offered rose from $18.5 million to $39.2 million.
  • Total endowment monies increased from $151.7 million to $355.8 million.
  • Campus wireless infrastructure grew from a single connection in 1998 to a completely wired campus with close to 900 connections.
  • Likewise, we started with one technology-equipped classroom and now have 114 across campus.
  • Prior to 1999 the college received only three gifts of $1 million or more from individuals; during the past 14 years, the college has received 33 such gifts.
  • Prior to 1999 there were no faculty positions supported by gifts of $1 million or more; today, 17 faculty positions are supported by gifts at this level.
  • Last, the college’s visibility through the media grew exponentially, with the number of news stories rising from 56 to 3,584 and a corresponding increase in impressions from 10.3 million to 904.9 million.

In terms of the less-quantifiable changes, I look to the new campus signage and, in particular, the beautiful “Dickinson” arches around the academic quad that were generously contributed by the class of 1960. We have the red Adirondack chairs, the organic farm, the many new construction and renovation projects across campus and the collaboration with the Borough of Carlisle that led to the reduction of High Street from four to two traffic lanes through town and the campus, plus the addition of bike lanes. I also note the significant increase in Dickinson’s nationwide name recognition (as opposed to confusion with another school in northern New Jersey).

These markers never could have been reached without the hard work of the entire faculty, administration and staff, as well as the financial support and volunteer efforts of the alumni, parents and students. I am indebted to each member of this community for the determination and perseverance it required to make these accomplishments a reality. Your efforts have put Dickinson in the spotlight as a true leader in higher education.

While my time as president comes to a conclusion on June 30, I look forward to returning to my alumni roots. In essence, I think of myself as an alumnus who did what he could for the college when he could with what he could. And I realized something defining about myself while at Dickinson: I like to build things. I like to take—with the significant help of others—an institution from one level of achievement to another. I like to think that my colleagues and I did that at The Johns Hopkins University with the Center for Talented Youth over a 16-year period, and it is still going strong and helping hundreds of thousands of children and youth around the world. I like to think that we did that here at Dickinson. That we built a platform that will educate our future students extremely well; that is rich material for our next president, Nancy Roseman, and her team to advance even further; and that will continue to make us alumni proud of our association.

Elke and I leave Carlisle with a wonderful feeling of community effort and achievement. And I like the way that we are leaving town: understated, low key and in the same car in which we arrived—a 1999 Audi with but 28,000 miles on it and symbolically, I like to think, in good shape and with miles to go. That continuity and momentum are comforting. Thank you, each and every one.

Published April 11, 2013