Dartmouth prepares to inaugurate its new president

09/22/09 7:35AM By Steve Zind
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AP Photo/Jim Cole
(Host) Dartmouth College inaugurates the 17th president in its 240 year history Tuesday.  

Jim Yong Kim is a physician and  anthropologist.  He's also the first Asian-American to lead an Ivy League school. 

VPR's Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) A set of bleachers and neat rows of white chairs occupy one end of the green in Hanover.  Today they'll be filled for an event that will be at once steeped in tradition and groundbreaking.  Dartmouth's new president was born in Korea - and a group of journalists from his native country is in Hanover to cover the inauguration.

Kim says it's been humbling to see the response in the Asian press to his appointment. 

And he expressed gratitude for the good fortune and supportive people that have brought him to this day.

(Kim) "I'm going to touch a bowl that was touched by every single president, going back to 1769, that's going to be handed to me.  They're going hand me the original charter of the college.  If you think about where Korea was in 1769, we were a very poor, rural, feudal country.  So for me to be here today means a lot to me."

(Zind)  But Kim also recalled some advice given to him by Ruth Simmons of Brown University and the nation's first African-American Ivy league president.

(Kim) "She said at first they're going to see you as the Asian-American president, but then soon enough, you're going to be the president of Dartmouth College.  You're going to sink or swim based on what you do as president of Dartmouth College."

(Zind) Like many other colleges, Dartmouth has been hit hard by the recession.  The value of endowment investments used to help pay operating costs plummeted, forcing budget and job cuts. Kim acknowledges this is a difficult time to be taking on the job.

(Kim) "I think everyone understands that there's fundamental questioning of the value proposition for institutions like ours.  We cost almost 60 thousand dollars a year.  It's very expensive to educate people in the way that we do it. I don't think it's wise to assume that all of a sudden the stock market is going to come back and we're all going to be fine again.  I think we're all going to have to transform.'

(Zind) Kim comes to Dartmouth from an administrative position at Harvard Medical School. He's also a former director of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS program.  He succeeds James Wright, who served as Dartmouth president for 11 years.

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