Dickey, John Sloan

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Dickey, John Sloan

(b. 4 November 1907 in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania; d. 9 February 1991 in Hanover, New Hampshire), lawyer, professor, and foreign affairs specialist best known for his leadership as president of Dartmouth College from 1945 to 1970.

Dickey was the son of John W. Dickey, secretary-treasurer of a woven-wire factory, and Gretchen Sloan, a home-maker. One of five children, John graduated from Lock Haven High School in 1925 and was the first member of his family to attend college. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1929 with a B.A. degree in history, magna cum laude, and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1932; on 26 November ofthat year he married Christina Gillespie, with whom he had three children. He was also admitted to the Massachusetts bar and practiced law for thirteen years, six of those (1934–1940) as a partner in the Boston firm Gaston, Snow, Saltonstall, and Hunt.

In addition to his legal practice Dickey undertook a variety of assignments in the U.S. State Department on inter-American issues, economics, and trade. He served as an assistant to the assistant secretary of state for economic affairs, Francis B. Sayre, and as an assistant to the State Department’s legal adviser (1934). He then became a special assistant to Secretary of State Cordell Hull and liaison between the State Department and the coordinator of inter-American affairs, Nelson A. Rockefeller, in 1940. During World War II he was chief of the State Department’s Division of World Trade Intelligence and special assistant to Secretary Hull on renewal of the Trade Agreements Act (1943). In 1945 Dickey became the first director the State Department’s Office of Public Affairs. In this capacity he served as public liaison officer for the U.S. delegation to the forty-six-nation San Francisco conference that drafted the charter on the United Nations (1945), coordinating communication between the delegation and foreign-policy consulting groups.

In 1945 the board of trustees of Dartmouth College appointed Dickey the school’s twelfth president, to succeed Ernest Martin Hopkins. He took office less than ninety days following the end of World War II. Among his first initiatives as president, Dickey undertook to raise Dartmouth’s stature among the Ivy League colleges by rebuilding its faculty. Through increases in faculty compensation and benefits, he recruited and hired “teacher-scholars” with Ph.D. training, strong publication records, and an interest in teaching. Dickey also increased competition for undergraduate admission, giving the sons of alumni less advantage than before the war, and he set Dartmouth on a course toward more diversity by instructing the admissions office that, henceforth, the freshman class would be selected without racial or religious discrimination.

Dickey was directly involved in academic policy and educational innovation during his tenure. Highlights of his leadership in this area include the Great Issues Course (1947–1966), a somewhat controversial model course for seniors that included convocations and lectures by eminent politicians and intellectuals in philosophy, the arts, government, and economics, to ensure that Dartmouth undergraduates would be prepared as citizens to understand local, national, and international problems. In 1951 Dickey, believing that a Dartmouth education should encourage “conscience as the necessary companion to competence,” created the William Jewett Tucker Foundation. The foundation initially promoted the spiritual growth of undergraduates through religious programs, counseling, and workshops; it later expanded its initiatives to include voluntary services and the opportunity to earn academic credit for social activism. He oversaw the reorganization of the 1958-1959 undergraduate academic year into the “Three-three” program (three terms with three courses each term), which permitted students to study each subject in greater depth and provided more time for self-study. In 1962 the college established the Hopkins Center to link the instructional, creative, cultural, and community activities in the humanities and the arts.

From 1957 to 1962 Dickey worked with the trustees and faculty to rejuvenate and expand Dartmouth’s antiquated two-year medical school, augmenting the faculty, introducing research, and reviving the M.D. degree, which had not been awarded since 1914. He inaugurated a new department of engineering in 1958 and, with the support of the Sloan Foundation in 1960, set the Thayer School of Engineering on a new course that included graduate education. In 1962, under Dickey, Dartmouth revived doctoral programs in the natural sciences.

Over the course of his tenure Dickey oversaw the construction of twenty new campus buildings, including eight new dormitories and five major complexes, among them the Gilman Biomedical Center and the Kiewit Computation Center. Between 1946 and 1963 Dickey increased Dartmouth’s endowment fivefold, from $22 million to $114 million. Effective with alumni, he raised annual contributions from $337,000 to $2 million. Indeed, Dartmouth’s 66 percent alumni contribution rate was typically the highest of any major school. However, his chief innovation in fund-raising at Dartmouth was to move from a reliance on the annual alumni fund and bequests to a comprehensive development effort that included major foundation support and, beginning in 1957, capital campaigns.

Dickey resigned from the presidency in 1970, Dartmouth’s bicentennial year, at the age of sixty-three. By this time student dissent and protest against military recruiting on campus during the Vietnam War had sharpened, culminating in the occupation by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) of the main administration building, Parkhurst Hall, on 6 May 1968. Although Dickey handled this incident without the disruption that had occurred on other campuses and later moved to give undergraduates a greater role in college governance, he was disappointed and discouraged by what he viewed as a mounting worldwide rebellion against authority and by the failure of his faculty to maintain an atmosphere of free speech on campus during this period.

Over the course of his presidency Dickey received many honorary degrees, including the Doctor of Laws from Am-herst, Brown, Bucknell, Columbia, Harvard, Middlebury, Tufts, Oberlin, Notre Dame, Princeton, and Wesleyan. He served on President Harry S. Truman’s 1947 Committee on Civil Rights, the United Nations Collective Measures Committee in 1951, and as consultant to the Secretary of State Acheson on disarmament in 1952. He was recognized nationally for his publications on government and foreign affairs and taught Canadian-American relations as the Bicentennial Professor of Public Affairs at Dartmouth until 1978.

Dickey suffered a stroke in 1982 and remained severely ill, living at the medical center on the Dartmouth campus until his death. He is buried in Pine Knoll Cemetery in Hanover.

As president of Dartmouth for a quarter of a century, Dickey had a pervasive and enduring influence on the school’s character and prestige. In his initiatives to revitalize and redesign the college, he is probably unmatched by any of his predecessors. Dickey was above all a champion of the liberal arts. At the heart of his initiatives was his strong belief in the value of the “liberating arts” as the best foundation for undergraduate, graduate, and professional education. His leadership flowed from a philosophy that it was bad education in the twentieth century to advance the power of intellectual competency in undergraduates without “creating a corresponding sense of moral direction to guide the use of that power.” Education was a lifelong endeavor, and the mission of institutions such as Dartmouth should be to encourage in its students a sense of personal responsibility or conscience, a sense of commitment and discipline, and a comprehensive “awareness for those later experiences which over the course of a lifetime can add up to an education.”

Charles E. Widmayer provides the most comprehensive coverage of Dickey’s presidency at Dartmouth in John Sloan Dickey: A Chronicle of his Presidency of Dartmouth College (1991). In “Dartmouth on Purpose: A Forward” in Ralph Nading Hill, ed., The College on the Hill, a Dartmouth Chronicle (1965), Dickey outlines his vision of undergraduate education at Dartmouth. His view on college governance during the period of 1960s student radicalism is laid out in excerpts taken from his 1969 interview with Yankee magazine in Edward Connery Lathem and David M. Shribman, eds., Miraculously Builded in Our Hearts: A Dartmouth Reader (1999). Obituaries are in the New York Times and Boston Globe (both 11 Feb. 1991). Close to fifty hours of a taped oral history interview conducted by Jere R. Daniell after Dickey’s retirement are located in Special Collections at the Dartmouth Library.

Mildred G. Carstensen

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