Rockefeller Center Direct Line - Fall 2011

This Fall's Direct Line comes from the Opening Remarks for the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows Alumni Conference: Learn. Reconnect. Reflect. that were given on August 19, 2011 by Rockefeller Center Director Andrew Samwick.

Good evening and welcome back. My name is Andrew Samwick, and I have been the director of the Rockefeller Center for the past 7 years. It won’t surprise you to learn that I think that the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows program is one of the best opportunities at Dartmouth or that the feedback we have gotten from each successive year of students to experience the program confirms that I am not alone in my assessment.

As the purpose of your gathering this weekend is to learn, reconnect, and reflect, I want to share with you one or two of my reflections on 17 years on the faculty at Dartmouth. It starts with Dartmouth’s mission statement, which was articulated in April 2007 as follows:

Dartmouth College educates the most promising students and prepares them for a lifetime of learning and of responsible leadership, through a faculty dedicated to teaching and the creation of knowledge.

It is a good mission statement. It could – and perhaps should – be the mission statement of every liberal arts college or university. But is it accurate? I can see Dartmouth’s culture of learning everywhere around me – it is in the curriculum, the classroom, the laboratories, the libraries, and the seminar rooms. And in those places, the culture of learning is developed in a very intentional way – with graduation requirements, course syllabi, and the like.

I cannot see the culture of leadership in quite the same way. Yes, there are things that happen at Dartmouth that are the building blocks of a culture of leadership, but they are not required, they are offered episodically, and they are not assessed or even discussed with anything like the same intensity as the building blocks of the culture of learning.

Why does it matter that our culture of leadership is not as well developed as our culture of learning?

As I told the RLF students this past year, and as is true for all of you here as well, yours is the generation of crises. If you thought the financial crisis and the Great Recession were the end of something, think again. We as a nation, and you as the generation that will come of age professionally in the next two decades, will face crisis upon crisis. Not just challenges – crises in which you have to act immediately in order to resolve decades of indifference, neglect, and corruption. You didn’t make the mess, but you are going to have to clean it up – over and over again in fields as diverse as health, education, the environment, and international relations. Or, as we like to say at the Rockefeller Center, all that stuff we do.

The absence of a culture of leadership at Dartmouth hinders your ability to face those crises in the world beyond Dartmouth, and here I will speak from my own experience. I spent the year before I came back to Dartmouth as the Rockefeller Center director as the chief economist on the staff of the Council of Economic Advisers. This was July 2003 through June 2004. I was occasionally the person who briefed senior White House officials on economic issues. I can tell you only what I saw – it didn’t take much of a briefing to get senior leadership up to speed. The scarce resource in the room, and in the policy making process in Washington, was not knowledge of the subject. Enough people know enough about the issues to craft sensible policies. The scarce resource – the weak link in the chain – is the ability to mobilize a sufficiently large group of policy makers in the same direction to effect better policy. In other words, the scarce resource is leadership.

That year in Washington was a turning point for me. I had spent the previous decade focused solely on building the culture of learning. This was no longer acceptable. My role in fulfilling Dartmouth’s mission needed to focus equally on building a culture of leadership. And I am pleased to say that although much work remains, we have made tangible progress in building a culture of leadership. We have introduced four new courses with leadership as their unifying intellectual theme into the public policy curriculum. We have built on the success of our senior-year leadership fellows program and our off-campus internship training programs to design the Management and Leadership Development Program. MLDP is offered as a weekly co-curricular program in each of the fall, winter, and spring terms. It introduces about 150 Dartmouth students each year to the building blocks of leadership. And it really is only the beginning.

So let me conclude by saying thank you to all of you. It was the experience gained by offering RLF to you over the years that convinced us of the value of our programming and the need to expand it. It is the feedback we get from you this weekend that will enable us to develop new programs to better support Dartmouth students and young alumni as they aspire to positions of leadership in the world beyond Dartmouth.

Andrew A. Samwick is the Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences, the Sandra L. and Arthur L. Irving '72a, P'10 Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College, and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. In 2003 and 2004, he served as chief economist on the staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Since joining the Dartmouth faculty in 1994, his scholarly work has covered a range of topics, including pensions, saving, taxation, portfolio choice, and executive compensation. Professor Samwick has been published in American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Journal of Finance, Journal of Public Economics, and a number of specialized journals and conference volumes. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in economics from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He blogs about economics and current events at Capital Gains and Games.