Jim Kenyon: A president like royalty at Dartmouth College

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


Valley News Columnist

Published: 07-23-2023 2:35 AM

Busy, busy, busy. New Dartmouth President Sian Leah Beilock anticipates being so busy, in fact, that the college is advertising for someone to pick up her dry cleaning, drop off packages at the post office and do her grocery shopping.

Then there’s the matter of her family’s small dog.

Whoever is hired will double as a dog walker and a chauffeur for grooming appointments, according to the ad posted for a “president’s housekeeper” on Dartmouth’s website.

The president also demands her domestic help “maintain confidentiality and possess good judgment.” I assume that means not spilling the beans whenever a billionaire alum stops by the house with another fat check in exchange for getting their name on a building.

From reading the four-page job description, I’m skeptical one person alone could handle all that Beilock has in mind. The laundry list of tasks includes washing, ironing, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, dusting and “tidying.”

On top of being a cleaning whiz, the new hire must also prepare fresh meals, using recipes provided by the president “as well as recipes that the housekeeper finds independently.”

Justin Anderson, the college’s vice president for communications, told me via email that “as a working mom with a child in middle school, President Beilock is interested in certain kinds of support that are different from previous Dartmouth presidents.”

The college isn’t saying how much the position pays. But the ad is clear that — unlike other housekeeping and cooking jobs on campus – it’s a nonunion position. That’s enough to give applicants pause.

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If Rosie, the family dog, misses a teeth cleaning, you could be out the door. (I know next to nothing about dog breeds, but from the photos Beilock posts on Instagram, I’m guessing Rosie is a cavapoo.)

Since Beilock has been in Hanover for only a month, I should probably cut her some slack. She’s spent the last 18 years working in Chicago and New York, where she was president of Barnard College, starting in 2017.

As a cognitive scientist, however, Beilock must have figured out already the Upper Valley is far removed from life in the big city. I don’t believe the L.L. Bean outlet in West Lebanon carries Gucci.

Anderson reminded me that having a housekeeper assigned to the president’s campus quarters is not new. The house “serves as an important event space for hosting students, faculty, alumni, and community members,” he said. “A housekeeper has long been a valued member of a president’s team.”

I’m not sure if Eleazar Wheelock had a housekeeper, but Phil Hanlon, Beilock’s predecessor, and many before him certainly did. (The most recent housekeeper retired around the time that Hanlon and his wife, Gail Gentes, departed.)

Like many colleges, Dartmouth doesn’t believe that providing its president with free room and board is a sufficient perk. A full-time housekeeper isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

A president needs someone around, as the ad specifies, to “perform a wide variety of daily cleaning tasks to meticulously maintain the cleanliness of a four-floor residence.”

After all, who will polish the silver and wash the china when the president hosts dinner parties for deep-pocketed alums?

Still, Beilock is taking the idea that a Dartmouth president deserves special treatment to a new level.

While Hanlon was hardly a man of the people, I occasionally saw him pushing a shopping cart at the Lebanon Co-op on Sunday mornings. Perhaps after discovering that same-day Amazon delivery to her doorstep from Whole Foods is a long shot, Beilock will adjust to life in the slow lane as well.

Under Beilock’s contract, she “pays all costs for any personal or family-related tasks performed by the housekeeper,” Anderson said.

As she should.

Dartmouth hasn’t disclosed what it’s paying Beilock, but I suspect her annual compensation is north of $1.5 million, which would put her in Hanlon’s ballpark near the end of his 10-year tenure.

So if the money to perform Beilock’s routine chores is coming out of her bank account, what’s the problem? She’s just doing what a lot of rich people do.

Except in Beilock’s case, her paycheck comes from an organization that reaps huge federal tax benefits as a nonprofit. Dartmouth can afford to pay its CEO a seven-figure salary, in part, because it’s not on the hook to Uncle Sam.

A Gallup poll released earlier this month, and reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, found just one third of Americans surveyed expressed confidence in colleges and universities — a 21% decline since 2015.

Skyrocketing costs are a big reason.

But for name-brand colleges, there’s no shortage of families who are willing and able to pay the $85,000 annual sticker price.

College presidents (I’m betting Beilock isn’t the only one) who pay someone to serve as their personal gopher smacks of elitism. It bolsters the argument that schools like Dartmouth, with its $8 billion endowment, have lost touch with how many Americans live.

I’m not suggesting Beilock spend her Saturdays cutting the grass and trimming the hedges at her new address. She just might want to keep in mind that Dartmouth isn’t a gated retreat.

If not for herself, Beilock should try mingling with the masses for the sake of her privileged students. They tend to live in the Dartmouth bubble, rarely venturing outside the ivy-cloaked campus walls (Starbucks doesn’t count) to see what else the Upper Valley has to offer.

By paying a hired hand to stand in line for her at the post office, Beilock is missing out on a golden opportunity. She might find it worth her valuable time to strike up conversations with Upper Valley residents who don’t all bleed Dartmouth green.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.