UPDATED:  April 2, 2009 1:07 AM
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New Dartmouth Head Yong Kim Becomes First Asian American Ivy League President

By: Jennie L. Ilustre

WASHINGTON–Dr. Jim Yong Kim, 49, has been named the 17th president of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. When he takes office on July 1, he will become the first Asian American to lead an Ivy League school.

The selection by a search committee of the Korean American Harvard professor and global health care champion, as well as his election by the College’s Board of Trustees, resulted from an extensive and rigorous search process that took almost a year.

Ed Haldeman, Chair of Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees, announced the appointment on March 2. Kim succeeds James Wright, who is stepping down in June after 11 years on the job.

Dr. Kim said, “I am honored and humbled to accept this role, and look forward to building on the many achievements of Jim Wright and his predecessors that have made Dartmouth the vibrant, world-class institution it is today.”

Current President Wright said Kim’s election was a proud and defining moment in Dartmouth’s history. “Dartmouth is fortunate indeed to have attracted an innovator of his caliber with both the enthusiasm and the global perspective it will take to lead the college into a new era of distinction and achievement,” he added.

Kim is Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was a World Health Organization senior official and co-founder of Partners In Health. In 2006, he was among TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.” He was a 2003 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.

Dartmouth is home to the nation’s fourth-oldest medical school: the Dartmouth Medical School, founded in 1797. The Thayer School of Engineering, founded in 1867, is the nation’s first professional school of engineering. Dartmouth has the world’s first graduate school of management, the Tuck School of Business, established in 1900.

Asian Americans

Asian American leaders in the area hailed Kim’s appointment. But they lamented a racial slur on Kim by an anonymous Dartmouth student.

The Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) praised the appointment. But it expressed “disappointment in the recent satirical article published by the Generic Good Morning Message, a Dartmouth student e-publication, referring to Kim as a ‘Chinaman,’ and warning the campus that ‘another hard-working American’s job will be taken by an immigrant willing to work in substandard conditions.’”

It added: “There is a long history of discrimination that is perpetuated by reinforcing unfair and inaccurate stereotypes, even when intended as satire. OCA firmly believes it is unacceptable that the message was published and we are pleased to see that the administration and a majority of students understand the harmful effects of such characterizations.”

Remarked Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) National Executive Director Floyd Mori: “While Dartmouth positions itself as a premier Ivy League school with excellence in academics, it should be a leader in promoting more tolerant human relations and educate its students that racial slurs and dehumanizing comments should not have a part of today’s society. We urge a more pro-active direction rather than an apologetic condoning of this action.”

JACL, the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil and human rights organization, sent a letter to Wright, current Dartmouth College president, expressing dismay at a disparaging email sent to a large number of Dartmouth students.

Dr. Kim himself addressed the issue, telling Asian and Asian American students, “I understand your pain, and my sincere hope is that this incident will lead to better understanding and greater compassion for the experience of our entire community.”

He also said he wants to ensure “that the student who wrote the email understands the enriching role that people of diverse backgrounds will play in his life. But I also don’t want this lapse in judgment to limit his prospects for the future. Dartmouth students are very talented, but we all make mistakes-especially when we are young.”

He expressed concern “that people outside our community will not understand the tremendous work Dartmouth has done to build a diverse and inclusive campus that cherishes free speech, but also nurtures mutual respect and civility.”


A physician and anthropologist, Kim received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. He graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. from Brown University in 1982. He is an international leader noted for his fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other diseases. In 2004, in recognition of his many accomplishments, he was elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Kim is chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a major Harvard teaching hospital. He is also the director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. He plans to continue teaching undergraduates at Dartmouth

Kim was born in Seoul, Korea. He came to the U.S. at age five with his family and grew up in Muscatine, Iowa. He attended Muscatine High School, where he was valedictorian and president of his class. He also played quarterback for the high school football team. He is married to Dr. Younsook Lim, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston. The couple has an eight-year old son, and another born on February 27.

Cracking the Ceiling

“There is a demonstrated need for APIA leadership in the higher education community and Dr. Kim’s appointment is a great step forward for academia and the APIA community,” said Neil Horikoshi, president and executive director of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF). The APIASF is the nation’s largest non-profit organization devoted to providing college scholarships to Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) students.

He cited a 2008 report, issued by the American Council on Education (ACE) and the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), Asian Americans still only make up .9 percent of college presidents.

In New York, Committee of 100 Executive Director S. Alice Mong said that in 2005 the C100, under the leadership of then Chairman Bob Lee, surveyed the top U.S. institutions of higher education.

In its Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education Report Card, a key finding was that “although Asian Americans account for 6.2% of faculty, more than any other minority group, they hold only 2.4% of 145,371 senior administrative positions in higher education. This compares to 9.4% of such positions held by African Americans and 3.6% by Latino Americans.”

C100 later started an award to Asian Americans in higher education administration, named after Dr. Chang Lin Tien. Tien was the first Asian American to head a major research university. He was the Chancellor of UC Berkeley in 1990.


Dartmouth College has about 4,100 undergraduates in the liberal arts and 1,700 graduate students. With faculty and students from around the world, it is dedicated to advancing the principles of liberal education. It has 19 graduate programs in the arts and sciences.

Kim’s appointment was a popular one. Al Mulley, Chair of the Presidential Search Committee and a Dartmouth Trustee, said: “Jim believes that education is not just about gaining knowledge, but also forming leaders who will rise to meet the great challenges of our time.”

“Jim Yong Kim embodies the ideals of learning, innovation, and service that lie at the heart of Dartmouth’s mission,” said Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees Chair Haldeman. “Jim follows in the long tradition of Dartmouth presidents who have made a significant mark both in higher education and on the world stage, and we are confident he is the ideal person to lead the college in today’s rapidly changing environment,” he said.

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