Saturday, 2:15 PM
Dartmouth taps world health pioneer as next president
By Tracy Jan, Globe Staff
Dartmouth College named Harvard medical anthropologist Dr. Jim Yong Kim as its 17th president today, making the Korean-born physician the first Asian-American to head an Ivy League school.
Kim, a 49-year-old expert in AIDS and tuberculosis, is internationally renowned for his groundbreaking work delivering healthcare to developing countries. He will replace James Wright, a historian and former Marine, who will step down in June after 11 years at the helm to promote college opportunities for wounded veterans.
Members of Dartmouth's Board of Trustees said Kim is the ideal leader for the college at this time because of his lifelong commitment to teaching and mentoring young people in the field of global health.
They also praised his record in heading international agencies such as Partners in Health, a nonprofit he founded with colleagues while students at Harvard Medical School, and for his ability to prod countries for funding while overseeing the World Health Organization's first major effort to promote AIDS treatment.
Dr. Paul Farmer, a co-founder of Partners in Health who has worked with Kim for 25 years, said he expects Kim to use his new post as a bully pulpit to address the problem of medical care delivery to underserved communities, from urban America to rural Africa.
"Jim is going to galvanize the movement for health equity," Farmer said. "To have a physician teacher at the head of a university will seize the imaginations of young Americans and help build this wonderful movement around global poverty issues. Part of me feels like we're not so much losing Jim as gaining Dartmouth."
Kim will take over the college at a tumultuous moment in higher education, with the nation’s wealthiest schools in the midst of making deep cuts in response to plummeting endowments. Dartmouth has lost at least 18 percent of its once $3.66 billion endowment, which funds more than a third of the college’s $700 million operating budget.
The 5,900-student Hanover, N.H., college has announced plans to lay off staff, freeze salaries, reduce work hours, and postpone construction projects. As president, Kim faces the challenge of keeping Dartmouth competitive with the larger, wealthier Ivies, raising money to increase financial aid to the middle- and upper-middle class, and keeping salaries at a level high enough to attract and retain top faculty talent.
"We were comforted by the fact that Jim has experience managing and leading complex organizations that have been transformative in the way they have sought to solve the global health problem," said Charles E. Haldeman Jr., chairman of Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees.
Albert G. Mulley, Jr., associate professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School and chairman of the presidential search committee, said the committee was impressed by Kim's fund-raising record for various global health initiatives -- whether it's $60 million a year for Partners in Health, a $45 million Gates grant to target multidrug resistance to tuberculosis, or getting Canada to pledge $100 million to treat AIDS patients in third-world countries.
"He's had lots of experience securing funds from governments, private foundations and individual philanthropists," Mulley said. "More important is the impact he has as a communicator."
One of Kim's top priorities is to ensure that low-income students have access to top-notch education in the same way he's brought world-class healthcare to poverty stricken countries. Kim said he is commitment to maintaining Dartmouth's policy of admitting both American and international students without taking into consideration their families' ability to pay, especially in light of the recession.
As Dartmouth president, he hopes to improve "the way we deliver our most-cherished social goals," healthcare and education, while maintaining the balance between training students for jobs and giving them a broad education in the humanities, social sciences and scienes, Kim said in a phone interview during his drive to Hanover during the snowstorm this morning. He'd also like to direct the resources of Dartmouth's medical, business, and engineering schools toward global health delivery on a wider scale.
"The challenge is to not lose our focus in providing a great liberal arts education but also preparing students to make a difference in the world," he said. "These are the people who are supposed to have aspirations and goals that are truly unimaginable to us today."
In 2003 while serving as top adviser at WHO, Kim was the driving force behind a new urgency in AIDS treatment, increasing treatment in Africa eightfold within two years.
Although many clinicians worried about patients showing resistance to the antiretroviral drugs or serious side effects and argued for more testing, Kim responded at the time by saying that delays were not an option.
“You have to take chances, instead of debating endlessly,” Kim said during a 2003 Globe interview. “I don’t know exactly the way to do it right now, but let’s get started, let’s figure it out, and let’s do it.”
Previously, Kim had helped write global protocols for overseeing the treatment of patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis, patients other medical professionals had largely written off as untreatable.
His was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2003, and he was elected in 2004 to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
Born in Seoul, Kim grew up in Muscatine, Iowa. His father, a dentist, taught at the University of Iowa and his mother received her doctorate in philosophy there. Kim was valedictorian and president of his senior class, as well as quarterback for his high school football team.
He majored in human biology at Brown University, and now chairs the department of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School. Kim also directs the health and human rights center at the Harvard School of Public Health and is chief of the division of global health equity at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
His wife, Dr. Younsook Lim, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital, gave birth to their second son on Friday night. The couple’s oldest son, Thomas, is 8.
"My hope is to really take up the legacy of [former Dartmouth President John Sloan] Dickey and to think in this age, even with the economic crisis, what it would mean to live up to his ideal of making the world's troubles our troubles," Kim said.