Friday, September 20, 2013

Lemons for a New President

Stephen Harvard, Class of 1970
"It appears that Dartmouth has bought another lemon for President." These words do not refer to Dartmouth’s newest President, Philip J. Hanlon, Class of 1977, but they do refer to man who was president of the College when Phil was a student, John Kemeny.

In May of 1970, just two months into his new presidency, Kemeny found himself facing a major crisis. The US incursion into Cambodia on May 1 followed closely by the shooting of four students at Kent State by Ohio National Guardsmen had students around the country, and at Dartmouth, threatening to strike. In his oral history Kemeny states "I think in a very real sense, I feel that I fully assumed the duties of president of Dartmouth College in the half hour between 8:30 p.m. that Monday and 9:00 p.m." In following hours he made the bold decision to cancel classes for the coming week to facilitate discussion and allow tempers to cool.

The Manchester Union Leader, then a Nationally known newspaper with a reputation for being one of the most conservative news outlets of its time, ran a front page editorial with the headline "Dartmouth Buys Another Lemon." In a perfect example of the old adage, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade, both students and faculty adopted the lemon as the symbol of the week. Students made tee shirts and posters and a delegation of faculty presented Kemeny with a miniature lemon tree.

On behalf of his colleagues, Professor of Biology, Tom
Roos presents President Kemeny with a miniature lemon tree.
The week happened to culminate with Green Key weekend and the students asked their new President to speak. At the end of his speech Kemeny threw lemons out to the crowd. Many of these were brought back to him by students to be autographed.

We certainly hope that President Hanlon will not have to face a similar crisis so early in his tenure. But if he does, he only has to look to Kemeny for an example of how best to deal with it.

Listen to Kemeny describe the "lemon incident," or read the entire transcript.

To see the Stephen Harvard poster ask for Broadside 970240

1 comment :

  1. FYI, not everyone at the time thought and undoubtedly not everyone to this day thinks Kemeny dealt with the situation well. Some faculty, students, parents, and alumni believed Kemeny acted arrogantly, rashly, and without thinking through the consequences. It would not be the last Kemeny decision criticized for those reasons.