This is the last installment of a series studying the persona of each Ivy League president—their bank accounts, their haircuts, and the extent to which they’re known and loved. Here’s Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim, who saves the world but stays down to earth.
Emerging from stage left, he creeps in slowly, his black leather jacket barely visible through the shadows. Only a voice can be heard: “And Whosoever Shall Be Found / Without The Soul For Getting Down / Must Stand And Face The Hounds Of Hell / And Rot Inside A Corpse’s Shell!” Then he appears, white socks pulled up to just below his kneecaps, jutting out to turn-flick-kick-pose. And we’re off! The crowd goes wild. The late, great MJ returns from the dead in the form of JimKim, president of Dartmouth. He bops, he wiggles, he jumps, he jerks his head from side to side with the awkwardly abrupt movement of a nerd-thlete turned temporary pop sensation. He does the arm wave, he does the groin thrust, he does it all.
In short, Jim Yong Kim is last but certainly not least in this presidential caucus of ours. He’s a tough guy to poke fun at because he’s too busy having his own fun—whether he’s performing as Michael Jackson in “Dartmouth Idol” or saving the world. He might be the freshest face on the Ivy Presidential scene (he took office in July 2009), but he may also prove to be one of the best…Insert MJ face joke here…too soon?
Kim has had his fair share of Ivy experience: He received his undergraduate degree from Brown and both his M.D. and Anthropology Ph.D. from Harvard. But JimKim is no higher-ed hack.
Back when he was still a med student, he teamed up with future BFF/world-saver Paul Farmer to work for Partners In Health, an organization that provided health services in Haiti and has now expanded out to other countries. As a founding member—and later executive director of PIH—JimKim did stuff like fight AIDS and tuberculosis in areas already stricken by poverty and public health systems that ranked among the world’s crappiest, and personally led a campaign to cut the cost of medicine by 90% and develop healthcare protocols now adopted by around 36 countries. This guy is literally a life-saver.
He went on to gigs like Director of the Department of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization and Chair of the Department of Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School. Meanwhile, he remained BFFs with Farmer, with whom he taught Harvard undergrads and set up play-dates for their kids—who have now, in turn, apparently also become BFFs.
According to one of his former students, “Kim was his most inspirational instructor; he made you believe you could change the world.” Also, he clearly has a great sense of humor. Also, he’s a genius. Also, he was the quarterback of his High School football team. How is this guy real? Well, apparently his High School football team lost every single game they played his senior year. Okay, so he is human after all. But day-uummnn.
And yet some Fartmuths had to go and get things off to a bad start. Kim—who was born in South Korea and immigrated with his family to the U.S. as a child—became the first Asian-American to lead an Ivy League school, and somehow this achievement turned into a racism-fest. A popular Dartmouth email update, General Good Morning Message, responded to his appointment with comments such as:
Unless “Jim Yong Kim” means “I love Freedom” in Chinese, I don’t want anything to do with him. Dartmouth is America, not Panda Garden Rice Village Restaurant.
After offending pretty much everybody, GGMM apologized for confusing racism with humor and promised not to do it anymore. Then two other dudes made a video about JimKim, featuring a chorus with lines like: “Jim Yong Kim / See ya at the gym / Gettin’ huge.” So, also not funny but at least not offensive this time!
But like his alter-ego MJ, the show must go on for JimKim. It sure must be an adjustment living in this strange Dartmouth culture, so it’s a good thing he’s a trained anthropologist prepared to take part in the native ritual dance:
I will have to be taught the Salty Dog Rag, and I will have to be taught a lot about the culture of Dartmouth. But heck, I’m an anthropologist. That’s what I do for a living.
Since he’s still in his first year, his compensation record isn’t available yet, but his predecessor James Wright was the lowest-paid prez in the Ivy League, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. In his last year, Wright went home with a total of $603,983 ($500,000 plus $103,983 in benefits). We’ll see how it pans out for JimKim, but after writing all these president posts, I can’t help but think he’s worth the big bucks.
And now for the last equation to evaluate JimKim’s point value in totally legitimate mathematical terms:
[Estimated earnings based on predecessor’s paycheck – (expected cost of haircut + halo upkeep) + Google hits + dance moves] / years as Ivy president =
[$603,983 – ($30 + $50) + 116,000+ $10,000,000,000] / 0.75 =
13,334,293,204 Ivy President Points!
Looks like we got ourselves a winner.