In one of Phil Hanlon’s first significant moves as President of the College, he has withdrawn the appointment of Bishop Dr. James Tengatenga as the dean of the Tucker Foundation.
There has been great controversy surrounding Tengatenga regarding his past and current views on homosexuality. These views could have conflicted with the purpose of the William Jewett Tucker Foundation, which is to “educate Dartmouth students for lives of purpose and ethical leadership, rooted in service, spirituality, and social justice.”
Hanlon sat down with Tengatenga for a conversation regarding his perspectives on gay rights, many of which were hostile in the past. While the discussion also highlighted Tengategna’s commitment to serving people, especially those affected by HIV/AIDs, Hanlon believes that “Dr. Tengatenga's past comments about homosexuality and the uncertainty and controversy they created have compromised his ability to serve effectively as dean of Tucker.”
Malawi’s cultural history surrounding homosexuality is vastly different from that of the United States, and Tengatenga told Hanlon “how he has worked to support the LGBTQ community in Malawi” given that context. Still, Hanlon believes that the disconnect between Tengatenga’s past experience and the needs for the leadership of the Tucker Foundation were far too great.
Hanlon withdrew the offer despite Tengatenga’s recently clarifying his views on homosexuality: “Let me state unequivocally and categorically that I consider all people equal regardless of their sexual orientation. The dignity of all should be honored and respected.” He also mentioned that his views on homosexuality “have changed over time.”
Given Hanlon’s relatively soft-spoken, quiet nature, his decisive action shows strong leadership. Hanlon took time to evaluate the situation, engage in meaningful conversation with Tengatenga, and make an important decision. Our president acted rationally by neither immediately dismissing public concerns nor bending to them without thought.
Listening is one of Hanlon’s greatest strengths. In this case he listened to public outcry, individuals involved with Tucker, and Tengatenga himself. Hanlon did not act rashly from pressure from the outside, but coolly and swiftly assessed the matter and did something about it. Throughout this affair Hanlon remained responsive and in touch with the Dartmouth community.
This is one of Hanlon’s first major actions as president and is an encouraging start to what we hope to be a successful legacy of the Wheelock Succession.