AGTF Defends Set-Asides

The Alumni Governance Task Force, the group charged with re-writing the Alumni Association constitution from scratch, is scrambling to defend itself.

A few weeks ago, Joe Malchow ’08 noticed that the new constitution includes set-asides for minority groups, and he complained that this amounts to built-in discrimination. He also said this could allow an alumnus to elect two members to the Alumni Council (which under the new scheme would be re-branded as the Association Assembly and replace the directly elected Association government).

To defend these set-asides against Malchow and others, the AGTF posted several different and rather nonsensical explanations for this new discrimination. Naturally, none of these address alumni concerns that discrimination is inherently bad.

  1. Affirmative action
    They openly admit that they are setting aside seats for “those groups of alumni who have been ‘historically marginalized.'” This sounds very much like affirmative action, which nominally has the twin goals of correcting for latent racism and ensuring that individuals aren’t punished for disparities earlier in life. But presumably, an election doesn’t meet even these dubious requirements, since it is open to all alumni regardless of their race or their past or current station in life. And wouldn’t minority alumni, having graduated from Dartmouth, be on a “level playing field” with non-minorities, thus making affirmative action pointless? This is an excuse for set-asides, not a reason.
  2. Fear of offending minorities
    The AGTF says they retained these set-asides because they “did not want to take something away” from the minority groups (emphasis theirs). But didn’t they go about the constitution-making exercise precisely to re-work things and “create a more unified alumni body?” And this defense doesn’t ring true, since one of their main purposes is to replace the directly-elected Association leadership with a corporatist body that represents special interests more than it does the alumni as a whole.
  3. Minority participation
    Then there’s this: “As Dartmouth becomes increasingly diverse, we think it is important that we also encourage similar diversity of participation in our alumni governance organizations.” But if their goal is to encourage all alumni to participate, then engineering an alumni government that automatically includes certain groups—whether they vote or not—doesn’t serve their goal very well, does it? The problem they identify here is participation, not representation—so this is a poor defense of set-aside representation.
  4. Fundraising
    Finally, they say that division into identity groups is a good governance model because it works well for targeted fundraising. If the goal is to appeal to the most alumni possible and raise the most money possible, this is the way to go. But the point of the Association leadership is not to be popular with alumni or to raise money for the College. It is to oversee the College on behalf of those alumni who vote.

It does seem like the AGTF threw out several reasons in the hopes that one of them would serve as a good defense of their poor decisions. None of them work.

More importantly, none of these addresses what is perhaps the most heinous aspect of this arrangement: that these set-asides are for the College’s “officially recognized Affiliated Groups.” This means that the College, not alumni, determine representation on the new Association Assembly. Since the very purpose of establishing alumni governance in the first place was to allow alumni to oversee the College, letting the College pick its own overseers is a poor way to accomplish this goal.

Update: Andrew Seal ’07 has a reply.

One of Seal’s commenters notes that the Council now has minority set-asides. This is true. But that’s not especially relevant to a discussion of the revised constitution. First, there is no reason to continue such practices when re-working the entire system, as the AGTF has set out to do. Second, the current set-asides, regardless of their merit, have little impact today on the Association’s elected leadership, since they exist only in the Alumni Council, an advisory body. But under the new constitution, the Council (renamed the Assembly) would itself become the Association’s leadership, replacing the elected body.