AoA Blitzes Dartmouth Students

>To: [redacted]
>Subject: The College Governance Controversy
>Date: Thu, 04 Oct 2007 19:00:03 -0400
>From: “Association of Alumni”
>Reply-To: dartaoa@gmail.com

Dear Dartmouth Students,

We are the executives of the Dartmouth Association of Alumni who are
seeking to prevent the Trustees from implementing their highly
controversial reorganization of the governance of the College. We owe
you an explanation, as we recognize how this affects you today and in
the future. At the moment, you are the most important people at
Dartmouth. In four years, all of you will be alumni and there will be
4,000 new undergraduates. Our goal in all of this is to protect the
core of the Dartmouth experience — and even the ’11s already know
exactly what we mean by this — from administrative overreach and from
co-optation by a small (but, we readily admit, very wealthy) group of
alumni.

A brief bit of background. Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees hires, fires,
evaluates, and sets the salary of the president. Of course, they don’t
decide, for example, which courses are offered in a given term —
faculty decides that — but they are charged with overseeing the entire
College and setting its strategic direction. Their decisions determine
what Dartmouth will become. For over a century, half of the Board has
been elected by former students of Dartmouth. The moment one’s class
graduated, one earned the right to vote.

Over the last four years, a remarkable series of events happened at
Dartmouth. T.J. Rodgers ’70, the self-made CEO of Cypress Semiconductor
Corporation, ran for a Trusteeship and won. Why was that remarkable?
Because Dr. Rodgers did not have the administration’s sanction. He used
a petition process long embedded, and usually ignored, in the election
rules. Dr. Rodgers’s campaign explained all the good that had been done
at the College — and all the hard work still required. By contrast,
his opponents did not offer substantive opinions. Dr. Rodgers won an
astounding victory.

The next year, two seats were open. Two more petition candidates — law
professor Todd Zywicki ’88 and author Peter Robinson ’79 — ran and won.
They focused on issues of free speech (Dartmouth still had a red-light
speech code at the time, limiting freedom of speech), and support of
athletics (ask senior friends about the attempted cutting of the swim
team). Again, these petition candidates won.

As a matter of course, each of these three petition candidates found
themselves becoming even better informed in the details of the College
and sobered by what they learned. Their concerns have centered on
ensuring absolutely the best student experience, by eliminating
bureaucracy, increasing the numbers of the full-time faculty available
to students, and making sure that traditional out-of-class experiences
are not diminished. This made those in power uncomfortable. Instead
of addressing these issues head on, the administration became
defensive, as you can now see on the infamous Ask.Dartmouth.Edu
website. There was, and remains today, a sense that dissent is
disloyal. You can still hear some people claim that talking about where
Dartmouth needs to improve is akin to harming Dartmouth!

Needless to say, this sort of argumentation — which echoes what we’ve
heard in Washington over the past few years — failed to convince many
people. The year after Messrs. Robinson and Zywicki were elected, a
brand new alumni governance constitution was proposed. Under the
guise of changes to the structure of alumni organizations, a few people
who feared having more petition trustees tried to change the rules to
make it much more difficult for future petition candidates to be
elected. The College spent a lot of money attempting to get the
document ratified — even hiring a public relations firm — and some
wealthy alumni hired a pollster to do telephone push polling. But it
failed. It needed 67% approval to pass, and it only got 49%.

The next year — and now we are talking about last Spring — another
petition candidate ran for a Trusteeship under the traditional rules.
He is Stephen Smith ’88, a legal scholar. (You can still see his
website here: http://www.stephensmithtrustee.com/page/1/) He won by a
clear majority took his seat as the only African-American man on
Dartmouth’s Board. His campaign centered on bureaucratic bloat at our
College. He noted that the number of assistant deans and vice
presidents had ballooned in recent years, that Dartmouth was spending
a smaller and smaller fraction of its massive resources on the actual
classroom experience. Clearly, Mr. Smith said, there was an entrenched
bureaucracy problem. A separate College-commissioned report by the
McKinsey consulting firm said the same thing.

Probably you have already noticed this in dealing with the registrar,
ORL, the parking people, and a Safety & Security force that is now
bigger than the Hanover police department itself. But whether you have
noticed it or not, the bottom line is that a fat administration means a
lean faculty. Talk candidly with your professors — particularly those
in the government and economics departments — and they will tell you
that Dartmouth just plain needs more profs.

Mr. Smith’s victory — and we apologize for the long blitz; it is
almost over — was the last straw. Asked by The D to comment on his
win, then-chairman Bill Neukom ’64 said: “We have a new Trustee.” His
unwillingness to say any more, or anything positive, was just as strong
a condemnation of Mr. Smith as if he had said something negative. And
implicitly this was also a slap in the face to the Dartmouth community
which elected him.

Quickly after Stephen Smith took his seat, the Board announced that it
would conduct a “study” to see whether it should reorganize itself. Not
surprisingly, the Board decided that indeed it should reorganize itself.
This was after hearing from thousands of current and former Dartmouth
students — young, old, men, women, liberal, conservative — who told
the Trustees that they shouldn’t try to change the rules for elections
just because they aren’t winning them.

But, in the midst of this serious debate about the direction of our
College, the Board did indeed change the rules — shutting down the
debate in violation of all the academic principles Dartmouth holds
dear.

Acting on the advice of its Governance Committee, the Board doubled the
size of the unelected part of the Board and kept the duly elected half
at the same size. Further the Board delivered a dictum that effective
immediately the College will take over the Trustee election process. In
effect, the College is now in the hands of a powerful few, and more
divorced from the desires of the community than ever.

This is just a short synopsis of what has been a years-long saga at our
small, well-loved College. It is the story of tens of thousands of
voices coming together yearly to ask for innovation, evolution, and
improvement; it is the story of personal politics getting in the way of
progress. More than anything, though, it is the story of Dartmouth
struggling to keep its special place in academia. You came to
Dartmouth, not Williams. And you came to Dartmouth, not Harvard. Some
are not so sure Dartmouth should stay Dartmouth. And some are eager to
use Harvard’s mediocrities as excuses for their own.

In the end, that is what this present squabble is all about. The
Association of Alumni, the official organization whose members are all
68,000 living graduates, is not meddling in how to run Dartmouth;
instead we are asking for help (an injunction) to prevent the Board
from making these harmful and regressive changes.

So that you know exactly what the Association of Alumni is asking of
our legal system, here we quote from the official request for a
judicial opinion:

“The Association of Alumni of Dartmouth College respectfully prays
for:

(a) a declaration of the Association’s right to choose one-half
of Dartmouth’s non-ex officio trustees through the Association’s chosen
selection process;
(b) an injunction (i) barring the College from adding charter
trustees to its board, unless it seats an equal number of alumni
trustees chosen by the Association, and (ii) requiring the College to
continue seating alumni trustees chosen by the Association;
(c) an order that the College specifically perform its
contractual obligations and promises by seating equal numbers of
charter and alumni trustees chosen by the Association; and
(d) such other and further relief as the Court deems just.”

Please ask yourself if these requests seem reasonable. You will be a
Dartmouth student for a very short while, and then a graduate for a
lifetime. The Association response, a last resort done with
considerable reluctance and deliberation, is intended to secure for
you, and for all alumni, the right to participate in defining what you
collectively think is best for our beloved Dartmouth.

Please do not hesitate to email us if you have any questions at all.