On ‘Low Turnout’ in the Trustee Election

From a reader:

In Friday’s “The Dartmouth”, in “Consequences of Low Turnout” [Link], William Montgomery ’52 shames himself and his fellow former alumni leadership with half-truths and hypocritical assertions:

1. Regarding low participation: Montgomery fails to disclose that the past five years of opposition campaigns has stopped, stabilized, and re-energized alumni participation. Once dropping below a fifth, it has rebounded to about a quarter. The opposition first called for internet voting, helping boost the rate, and the recent opposition trustees elected have reinvigorated voter participation from alumni who until now have been allowed no horse in the race.

Montgomery was an alumni association officer during the years of declining participation, and he helped write the rules hindering candidacies and helping self appointed committees nominate each other in full circle.

Alumni donor participation and alumni voting participation have dropped for a decade or more. Only in the past five years of re-engagement has part of the alumni body responded to the call of alumni activism. That new participation is healthy, and will not only help diversify Dartmouth but help boost the alumni participation with regard to the College. It was alumni opposition criticism that spurred the College to recognize the low donor participation rates and to launch new Trustee-led programs to boost giving.

Participation is not trivial: the only readily changeable quantitative component in the US News & World Report rankings is alumni participation. The opposition campaigns have help stop and reverse the dropping participation rates, inspiring new emphasis on alumni participation and involvement, and have therefore measurably increased Dartmouth’s ranking among its peers.

2. Regarding rules: Montgomery and other entrenched officers put in the voting rules that they thought would keep outsiders out. In fact, they miscalculated, and now they want to change the rules. What they are proposing is a complicated ranking system that will leave only the most middling, average candidates as trustees, rather than the victor. Montgomery didn’t like the result, so his first impulse is to change the rules. Tyrannical! Montgomery and his ilk have a habit of changing the rules repeatedly, rather than adjusting their policies to attract greater legitimacy.

3. Regarding margin of victory: 48% is not a small plurality (as Bill Clinton knows in two elections). Last year, Rodgers won with an overarching supermajority.

4. Regarding use of blogs: Montgomery was an early supporter of ASD, the negative campaign group and blog that abused the election rules. In fact, Montgomery helped write those campaign rules, and as he says in his editorial, perhaps a further rule change is necessary “to tone down the rhetoric.” In fact, he was an enthusiastic member of the ASD team! Hypocritical!

Montgomery et al monkey-ed around with the rules to prevent opposition, to hinder choice, to stifle discussion. Now he wants to overturn the rules. Free speech was a big issue this campaign – perhaps those sympathetic to the leftist establishment should take some free advice and recognize that the Montgomery-rule-monkeys are part of your problem in attracting supporters to your cause.

5. Regarding changing rules of Dartmouth governance: Montgomery inflames the alumni with the panicky or threatening prediction or hope that the Trustees will change the mix of Alumni and Charter trustees, and tilt toward the unelected and appointed Charter Trustees which they can control – perhaps even ban Alumni Trustees altogether. While this is a real risk and threat, the real reasons Montgomery brings it up is to 1) panic and threaten the alumni so they refrain from energetic alumni participation 2) Finlandize the alumni council into a weak, collaborative rubber stamp body to sponsor rule changes weakening the alumni, 3) enlist and invite the Trustees to take said action to “save” the leftist establishment from open elections and free speech. If he is speaking for himself, he is being hopeful or weak. If he is speaking for his friends among the Trustees and establishment, then they are proposing a coup to strip alumni of their rights.