The other paper of record on alumni governance

Please read the no-nonsense editorial below about the recent trustee scandal at the College. It appears in today’s (9/11/07) Wall Street Journal; it is reproduced in full below as it is unavailable online to non-subscribers.

Dartmouth Diminished

September 11, 2007; Page A18

Given the bad habits of contemporary academia, it was probably an historicalaccident that the 1891 agreement allowing Dartmouth College alumni to electhalf of the school’s governing board of trustees lasted as long as it did.The decision this weekend by Dartmouth’s board to bulldoze that arrangementis nonetheless breathtaking for its audacity.

Elections at Dartmouth were tolerated for 116 years, so long as the alumni were electing rubber stamps as trustees. In recent years, however,reform-minded candidates began to use a petition provision to get on theballot. They bucked the status quo by focusing on issues like academic standards and free speech, and they were forthright in their views. Since 2004, there have been four open and fair trustee elections, and independentcandidates won all of them. A year ago the college tried to rig the processto make it more difficult for petition trustees to be elected, and alumnirejected that effort in a referendum too.

And so, unable to convince through argument and persuasion, DartmouthPresident James Wright and a band of trustee loyalists forced through agovernance plan that will allow them to run the place as they please. T.J.Rodgers, the CEO of Cypress Semiconductor and one of the alumnus trusteedissenters, had predicted as much on these pages 10 days ago. The exercisewent ahead as he had guessed — behind closed doors, with minimal publicdebate or alumni consultation. It’s safe to say the vote wasn’t unanimous,but the college is even barring trustees from disclosing that detail. Youraverage banana republic is more transparent.

The plan will pack the 18-member board with eight more trustees selected bythe board itself. With the influence of elected trustees thus diluted, powerwill be further consolidated in a small executive committee that willcontrol the agenda. For good measure, the college also declared that it willrun future trustee elections on its own terms.

The architects at least had the courtesy to acknowledge the real motivationsbehind this putsch. “We do not believe that having more elections is in thebest interests of the College,” they wrote, because of “divisiveness.” Inother words, the independent trustees were willing to dissent from theinsular uniformity of modern higher education, so they had to be neuteredbefore they might actually make a difference.

Elite academia loathes oversight or accountability. President Wright, aproduct and wholly owned subsidiary of the Dartmouth faculty, may have madehimself the new mascot for this attitude. But we doubt Charles Haldeman, the chairman of the Dartmouth board and CEO of Putnam Investments, could everrun his own company this way, even if he wanted to.

At least this fracas strips bare the pretense that alumni have any collegerole beyond writing checks. Dartmouth’s reigning lords no doubt believe theycan ride out any lawsuits or alumni anger that arise from their power play,and they may be right. There are always rich alumni donors who care moreabout getting their name on a building or getting their kid admitted thanthey care about budget accountability or student access to tenuredprofessors.

It’s nonetheless a sad sign of the times that another institution ofallegedly higher learning has exhibited such hostility to critical inquiryand debate.