The Trustee Saga, Continued

The following letter, written by Joseph Asch ’79, appeared in The Valley News on June 12th. Mr. Asch mentions the 1891 agreement, and the necessity of honoring it:

VALLEY NEWS – 6/12/2007
Letter to the Editor By Joseph Asch
Dartmouth’s Democratic Agreement

Alone among alumni at institutions of higher learning, Dartmouth graduates elect almost half the members of the College’s governing Board of Trustees. The alumni’s preeminent role, which dates back to 1891, goes a long way toward explaining Dartmouth’s enduring focus on its undergraduate students, in contrast to other schools where the quest for prestige has elevated research far above undergraduate education.

However democracy does not always bring about the results sought by the College’s leaders. The current administration’s policies have pushed to make Dartmouth, in President Jim Wright’s acceptance-speech phrase, “a research university in all but name.”

In response, the alumni have used their votes to disagree. Three trustees, nominated by popular petition rather than via the usual pliant nominating committee, were elected to the Board in 2004 and 2005, and a fourth petitioner won a place three weeks ago. Stephen Smith ‘88, the College’s first elected black trustee, won his seat with a greater number of votes and the support of a higher percentage of voters than any previous petition candidate.

In 2006, a group closely allied to the administration proffered a new alumni constitution. This document sought, among other changes, to put obstacles in the path of Trustee candidates nominated by petition. However, despite massive campaigning in support of the document, the alumni refused to be told what to do. The proposed constitution failed to gain even a simple majority of alumni votes, let alone the two-thirds super-majority required for ratification.

With Smith’s victory, it was only a matter of time before another attempt was made to stop the election of petition trustees. As a recent story in the Valley News noted, it seems that the Board of Trustees will soon try to impose changes by fiat to Dartmouth’s method of governance. Any such effort would be a serious error.

In fact, any modification at all to the uniquely democratic 1891 agreement would be harmful to the College and to the basis for its historic strength. Today Dartmouth’s famously loyal alumni can voice their opinions at the ballot box. If that option is abridged or taken from them altogether, then they would be left with only one way to express their discontent: at the cashbox.

Joseph Asch ‘79 Hanover, NH