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A Revolution In Rest

Despite the rejection of the petition slate of candidates at Dartmouth’s Alumni Association meeting last weekend, the so-called Lone Pine Revolution is far from over. Writers for the Dartmouth Review recently published Professor Jon Appleton’s resignation letter which had been circling and takes a tough tack with the academic decisions of some administrators. And if anything demonstrates the need for the Board of Trustees, for students, and for active alumni to work harder to open up the system, it is the Homecoming elections and its proxy votes. I have neglected thus far to report on them, but John MacGovern ‘80, a petitioner supporter, came into last weekend’s polling place with roughly 500 votes-by-proxy using this legitimate document. These votes were rejected essentially because no affirmative right exists to proxy vote, but shouldn’t the powers-that-be err on the side of enfranchisement?

David Gale ‘00 makes to me the fair point that for proxy votes to have been accepted, it would have behooved all to solicit them from non-petitioner supporters as well: “We need change, but we need it to be unquestionably legitimate; accepting proxy votes from one side or the other would’ve destroyed that legitimacy.”

That’s certainly true. I do believe, though, that the sheer fact that proxies weren’t allowed is very much indicative of the need for change, and it is support of this notion of transparency and the broad franchise that I and others note with displeasure the voiding of proxy votes.

Paul Leach, who graduated Dartmouth in 1967 and then went through Stanford Law School, agrees that the proxy votes ought to have been accepted. In an e-mail reprinted in the extended, Paul advises John Walters ‘62, who presided over the meeting and made the decision not to accept the votes, to initiate efforts to do whatever is necessary to correct the error. John’s response is also reprinted.

There have also been calls for the new executive committee to implement all-media voting for all elections immediately, a move that would go a long way toward legitimating their positions in light of the rejected proxy votes. Chris Hjermstad ‘68, an establishment supporter, e-mails: “Since I am on the west coast I feel discriminated about the “must be present” provision. I even thought seriously about flying the Jet Blue red-eye to vote on Sunday but as it turned out my presence wasn’t required to confirm the nominated slate.” Chris also has other concerns about and reasons to support the changes enshrine in the proposed constitution, and those I will deal with shortly.

MORE: Also this morning, The Dartmouth, which has largely ignored these events and issues, reports on communication from T.J. Rodgers which inveigh against the AGTF’s constitution-as-proposed for many of the same reasons mentioned here.

From: “Paul Leach” <...>
To: “‘John Walters’” <...>
Subject: Constitution & Voting
Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2005 18:50:30 -0700

John:

It was nice to meet you, if only briefly, on Sunday in Hanover.

Several weeks ago after reading at the Power Line blog site about the Association annual meeting and the work being done to revise/replace the Association Constitution, I started to investigate and decided it would be interesting to attend the meeting. Since I have been a supporter of the three newest alumni trustees, I want to make sure that the future alumni trustee selection process is not compromised through constitutional revision/replacement.

Also, as a graduate of Stanford Law School, I have a keen appreciation of constitutions, legal documents and due/fair process.

During the annual meeting last Sunday, you would not accept proxies executed by many members, including several who are copied on this email. On this critical issue, I have closely reviewed the relevant documents and must conclude that you made an error in refusing to accept the proxies which were presented to you. Because of this error, scores of interested members were deprived of their rights to participate in critical voting at the annual meeting.

My reasoning is quite simple. First, the overriding policy of the Dartmouth alumni organizations is to stimulate communication with, and participation by, as many interested alumni as possible. Second, the Association annual meeting and all of the Association actions are governed by the Association Constitution, which can only be amended following the procedures outlined in Article VII. While the Constitution is silent on the issue of proxy voting at the annual meeting, it is not silent on the issue of proxy voting elsewhere. As you know, for trustee voting, the use of proxies is prohibited (See Article V.6). Even though there is little likelihood that members would use proxies to submit mail or electronic votes, the drafters/approvers of the Constitution must have thought that proxy voting was acceptable under the Constitution, unless specifically prohibited. Given the overriding policy noted above, this was probably the correct and careful way to prevent proxy voting. Since there is no comparable prohibition in the Constitution concerning proxy voting at the annual meeting, I think that the only proper interpretation of the Constitution is that it is allowable, particularly since this would enhance alumni participation.

If my analysis is correct, your only counter argument has to rely on Paragraph 1 of Guidelines for Conduct of Meetings of the Association (Adopted July 10, 2001), which effectively prohibits proxy voting. However, at least as it relates to voting, this part of the Guidelines is not relevant since it must logically be characterized as a restrictive amendment to the Association Constitution which was never enacted under Article VII of the Constitution. The Executive Committee has no constitutional power to limit or alter the rights of members. Only valid amendments approved by the members can do that. In fact, as I think about it, the very existence of this Paragraph 1 is itself support for the argument that the Executive Committee must share my belief that members have the right under the Constitution to vote by proxy–-unless specifically prohibited.

While I recognize the inconvenience and embarrassment that it might entail, I hope, after carefully considering this, that you will do whatever is necessary to correct your error.

Sincerely,

Paul Leach, Class of 1967

From: “John Walters” <...>
To: “Paul Leach” <...>
Subject: Re: Constitution & Voting
Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2005 19:17:43 -0400

Hi Paul - thanks for your note. I would agree that a constitution is somewhat sacrosanct and Guidelines are just that. However, let’s not pick and choose. If we were to ignore the provision of the Guidelines which preclude the use of proxies, perhaps we should look at the constitution as well, which clearly provides (Article IV, Section 1) that the officers of the Association and Executive Committee are to be elected annually upon the nomination of a committee on nominations appointed by the President. If that constitutional provision were followed, there could be no petition slate, much less proxy votes. The Guidelines, adopted in 2001, injected a highly democratic and positive improvement into the election process, and at the same time the Guidelines continued the historic requirement of requiring alumni to be present to vote.

As you may recall, the candidates for President from both slates agreed that having all-media voting at these meetings is desirable, and in fact the proposed new constitution implements that recommendation.

The reasons for not allowing proxies to be included in the tabulation were cited by me at the meeting, and for the benefit of the recipients of this email who did not receive my response to another email discussing this issue, I am copying my response to that inquiry below.

I wrote:

Request #2: John arrived at the Annual Meeting with signed proxies from 575 alumni designating him to vote for the petition slate. He formally requested me to allow those proxies to be included in the tabulation, indicating that he had obtained a legal opinion stating that it would be appropriate to vote those proxies. I did not accommodate his request for a number of reasons, including the following:

1. As mentioned above, the election Guidelines, posted on the Association’s website, require in-person voting, and all alumni (at least constructively) were aware of that requirement. While this requirement is a nuisance, an inconvenience and hardship for many alumni and truly outdated, until four weeks ago (to my limited knowledge, based on only three years’ service on the Association’s Executive Committee) it never had been suggested that voting at annual meetings be handled differently.

2. Allowing proxy voting on behalf of one slate of candidates, without any public notification of the fact that proxies would be honored, allowing alumni who arguably might have wished to provide a proxy to the opposing slate, is obviously unfair and patently inequitable.

3. A total of 388 alumni cast ballots for the two candidates for President. If I had allowed those 575 proxies - each voting in favor of one slate of candidates - to vote that day, I would have totally disenfranchised all of the alumni who took the time to be present in that room, rendering their in-person vote meaningless. Not to mention the fact that such a decision might have resulted in my physical ejection from the meeting.

4. Proxy voting presupposes that adequate information has been made available to the person giving the proxy, so that his/her decision is an informed one. (For example, Proxy Statements are routinely mailed to shareholders of public companies, providing the information mandated by the SEC.) Unlike Trustee elections, where informational ballots are provided to all alumni so that they will be educated as to the platform of each candidate, no such information was provided to alumni for this election (although there was considerable information regarding the Petition slate on their website, which, by the way, was very impressive).

Now that my successor has been elected, I no longer speak for the Executive Committee, and I will pass your email on to the current leadership.

Thx for your interest in Dartmouth governance issues. We may not always agree on these issues, but it is indeed important to discuss them.

Regards,
John

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