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Be The Change You Want To See In The World

Image Courtesy: Scott Meacham and Circa 1950.

1976: Dartmouth’s very first female students—they matriculated in 1972, taking up the rear among the Ancient Eight—are graduating and, as they receive their diplomas, they not only embolden their contemporaries in the classes of ‘77, ‘78, and ‘79, but they introduce the College itself, already 207 years old at the time, to modernity, tolerance, and co-education. All pillars of today’s civilization. And upon graduation they become full-fledged alumni: in the club, with the same sweaters and songs as the rest. The same memories of football games and Winter Carnivals past. And they’ll come back for Homecoming, and they’ll watch the game, and they’ll perhaps write a check and they’ll take part in alumni affairs.

Of course, there were those who opposed co-education. It represented a seismic shift not only for Dartmouth academics but for the governance of the College, because suddenly Dartmouth was on a growth pattern. It grew in size and in diversity of views. That, of course, affected alumni governance. But once the trustees elected to admit females, the discrimination against women ended in all venues. Female alums could do everything men could. No gerrymandering, no tawdry attempts at disenfranchisement. And nothing like ‘double voting’ for the men. Those who had fought hard and persevered long to see the day when a woman would graduate Dartmouth College accepted nothing of the sort.

John Kemeny, then the president of the College, knew that when discrimination ended, it ended.

So why is discrimination being re-written back into the constitution of Dartmouth’s Alumni Association? A concerned alum e-mailed to inform me of what he rightly sees as a “truly appalling” but little-noticed provision in the Alumni Governance Task Force’s proposed constitution, which is currently in the process of revision. One hopes that what follows will be revised out in short order.

The constitution, in effect, requires extra parliamentary representation for Dartmouth alumni of certain races.

Article V, Section II, Paragraph I, Provision IX, states:

Two representatives of each Affiliated Alumni Group that has been officially recognized by the College ‘s Office of Alumni Relations, such representatives to be selected for staggered three-year terms by each such Affiliated Alumni Group.
The rest of the voting membership of the Alumni Association is based upon class year. But this proviso allows the same person the chance for double representation. That is worrisome in itself. Giving some people a double vote is no better than giving some a half vote. But, not wanting to jump to conclusions, I researched just what it meant to be an “Affiliated Alumni Group.” Perhaps alumni who give the College millions of dollars get to be in such a group and thereby have a bigger voice in College governance. That might, perhaps, be understandable. Or perhaps the Task Force decided to give double votes to all Dartmouth alumni who have won a Nobel prize, with a view toward making the voting bloc as informed as possible. But both of those suggestions, while understandable in some dim light, do not thrill me. The one arena of democracy, where every alum has a chance to be heard, ought to be just that: democratic. One son of Dartmouth, one vote. One daughter of Dartmouth, one vote. One roamer, one vote.

Then I read the description, found here, of what it takes to be an “Affiliated Alumni Group.”

Any group of 100 or more Dartmouth alumni who share a common bond based on self-identified information that they are members of a group of historically marginalized alumni (i.e., Black alumni, Native American alumni, Asian and Pacific alumni, Latino alumni and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender alumni, etc.) and who desire to affiliate with each other as a sub-group of the Association of Alumni.
In short, the requirements are, as my correspondent writes, “exclusive and discriminatory.” It is wrong on its face. The groups listed therein are the ones currently recognized, and the ones who would receive special voting powers. It is unclear how any other group might join the circle.

William O. Douglas was a United States Supreme Court Justice for thirty-six years (the longest term in history) after being appointed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1939. Dissenting on DeFunis v. Odegaard, a 1974 school discrimination case, Justice Douglas wrote, “If discrimination based on race is constitutionally permissible when those who hold the reins can come up with ‘compelling’ reasons to justify it, then constitutional guarantees acquire an accordionlike quality.”

With those sage words in mind, I express my desire that Dartmouth’s commitment to equality in representation not be permitted to acquire an accordionlike quality.


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