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The Appearance of Impropriety, Continued

In today’s The Dartmouth, Trustees T.J. Rodgers, Peter Robinson, and Todd Zywicki point out concerns about the constitutional amendment up for a those-present-only vote on Sunday. The amendment would enable Internet voting for the adoption of the Alumni Governance Task Force’s constitution (although by its own ratification clause that document requires an all-media vote), The amendment would also lower the threshold for ratification from 75% to 66%, and would continue to keep the Alumni Assocation Executive Committee ‘safe’ by rejecting Internet voting for those offices and for other crucial questions of alumni governance. In short, only the passage of the proposed (and, many say, highly flawed) constitution is affected by this amendment, despite the fact that that constitution would be subject to an Internet vote anyway.

The net effect: to reduce standards of passage for this constitution, and, it seems, only this constitution. No wider democracy, no broader representation, no fair play on the AGTF’s proposal.

And as the trustees (who do not offer a position on the amendment itself, but merely dote on the electoral hijinks behind it) mention in their letter to the editor, other amendments proposed via petition by alumni have not been allowed consideration at this meeting. this merely crests a mountain of seeming bad faith.

The meeting takes place Sunday, February 12, in Spaulding Auditorium. The amendment, misleadingly vaunted as the Internet voting amendment, shall only be voted upon by those in Hanover on Sunday.

UPDATE: Cute. The trustees’ piece is printed in the paper but was not posted online. Today’s editorial section is but vapor. In the extended, then, the view of the three trustees.

The Dartmouth, February 10, 2006, page 7:

This Sunday a special meeting of the Association of Alumni will consider an amendment to the alumni constitution. Whereas the procedures by which this meeting was called should have met the highest standards of fairness and openness, they have instead suggested a crude power play.

Consider three items.

In his email to alumni dated last month, to name the first, Allen Collins ‘53, president of the Association of Alumni, described the purpose of this Sunday ‘s meeting misleadingly.

As matters now stand, Collins explained, the constitution may only be amended by alumni who vote in person. The amendment that will be considered on Sunday would eliminate this rule, permitting alumni to vote on any future amendments using €œall-media voting € —that is, voting by mail or over the Internet.

All this is true. But it is not, by any means, the whole truth.

The amendment in question contains a second provision: It would reduce the threshold for enacting constitutional amendments from three quarters of those voting to two thirds. Although the implications of this second provision are far more dramatic than those of the first —it would make the constitution, which has served alumni for more than a century, far easier to change —Collins never mentions it.

Note that there was no reason whatsoever to bundle these two provisions in a single amendment —except to enact the controversial second provision, the reduces threshold for amending the constitution, under cover. Having described the amendment misleadingly, to name the second item, Collins went on to provide a mistaken, if not disingenuous, rationale. At the October meeting of the Association of Alumni, Collins wrote, €œa great many alumni € made clear that they €œwould like to be able to vote on constitutional amendments without having to attend meetings in person. € Not quite. What alumni actually made clear was that they wanted to be able to vote on officers of the Association of Alumni without having to attend meetings in person.

Constitutional amendments? Years sometimes pass between the consideration of such items. But officers are elected every twelve months. And alumni consider it ridiculous to permit such an important body to be selected by the tiny contingent that travels to Hanover. Collins took a legitimate alumni concern, unambiguously expressed, and twisted it.

The third item: the suppression of petition amendments.

Several petition amendments —that is, amendments that have each received the written support of at least 50 alumni —have been submitted for consideration this Sunday. Yet Collins and the other members of the Executive Committee of the Association of Alumni have refused to place them on the agenda. Why? Because, as Collins wrote in his email, alumni must be given €œthe opportunity to understand €¦the issues that will be addressed. €

Below, the petition amendments in question.

€œAnnual meetings of the Association, or any special meeting convened by the executive committee, shall be conducted pursuant to Robert ‘s Rules of Order. €

€œThis constitution may be amended by a three-fourths vote of alumni cast by mail, email, Internet or in person. €

€œMembers need not be present in person to vote at any meeting of the Association or otherwise for any business of the Association. €

€œThe officers of the Association shall be a president, two vice-presidents, secretary-treasurer, and an executive committee of seven members [all to be elected by all-media voting conducted over a six-week period immediately] prior to each annual meeting upon the nomination of a committee on nominations appointed by the president. €

Three amendments consisting of a single sentence, and a fourth consisting of a single clause (the words inside the brackets.) This is what the alumni of Dartmouth, an elite institution of higher learning, would have proven unable to grasp.

We express our views here merely as ordinary alumni who have had the occasion to watch recent events in Hanover closely. We do not speak, in other words, for anyone other than ourselves, or in any capacity but that of graduates of the College. Nor do we take a position on either the officially proposed amendment or any of the petition amendments. If the procedures by which the meeting on Sunday was called had been fair and open, we would not be writing this letter.

But those procedures were not fair and open. If the Executive Committee had intended to arouse suspicions of bad faith —if it had intended to appear interested only in ramming through its own amendment —then it could hardly have succeeded more richly.

We urge the Executive Committee to postpone this Sunday ‘s meeting —and then, once it has settled on a new date, to permit the consideration of petition amendments and to notify alumni of the meeting honestly.

Peter Robinson, Todd Zywicki, and T.J. Rodgers are guest columnists and Trustees of the College.

LATER IN THE AFTERNOON: The Dartmouth has reversed its decision and has uploaded the column.

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