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A Monkey & An Irrational Fear of Democracy

monkeyintree.jpgAs noted, the amendment to the constitution of the Dartmouth Alumni Association passed. I was surprised to find myself not agitated, as is my wont when a favored politician looses a race, but altogether downhearted at the business.

There a peculiar characteristic that has been observed of monkeys who live and play among the trees: In conveying themselves across forests, they do not let one vine or branch escape their grasp until they are certain that the next is firmly in hand. They are, put another way, incapable of leaps of faith.

The passing of the amendment proposed by the Dartmouth Alumni Association ‘s Executive Committee was a sad moment, its circumstances resembling closely the safety pinned monkey swinging between trees. I know that Dartmouth graduates want to have a say in the future of their College. And they ought to have a say by rights: they funded it, grew it, commended it to younger scholars, and every day they go to work, giving body to their degree. €˜Dartmouth ’ is defined as much by them as by what happens in Hanover. They deserve to have voices.

And so they shouted: in the last three instances, they elected outsider petition candidates to the Board of Trustees. They did that in spite of stone-faced opposition, dishonest campaigning, and rules bent against them. They elected these petition candidates, and if there is any question as to the tenor of their voices, it may be answered by the fact that the three petition candidates were unique in presenting through their campaigns specific policy prescriptions. They offered, and their offer was accepted.

Given the track record of what has been called the €œestablishment €, you probably were not surprised to see a proposed overhaul of the alumni governance system after T.J. Rodgers and Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki were elected. You may not have been terribly surprised to see that the new rules contained a wholesale gutting of the trustee electoral mechanics, and perhaps you hardly batted a lash when each and every one of those changes —no fewer than four —would, as a matter of mathematical certainty and common sense, make success more difficult for petitioners.

But in the least, you had assumed alumni would be briefed honestly on these changes, and would be allowed to vote on them in a fair poll.

To do those two things required a leap of faith. One the Alumni Association ‘s leaders were simply unwilling to take. They had, percolating on the backburner, a stolid new constitution—some twenty pages long and backed by a commissioned task force—which, if passed, would steel the system of alumni governance against outsideer alumni. When the final draft of that constitution was released, it faced wide and virulent opposition. By its own ratification statute, it required the approval of three-fourths of the Alumni Association and two-thirds of Dartmouth ‘s entire alumni body. It was not going to pass, and a series of events was set in motion: the document was re-branded a first draft, the task force constructed a €˜discussion ’ blog, and a special meeting was announced by the Executive Committee for the consideration of an amendment which would make the entire constitution passable by a single two-thirds vote while protecting the Executive Committee itself from a full alumni election.

And in a move that just as easily may have come from some prating PAC, the amendment was billed as the ‘all-media voting’ amendment, even though its net effect is, exclusively, to reduce the approval threshold for the new constitution.

The amendment passed, and with the Executive Committee ‘s hand on one vine —facile approval of the gerrymandered constitution —it could safely loosen its grip on the other one —disallowing full alumni participation. To the outsider, these complex amendments and dense constitutions and the spin attendant to both are simply unnecessary: If Dartmouth ‘s alumni are to be enfranchised, let them be enfranchised without qualification. But from the inside, the reason behind them all is plain enough: the powers that be place no faith in Dartmouth alumni to make sound decisions. So they swing from vine to vine, never leaping to real democracy. That ‘s why the passage of the Executive Committee ‘s sordid amendment hasn ‘t really made anyone mad, only sad. There ‘s no faith.


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