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The Situation on the Connecticut

occom.jpgNote: This post discusses Dartmouth politics and is a continuation of “The Situation on the Charles,” which dealt with ousted Harvard president Larry Summers. Regular, non-Dartmouth readers may be mostly interested in the above.

At Harvard it was an entrenched and self-reinforcing circle which maneuvered to end Larry Summers’ presidency over the softly-expressed desire of students, administrators, and professors outside of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Faculty made the illiberal decision to eschew any calm, rational discussion of policies in favor of downright persecution of a single man who governed in a different way and pricked taboos.

The immediate situation at Dartmouth is, thankfully, not overtly similar. But the Big Green, like Harvard, is in the midst of change, and it too is harbor to a committed and powerful group which is now resorting to unsound measures to protect its influence against the majority voice. Certainly reform and progress at Dartmouth must take place at all levels, but I refer now only to alumni governance, where honest, fair-minded observers cannot deny that the tactics embraced and promulgated by the in-crowd members of the Executive Committee, the Alumni Governance Task Force, and other agencies have been the result of ill intentions, conducted without regard for the spirit of fair play, and in pursuit of discrete partisan goals. These are all self-evident. Anyone with the broader interests of Dartmouth in mind and the spirit of democracy at heart should simply refuse to deal with those who claim that a gerrymandered constitution, a misleading amendment, gag orders for trustees, a refusal to conduct meetings pursuant to any rules of order, planning meetings such that petition amendments cannot be considered, refusing alumni-wide voting for key officerships and whichever other tricks may be forthcoming are anything but tawdry political ploys. They are objectively dishonest and as a people who should hold ourselves to a standard at least marginally higher than that of Washington D.C.’s sooted alleyways, such maneuvers should be rejected with prejudice.

That’s something the editorial board of The Dartmouth, a group with a dog in this fight (and not mine) as well as an interest in seeing a clean fight, has recently noted.

Now that this clique has gotten itself in power and has passed its amendment making the passage of a highly contentious constitution easier—both acts approved by Dartmouth’s infamous New England Residents Only balloting system—the time has come for it to be ratified. The powers have decreed it, and so it shall come, and so it shall pass. But should it?

Dartmouth alumni already know that the Executive Committee can open up its own ranks to all-media voting by a simple conference call, for that provision is not constitutional but based on guidelines that are alterable at a majority whim. (They currently claim that conference calls are difficult to schedule.) And Dartmouth alumni already know that the Executive Committee considered one month insufficient for Dartmouth alumni to consider the merits of an amendment that said, “Annual meetings of the Association, or any special meeting convened by the executive committee, shall be conducted pursuant to Robert’s Rules of Order.” And those tired eyes which have poured over the new constitution and conversed with those in power know that the transition period over the next 12 or more months ideally includes all-media elections. However, the situation is such that, should the constitution fail, all-media elections will be impossible.

So alumni should be asking: How long until this Trojan Horse of a constitution is presented for ratification? I have already been told that the AGTF will “allow” only one more round of comments, which means that the next version put forth by the Task Force will be the one voted upon. The revision will no doubt leave off some of the disenfranchising and gerrymandering provisions and also retain some of the other disenfranchising and gerrymandering provisions (And how “petty” Dartmouth alumni shall be if they choose to also oppose the slightly-less-rigged revision!) Given our knowledge that the Executive Committee considers Dartmouth graduates unable to contemplate a one-line amendment in the space of one month, how much time will they be afforded to consider this document: a twenty-six page constitution that many people are indeed having trouble understanding?

It seems clear that the prudent course of action is to swiftly activate full enfranchisement for the election of the Executive Committee and take the process of overhauling the entire alumni governance constitution slowly and carefully. Yet as the comments section on its blog makes plain, the Executive Committee is wont to suffer no criticism (or, at least, has no particular desire to respond to criticism substantively), and will not release or authorize any plan that allows for all-media voting outside the auspices of the new constitution.

At some point the few involved in steeling the system against the voces of alumni were going to have to answer to them—or at least to their votes. That will happen, eventually, in the case of AGTF’s constitution. But it should not be allowed, as occured with the amendment of February 12, for the in-crowd to demand of its contemporaries: Ratify our self-preserving proposal and attached to it is your franchise. The numerous sons and daughters of Dartmouth who voted for petition candidate after petition candidate after petitiona candidate in the hope that their voices would be heard and that something would change should make no mistake: Their right to do even that—to consider voices more representative of their own than the candidates proffered by the College—is now being challenged.

It is merited on principle, though more importantly out of concern for Dartmouth herself, to oppose any efforts that would attempt to short circuit the democratic process envisaged in Dartmouth’s founding documents. It would be accepted in no government and, as the ill effects of an unrepresentative minority have been demonstrated so brightly at Harvard, such a short circuit should not be tolerated at Dartmouth. It seems entirely appropriate for Dartmouth alumni to; First, demand that pursuant to its own professed interest in all-media voting, the current Executive Committee unilaterally, as is its right, enact the full franchise for its own positions.

When the Alumni Governance Task Force releases its revision, alumni should ask that the committee allow for real feedback. After the first draft, most criticism was ignored or dismissed because, it was asserted, that document was merely a draft and thus criticism was unwarranted until its revision was released. That same logical fallacy should not be swallowed pursuant to the second draft—the one that will be voted upon. Dartmouth alumni also have the right to ask that the AGTF explain its motivations. That is: If it has convinced itself that the sundry anti-petition reforms are necessary, let it lay out an explanation for what was wrong with the previous system and why their proposed change is the best response to those deficiencies. Of yet, no such list of grievances with the status quo—other than the success of petition candidates—has ever been released. Yet such a justifying document has always been attendant to radical constitutional change.

Step two, then, is to have a real, honest discussion. The constitution is a complex document on which it will take several months to reach a broad consensus. Indeed, the original draft was released back in September of 2005 and the revision has taken well over six months to complete. Certainly its framers cannot expect tens of thousands of alumni to digest legalese-couched code in a short amount of time. Constitution-drafting bodies cannot in good faith frame a document, fail to explain why it is warranted, release it to great criticism, and then rescind, revise, and delay the second release so that the deliberation window is small enough that it stands a chance of passing out of sheer ignorance. Dartmouth ought to hold itself to a higher standard. At this late date, on the cusp of March and still without the revised constitution, it would be a true shame to see the proposed constitution appear on any official ballot before the Alumni Association meeting of next October. If it is there, alumni will know they have been poorly served by an activist minority that, in securing their own positions of power, have left many voces lost in the wilderness.

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