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New York Times Covers Controversial Constitution

In an article viewable on the Internet here, in the International Herald-Tribune here, and in a (rather shoddy-looking) PDF document here, New York Times reporter Diana Schemo covers the battle over the Alumni Governance Task Force’s proposed constitution—one I have criticized in numerous posts, all aggregated on this page. The Times article is only the latest in a series of national coverages of efforts at Dartmouth to squelch alumni’s voice so effectively amplified by the democratic petition process for electing trustees of the College. Weeks ago, the Associated Press picked up on the story—I discussed it here—and quoted constitution drafter John Daukas, who strangely said “It’s time to declare victory and stop fighting.” But clearly, the controversy is not going away.

One clarifying note I wanted to make as that the article vaguely credits me with authorship of a ‘Timeline of Dirty Tricks’ (downloadable here). Would that I were, but I am not—it was sent to me, I formatted it, extended it, and made a PDF of it, and then published it on this humble page. But I am not the original author.

The Times reports:

It began when candidates for the governing board of trustees endorsed by the Alumni Association were unexpectedly defeated two years in a row by outsiders who got on the ballot by petition. The outsiders accused the college administration of sacrificing free speech to political correctness and of abandoning Dartmouth’s historical focus on undergraduates to turn it into a “junior varsity Harvard.”

Now the officers of the Dartmouth Alumni Association have canceled a coming vote for new executive officers and are proposing a constitution with new rules for how candidates get on the ballot. Critics say the effort is intended to block outsiders from gaining yet more seats. […]

Currently, petition candidates can declare their candidacies after the Alumni Association has announced its official slate. The new rules would reverse that, so the Alumni Association would know of any outside challengers before selecting its candidates.

Mr. Daukas said the current system put the official candidates at a disadvantage because they did not know whether they would face outside challengers at all or who they might be. The chairman of Dartmouth’s board, William H. Neukom, class of ‘64 and retired general counsel for Microsoft, in an interview called the proposed constitution “a sincere effort” to create “a more democratic, more participatory form of alumni self-governance.”

Merle Adelman, a vice president of the Alumni Association, said the election for new officers, which had been set for October, was not postponed to extend the terms of incumbents but because the new constitution would change the structure of the association’s leadership and could render the election results moot.

But critics said the changes upended the whole rationale for petition candidacies — created as a mechanism for expressing discontent with the status quo — and gave the official Alumni Association the upper hand.

Editors of the on-campus Dartmouth Review and The Dartmouth Free Press, conservative and liberal publications that seldom agree, called the new constitution “a slap in the face to open democracy” that “makes a mockery of the spirit of dissent and free speech.”

Mr. Robinson agreed. “This is as much a reform as when Joseph Stalin decided to hold elections in Eastern Europe,” he said. “Voting? Yes. Democracy? Not at all.”

Now, materially, the story doesn’t quite dig down to the bone. The fact is that the only reason certain offices are not open to democratic all-media voting is because of Executive Committee fiat, and the fact is that the new constitution puts power in a series of committees which are in large part composed of unelected members. These technical matters—a little yawn-inducing but absolutely crucial—have been discussed in many places, not least at the blog site of David Gale, Class of 2000.

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