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Claims of Censorship and Intimidation at Dartmouth

This morning’s edition of The Dartmouth carries a worrisome story by reporter Rebekah Rombom. Here is a significant portion of it, but please click here to read the whole thing.

As the Association of Alumni prepares to vote on a new proposed constitution this fall, heated debate has persisted throughout many sectors of the Dartmouth community. Factions on both sides participate, with weblogs becoming an important media for political dialogue.

The website voxclamantisindeserto.org vocally criticizes the proposed constitution and other administrative affairs. A recent alumnus heavily involved with the website is alleging that he was intimidated in private meetings with members of the Alumni Relations administration because of his views on the proposed alumni constitution.

Nick Stork ‘06 issued a public statement on the website accusing Vice President for Alumni Relations David Spalding ‘76 of intimidating him and criticizing his views during a June 7 meeting in Blunt Alumni Center.

According to Stork, he went to Blunt for a morning meeting with Spalding and Assistant Director of Young Alumni and Student Programs Rex Morey ‘99 to make up a missed lunch for Greek leaders days before.

When he entered the room, he noticed a BlitzMail message concerning the constitution he had sent to members of his fraternity, Gamma Delta Chi, lying on top of a stack of papers in the conference room.

Later in the interview, Spalding neither confirmed nor denied that he had a copy of a Stork’s BlitzMail message that was not sent specifically to him.

“I don’t recall having a private e-mail that he sent to his Gamma Delt brothers,” Spalding said.

Stork alleges that in the meeting, Spalding advocated for the newly proposed alumni constitution, a reversal of his constant dedication to neutrality on the subject.

“I think effectively what he did during the meeting was to say: your political views are wrong, here are the right ones,” Stork said, referring to anti-constitution posts on voxclamantisindeserto.org.

“I think when someone tries to let you know that they know what you’re up to, there is a serious intimidation there.”

Spalding said that the constitution did come up during the meeting, but that he and the administration continue to remain neutral on the issue.

For reference, Nick’s entire statement is posted on this website—the one referenced in the article above. Scott Johnson at Power Line also quotes Nick Stork’s statement in full, and raises some important questions. But Nick is not the only Dartmouth student who has come forward. Rebekah Rombom also spoke to Andrew Eastman ‘07. His situation is slightly different: Andrew had a job in the Dartmouth department which raises money from alumni. He also has written articles in opposition to the proposed constitution. (Of course, many students have—consider the presidents of the Dartmouth College Republicans and Democrats, who joined together for a rare joint essay opposing the proposal.) The Dartmouth reports:
Eastman, who works for Greencorps, a Dartmouth-affiliated organization that solicits donations from alumni, was called into a meeting last spring with Executive Director of the Dartmouth College Fund Sylvia Racca.

Racca, who does not handle hiring for Greencorps, said she called Eastman in to “make sure that he understood the role of the gifts from the Dartmouth College Fund in the Campaign [for the Dartmouth Experience].”

According to Racca, Eastman’s statements on voxclamantisindeserto.org led her to believe that he thought only large donations contributed to the Campaign, when in fact this is not the case.

“I don’t have any other position on any of the other things that he talked about in his editorial,” she said referring to posts on the website.

Eastman said that he found her concerns invalid because everything on the site is checked for accuracy.

“I felt that I was being attacked for what I had written and that they were questioning my ability to do my job because of my expressed political opinions,” Eastman said.

I can say that the indecent tactics detailed in Nick’s and Andrew’s stories do not involve me. Although I’ve been asked not to publish certain things, the right of my blog to exist has not been challenged, and no one to my knowledge has attempted to intimidate me. That doesn’t change one whit the import of Nick’s public statement.

These allegations are not the first of their kind that I’ve heard, but Nick Stork, who has found quick success in the business world after graduating this past June, was the first to summon the steel to come forward. I’m glad he did, because these allegations are extremely serious.

It seems to me that there are two important things to consider: David Spalding and Rex Morey, the two College employees who challenged Nick’s political writings, do not deny having the meeting. Their purport to neutrality on the matter of the constitution has been disproved. This means that when David Spalding was quoted by The Dartmouth on August 3 as claiming that he and his office are neutral on the constitution, he was not being honest. The incongruity between his earlier repeated statements and what is now known for certain is striking—he called an undergraduate into his division’s conference room, called in another one of his employees to back him up, and challenged that student’s political writings on the constitution, yet continued to claim neutrality. The proposed new constitution overhauls in a very controversial way the election process for trustees. The College has now violated its solemn duty not to interfere with 66,500 Dartmouth alumni’s established right to elect trustees.

* * *

But forget the constitution. Forget it. By lengths, the graver news is that this incident, coupled with that of the other student who has come forward, Andrew Eastman ‘07, constitutes a crackdown on freedom of political expression at my school. On principle, and as the author of a blog, I cannot stay quiet about grounded allegations of censorship and intimidation. And not just allegations—these things have occured. How do we know? The chilling effect. The Dartmouth official involved here would neither confirm nor deny that he has access to Nick’s personal e-mail, which is stored server-side on Dartmouth computers. If student e-mail accounts are not being mined to detect and archive political activity, and I hope that is true, it means that a recipient of Nick’s e-mails felt that the proper thing to do with a piece of political expression with which he disagreed was to surreptitiously forward it to a College administrator, whom he or she expected would take corrective action. This is not the mark of a campus with an atmosphere fostering of free speech. It is the mark of the precise opposite: chill.

There are myriad questions which I think deserve to be answered. How did David Spalding obtain Nick’s e-mails? How did he know “who his friends were” and which groups he was in? Why did he warn Nick that he knew these things? What is Rex Morrey ‘s role? Does the Vice President of Alumni Relations have the right to discipline and interrogate students? Does any administrator? How often does this happen? Which Dartmouth administrators have the right to hold two-on-one meetings with students for the purpose of challenging their views on College governance? Which views are considered unacceptable, and requiring of correction? Who makes that decision? Do dossiers exist on students besides Nick Stork? On whom?

I am not in a position to demand answers to these questions, but this blog reaches people who are.

UPDATE: Click onto the home page to see further updates on this issue.

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