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Professor Stephen Smith ‘88 for Trustee

head_smith.jpgOn the Tuesday following the first Monday of November every year, you can be told: Vote, because men have died to ensure that you may. At Dartmouth, the best we can say is that the College’s doting alumni have, in its darkest moments, saved the institution from extinction by organizing financially, legally, or otherwise to defeat pressures arrayed against it.

The second most famous instance—the first being the Dartmouth College Case—was one hundred years ago, when Dartmouth was facing bankruptcy. Alumni saved it, and as an acknowledgment that its most precious long-term stakeholders are the alumni, Dartmouth allows alumni to elect a little less than half of the Board of Trustees. So it is crucial to vote.

This is unique in the Ivy League. Dartmouth, like all other colleges and universities, has a goodly portion of its Board seats to give away as rewards for fame or for large donations. These are called “charter Trustees,” and they are appointed. They constitute half of the Board. The other half is for intellectual, not financial, stewardship. This half is democratically elected by alumni. (The president of the College has an ex officio vote. This means that the number of voters on the Board elected by alumni can never reach fifty percent, but is instead a permanent minority.)

This is not dissimilar to other colleges’ governance configurations. At Harvard, for example, an elected Board of Overseers has some power that the Harvard Corporation does not. And, as at Dartmouth, Harvard’s Overseers have been subject to the aggregated wisdom of its alumni. Barack Obama, in his last semester as a law student, ran for the Board as a petition candidate, insisting that Harvard do more to fight apartheid.

* * *

Politics in college governance is nothing new, but it is usually lots of sound and fury and, finally, vapor. The particular brand of politics being waged at Dartmouth is new.

It is a campaign for the independence of the Board. Over the last ten years or so, at corporation after corporation and at university after university, the danger of boardmembers in league with executives has been made clear. That’s not to say that either board members or executives are bad people—just that bad decisions are made when the two are not duly independent.

At Dartmouth, Law Professor Stephen Smith, the petition candidate, is in my opinion the candidate most likely to bring critical inquiry to bear on the College’s executives. As he says in his video statement, he wants to support the Dartmouth administration when it is right and stand up to it when it is wrong. Those are more than just words. Mr. Smith was the first in this campaign to adopt the issues of bureaucratic bloat, due process in student disciplinary hearings, and resource misallocation toward the graduate programs. And he’s the most substantive speaker on every one of them, actually pulling out numbers to demonstrate a pattern of wayward priorities.

The numbers? Among many others, there’s the fact that the faculty size has not increased significantly over the last ten years. (In fact, if you count just those departments offering undergraduate majors, it has decreased slightly.) The fact that the main administrative offices have doubled in size over that time span. The fact that in the last six years, administrative spending went up a shameful eighty percent. The simple fact that more and more money is going into Dartmouth College, and students are not seeing a commensurate increase in output. That doesn’t mean that Dartmouth’s president is a bad man, or that the College is fundamentally broken. It just means Dartmouth is organizationally flawed. The McKinsey & Co. audit, which the administration still refuses to release, hints as much in its executive summary. As one recent e-mailer put it to me, “Dartmouth is run like a bad 1970s corporation.”

In my opinion, then, Stephen Smith ‘88 is the standout candidate for Trustee—ready to agree with the administration when it is right, but possessed of a proven ability to disagree constructively when it is wrong. He has refused to attack his opponent, even though that opponent has called into question his very integrity. Mr. Smith’s blog shows that he is a sober and considered observer of Dartmouth College. Mr. Smith lives and works in academia, which I consider a benefit, and has served on a number of nonprofit boards, including the YMCA and the United Way. And his personal biography is singularly astonishing.

* * *

But more than all that, don’t we really want a Trustee who, when he visits Hanover, actually goes down into the basement and plays a game or two? Don’t we want that sort of a Trustee advising President Wright at Board meetings? A Trustee who, when making decisions, sides with the actual student experience over the president’s executive summaries? In my view, Stephen Smith will be an advocate for students on the Board, and I encourage all readers to vote for him.

More than anything else, though, this Dartmouth Trustee election is important, so please do vote.

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