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On the Commonwealth

Still in draft, I have a post written about the negative campaigning tactics of Trustee candidate Sandy Alderson. It describes them, and expresses my sense that they are probably unhelpful to both Mr. Alderson and Dartmouth College. Before I could release that post, though, Dartblog readers began receiving in their mailboxes a colorful flyer from Mr. Alderson. On the outside, graphics of Baker Tower with a lengthy moniker superimposed: “One candidate has stood up to the small group of alumni that is trying to hijack the Board of Trustee election process.”

The sender of the mailing identifies itself as “Supporters of Dartmouth Trustee Candidate Sandy Alderson,” but the supporters are not enumerated. On the inside is a similar statement about “hijacking”. It reads:

I had a great experience at Dartmouth and have cared deeply about the College since I graduated in 1969. I have continued to stay involved with Dartmouth over the years, through fundraising, the sponsorship of interns, speaking appearances, and with the baseball program. I am now very concerned about the factionalism that exists on the Board and the petition process that has allowed a very small group of alumni to virtually hijack the Trustee elections. Please take the time to read about my background, experience, and where I stand on the issues facing the College, and consider giving me your vote. Thanks. Sandy Alderson ‘69
My correspondent, a New York alumnus who does not suffer being talked down to gladly, replies below. Unless James Madison—or Daniel Webster—should rise to join this fray, the below constitutes the final and most intelligent word on the context and implications of the present Trustee election cycle.
We have now had three successive petition candidates elected by the vote of a majority of thousands of alumni voting. One wonders how these majorities can be characterized as “a very small group of alumni” hijacking Trustee elections. The word “hijack” suggests a violent criminal undertaking to deprive a rightful owner of a vehicle that belongs to him. It is not clear how Alderson concludes that the exercise by alumni of their rights under the constitution can be compared to that. Possibly he feels that if alumni nominate and elect candidates not chosen by the administration that something has been improperly taken from the administration. Apparently he believes that it should be the administration that has the sole right to determine the candidates for alumni trusteeships provided for under the constitution. Having come by his own nomination this way, perhaps he overvalues that process.

Further confusion is evident in his deploring the petition process for having supposedly led to “factionalism on the board” resulting from the alumni nominating and electing candidates of their own choice. The reasonable concerns of the duly elected petition trustees, all men of considerable distinction, are to be dismissed as mere “factionalism?” It seems to me this has it exactly backwards. I am beginning to wonder whether administration supporters are outright allergic to democratic decision making or to the exercise of established alumni rights when they don’t control the results.

In judging this dismissal of the petition trustees as “factional,” one should compare their representative status, and therefore their official dignity, to that of the other trustees.

The other alumni trustees got on the ballot not because of collecting thousands of alumni signatures, but through the approval of “a very small group of alumni,” namely the leadership elected in meetings in Hanover which substantially excluded the participation of most alumni due to the unreasonable requirement that they travel to Hanover to vote, thus enabling those local alumni, many of whom are employed by the college administration, or are interested in other ways, to dominate the tiny number of votes cast. If one wanted to stoop to pejorative characterization, wouldn’t it be more apposite to say that prior to the reactivation of the petition process that the elections of the alumni trustees had somehow been “hijacked” by a “very small group,” and they were “factional,” i.e. represented the administration faction as opposed to the broader body of the college?

And what of the representative status of the non-alumni trustees who are on the board because simply because they gave a lot of money, or as the administration puts it, are recipients of “the highest honor the college can bestow?” What of those who are there simply ex-officio (the president and the NH governor)? No doubt many non-alumni trustees are dedicated and try to do a good job, but it can scarcely be said they should enjoy or deserve quite the same status as the petition trustees. They serve in effect at the pleasure of the administration which regards them as recipients of honors more than as authorities to whom they must account for their actions. They lack the endorsement of the alumni who have no say in their appointment or reappointment, save through what influence the petition trustees may have at the board, an influence the administration is apparently doing its best to minimize and eliminate in the future, to judge by the recent abortive effort to rewrite the constitution.

In the world of the business corporation, we do not admire managements that effectively control their own governing bodies, the boards of directors, because it is assumed they will act in their own parochial interests, and not those of the shareholders who constitute the body of the corporation. Although there are many differences with an educational enterprise such as the college, the point holds: the college administration should not dominate its own governing body, but should answer through it to the alumni, who are at Dartmouth traditionally the “body of the college.” Dartmouth is blessed with talented and knowledgeable alumni; their independent input should be sought after, not resisted. Greater involvement of independent alumni would tend to reduce the worrisome divide between the values of the academic culture, and those of the larger society it supposedly serves.

It seems to me that the petition trustees, by reason of their independent nomination and election, are the ones who are most truly representative of the alumni as the body of the college. It is their views which should carry the higher degree of moral authority as a result of their uncontrolled democratic nomination and election. To dismiss them as “factional” is repugnant; if any trustees are to be considered “factional,” it is certainly not them.

My guess is this brochure will probably get more votes for Professor Smith than Mr. Alderson.

And it seems to me that it will. I recall with a note of pleasure that the campaign against Todd Zywicki and Peter Robinson was called “Alumni for a Strong Dartmouth.” Founded and funded by the very same folks, the campaign in favor of last year’s anti-petition new constitution was called “Alumni for Common Sense.” In either case, if you disagreed with the heavyweights who purport to have a claim on the name of ‘Dartmouth,’ you were being a fool. In both cases, the College’s stakeholders decided to be fools.


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