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Governance Updates

Here is a digest of recent developments in Dartmouth’s governance embroglio that perhaps connects a few dots, if you will.

On February 4th, a New Hampshire court rejected the College’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit that had been brought against it by Dartmouth’s Association of Alumni. The motivation for the suit is to stop the College from going through with its announced plans to despoil alumni democracy and oversight in its governance.

Ten days later, on February 14th, the Association of Alumni and the Board of Trustees filed with the court an official agreement. (Appropriate, for Valentine’s Day, wasn’t it?) The Association would drop its threat to resubmit its petition for a preliminary injunction—an order to legally bar the Board from packing itself. In return, the Board agreed to indefinitely defer its appointment of new Charter Trustees, and to give the Association of Alumni 45 days’ notice before ever doing so in the future—time enough for the Association to resubmit its petition for injunction. This was a major capitulation on the part of the Trustees, because before the agreement, they had planned to appoint the new Charter Trustees on February 22nd at the latest.

The same day, February 14th, Robert Donin, Dartmouth’s General Counsel, issued a statement on the agreement. It reads, in part: “Given the continued uncertainty created by the lawsuit filed against the College, the Board of Trustees has decided to suspend for now election of any additional trustees to the Board. We believe this decision will help ensure that the Court has the opportunity to consider the full range of evidence in this case before being asked to decide whether a contract was formed in 1891 that prevents the College from implementing its current plan to strengthen Dartmouth’s governance.”

Leaving aside the discomfortingly propagandistic language, (“Plan to strengthen Dartmouth’s governance?” Whatever you say, Mr. Donin…), notice just how patently disingenuous this statement is. Through Mr. Donin’s statement, the College expresses the very reasonable desire that the Court have enough time to examine all the relevant evidence. But hold on—it was the College that tried to dismiss the lawsuit! In rejecting the College’s motion to dismiss, the Court guarded for itself sufficient time to examine the evidence. Its having this time has nothing to do with College’s and the Association’s February 14th agreement, notwithstanding the dishonest portrayal in Mr. Donin’s statement.

In related news, The Dartmouth reported today, just in passing really, on the possible effect that this spring’s election for the 2008-09 Association of Alumni Executive Committee may have on the lawsuit: “If a majority of the newly elected executive committee is against the suit, the committee may vote to withdraw it.” It is worth noting, too, that the current Executive Committee, an 11-member body, approved the lawsuit by a majority of only 6-3, with two abstaining. And it is reasonable to assume that given the brouhaha over the lawsuit, this Spring’s election will amount to an alumni referendum on that single issue, with voters choosing candidates almost solely on the basis of whether they support or oppose the suit. I urge you to support only those candidates committed to the long, uphill battle to maintain alumni democracy at Dartmouth—whether it takes a lawsuit or not. Mark your calendars: Voting begins April 28th.

What The Dartmouth did not examine is the probable connection between the timing of the Alumni Association election and the College’s motivation for entering the Valentine’s Day Agreement. The College knows full well that if a majority of the 2008-09 Executive Committee opposes the lawsuit, the Committee would likely vote forthwith to withdraw it—possibly as early as June, when the results of the election are announced. This might not kill the lawsuit altogether, as another organization (read: the Hanover Institute) could pick up where the Alumni Association would leave off, or so I understand. (Disclaimer: I am not, have never been, and never will be an attorney, and I know what the meaning of ‘is’ is.) Still, it would be a huge PR victory for the College if the Association were to drop its name from the suit.

This is the dream that is surely tantalizing the Board at this stage of affairs. And therein lies the appeal to the College of the Valentine’s Day Agreement. Stall the suit through June, engineer a victory for Board supporters in the Association elections, and watch our troubles evaporate before our eyes. So goes the Board’s thinking.

As for the dirtywork of corrupting elections, the Board, the President and their sprawling PR apparatus have plenty of experience. They have never achieved their desired outcome, but they have tried numerous times, going all the way back to the 1980 Petition Trustee campaign of John Steel ‘54. Their dirtiest and most notorious attempt was to anoint Sandy Alderson ‘69 in last Spring’s Alumni Trustee election, while obstructing and denigrating Stephen Smith ‘88 at every turn. Result: Professor Smith garnered the most votes of any candidate for a Dartmouth Alumni Trustee position, ever.

Rosy red skies for democracy tonight, folks.

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