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Parity, Not Policy

As I write, Hanover is gearing up for two elections: one a passing amusement, the other of vital importance. The amusement is the annual spring spectacle that Dartmouth’s Student Assembly stages to elect its leader for the following year. The monumental is the contest for the 2008-09 Executive Committee of Dartmouth’s Association of Alumni.

In this past Monday’s edition of The Dartmouth, one student made an interesting statement that relates the two, to the extent such is possible. €œStudent Assembly should break its silence about the Association of Alumni lawsuit and the ongoing governance dispute and work to dispel myths about the state of the College floating in alumni circles. Official Student Assembly resolutions tackling the debate—adding the current undergraduate perspective—would take the wind out of the sails of the alarmist alumni and make the decisive difference. € The statement is worth analyzing, because it rests on the same mistaken beliefs that lead many alumni to misunderstand the upcoming Association of Alumni election.

First, this election is not about €œthe state of the College. € It is about parity on the Board of Trustees. The confusion is understandable, because Dartmouth’s propaganda apparatus, currently incarnate in €œDartmouth Undying, € has done everything it can to conflate the two. In provocatively accusing dissident alumni of €œegregious slanders € against the College while not once mentioning parity on the Board, Dartmouth Undying attempts to distract alumni attention from the real issue.

Look at it this way. The four most recent trustee elections were about the state of the College. This is good and proper, as their purpose was to choose officials who would directly oversee College policy-making. This election is completely different. It is to choose how future policy-makers will be chosen. As a math major, I might say it is two orders removed from actual College policy. Will alumni-elected trustees continue to comprise fully half the Board, or will they be a marginalized minority? If the Dartmouth Undying slate wins, the Association of Alumni lawsuit against the College will be withdrawn, and our last hope of maintaining Board parity will be lost.

One can ask the more fundamental question of why parity is beneficial. To start, broad alumni involvement in the goings-on in Hanover has long been one of Dartmouth ‘s fundamental strengths. The more trustee elections we have, the more we get to debate Dartmouth ‘s important policy issues, and the more critical alumni oversight we have on the Dartmouth bureaucracy. Notwithstanding the statements of the propaganda apparatus, vigorous debate is not hurting Dartmouth in the least. Just consider the spectacular incoming class of 2012, admitted this week under a phenomenal acceptance rate of 13.2 percent, that that same apparatus proudly touted.

Parity is also beneficial because to decrease the proportion of elected trustees would be to symbolically denigrate their importance. The larger a group, the more influence it has in a broader population. Relatedly, to strip power in this way from alumni at large would be a gross violation of Dartmouth ‘s longstanding communitarian spirit. As I wrote in an October 18, 2007 column in The Dartmouth, €œThe Board killed a 116-year-old communitarian tradition for a selfish reason (its favored candidates were losing), with a transparently disingenuous justification (to €˜increase alumni involvement ’ on the Board), and in a nasty way (by fiat). €

The second mistake in the student ‘s statement above is the mischaracterization of some alumni as €œalarmist. € The only €œalarmist € alumnus I know of is David Spalding €˜76, director of the College ‘s propaganda apparatus as its Vice President of Alumni Affairs. He is paid to be alarmist. Mr. Spalding also happens to be the current Secretary/Treasurer of the Association of Alumni. In a jaw-dropping stunt reminiscent of New York’s infamous Boss Tweed, he exploited his seat on the Association ‘s nominating committee to renominate himself without opposition while nominating opposing candidates for his political enemies.

That being said, there is a large group of alumni who have legitimate concerns, and voice them, about several areas of College policy. For instance, there has been some controversy over whether speech is truly free at Dartmouth. I used to believe it is. That changed last fall, when I heard stories from members of the College Republicans that Dartmouth ‘s administration attempted to intimidate them into completely dissociating themselves with a politically-incorrect event. The event, Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, was organized by an outside group.

Sprawling bureaucracy is another such issue, and rightly so. To anyone remotely familiar with the private sector, the level of needless bureaucracy in Dartmouth ‘s administration is simply unbelievable. A frequent student complaint is that for even the simplest of administrative questions, hives of duplicative deans give them the run-around. When the College engaged McKinsey & Co. to perform an audit of its administrative structure two years ago, McKinsey ‘s report was so embarrassing that the College only released the Executive Summary. Even The Dartmouth ‘s editorial board, loath to criticize the administration on anything, recently admitted that €œDartmouth finds itself in a period of sleepy stagnancy. The College is plagued by administrative bloat. € Is Dartmouth still an excellent college? Of course. Does it offer the premier undergraduate experience in the world? Who knows. Could it be much, much better with stronger leadership and a leaner bureaucracy? Definitely.

Returning to the student ‘s statement with which I began, we now see the two major errors that frequently cause misunderstanding of this spring ‘s Association of Alumni election. First, the election is about maintaining parity on the Board of Trustees, not directly about College policy. Second, alumni debate is rational and beneficial, not alarmist. The fact that an opinion columnist—a senior at that, and a campus opinion maker—so misunderstands the issues says far more about the €œcurrent undergraduate perspective € on the Association of Alumni election than any release by Student Assembly possibly could. There is no €œcurrent undergraduate perspective € on the Association of Alumni election—at least, no informed one. There is a grand total of four current undergraduates who have closely followed the whole governance story—and two of them write for this blog.

Please recognize Dartmouth ‘s propaganda apparatus for what it is, as the opinion columnist failed to do. Vote to uphold parity at Dartmouth.


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