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Byrnes Support Parity; Oppose Board-Packing Plan

Billionaire Dartmouth donors dispatch email to Class of 1985; lambaste Board-packing plan; “We urge you to vote for the Parity Slate. If we don’t elect them, your vote will never matter again.”

In an email sent Wednesday afternoon to members of the Class of 1985, Mark Byrne ‘85 T’86 and Patrick Byrne ‘85 tell classmates that they believe the Board-packing plan proposed last September by Chairman Ed Haldeman and his five-person Governance Committee is “radical,” “heavy-handed,” and “undemocratic.”

Messrs. Byrne, whose family is one of Dartmouth’s largest donors, urge election of the pro-parity slate of candidates for the Dartmouth Association of Alumni, who are running against a slate of candidates (styling themselves as the “Unity Slate”) who would permit the plan to go forward full tilt, upsetting the 117-year balance between duly elected trustees (currently half of the Board) and handpicked self-propagating appointees (the other half). The parity slate would enforce the 1891 Agreement between the Board and the Association guaranteeing a half-elected Board; the other slate would dissolve it.

The brothers have never met the petition trustees who now compose one full quarter of the Board; nor have they, to this page’s knowledge, ever taken a position on Dartmouth politics before. But the brothers Byrne do recognize a sore loser when they see one.

In 2006 the administration promoted, with college funds, a new constitution which would have rigged the electoral process against independent candidates. That referendum failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed to pass. Indeed it failed to gain even a simple majority. The brothers reveal that after the defeat of the constitution College President James Wright told them, in writing, that the scheming was over. Not so: “The matter was not, in fact, dropped, and a five man governance committee managed to plan and narrowly pass a resolution to turn Dartmouth’s Trustee’s Board into a self-electing elite.”

The Byrne family was the primary donor for Tuck’s Byrne Hall and for Dartmouth’s new dormitory Byrne II. They have also given the Byrne Fund in Chinese Studies, grants for student public service projects through the Tucker Foundation, the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, and annual gifts to the Parents Fund and Tuck School. In 2003 the Byrne sons endowed another professorship at Tuck in honor of their father, who is the former Chairman of the Tuck Board of Overseers. Mark Byrne is a current member of the Tuck Board of Overseers.

The Byrne brothers’ full email follows.

–––- Forwarded message –––-
From: Mark Byrne ‘85
Date: Wed, May 21, 2008 at 5:30 PM
Subject: Mark and Patrick Byrne Support Parity
To:

Dear Fellow D’85,


We know you are being bombarded with email and snail mail, and regret
adding to that pile. However, we felt compelled to write to you, to
urge you to vote in the Association of Alumni election, and to tell you
why we are voting for the Parity Slate
(http://www.dartmouthparity.com/vote/).


The College-sponsored slate has the full tools of the College
propaganda machine; the Parity team do not, and must rely on partial,
obsolete mailing lists. That kind of undemocratic approach is key to
why we feel continued Alumni - elected involvement at the 50% level is
vital to the future of the College.

The first tool of the propagandist is the ad hominem attack. They don’t
really try to defend the indefensible, namely the implementation of the
Board-packing plan by stealth. Instead, they label their opponents,
especially the four petition trustees, as extremists, bent on taking
over Dartmouth.

We are not extremists, and we have never met the petition Trustees or
any of the Petition slate. We are two brothers, who love Dartmouth and
have consistently supported the College for many years. Frankly, we
expect that there would be important disagreements between us if we did
meet the petition Trustees. But these things are clear:

1) Because a few trustees got elected by petition, who had
differing views to those of the leadership, the college tried to change
governance by referendum, to make it harder for petition trustees to get
elected. They lost that referendum.

2) President Wright wrote to us shortly thereafter, promising an
end to the matter.

3) The matter was not, in fact, dropped, and a five man governance
committee managed to plan and narrowly pass a resolution to turn
Dartmouth’s Trustee’s Board into a self-electing elite, permanently.
The courts will decide whether this was a breach of contract. However
we don’t need a court to tell us it was a heavy-handed and undemocratic
thing to do.

4) The extremists are the ones who breached a hundred year old
deal because a handful of trustees had views they didn’t like.


We urge you to vote for the Parity Slate. If we don’t elect them, your
vote will never matter again.


Sincerely,


Mark Byrne D’85 T’86

Patrick Byrne D’85 (PhD Stanford).

The Byrne family, for those who are interested, controls the White Mountains Insurance Group, a large holding company. Mark and Patrick Byrne formerly ran units of Berkshire Hathaway; Mark is Warren Buffett’s godson. The family also purchased online wholesaler Overstock.com, a decision the patriarch of the family, Jack Byrne, was skeptical about at first, saying that he’d rather pile the money “up in Dartmouth Square here at the college and light it. let the freshman dance around it and have some fun. That’s the worst idea I ever heard.”


The brothers, stalwarts in American business, also think it is a bad idea to shunt away the great middle of Dartmouth alumni by arrogating oversight power to an unelected governance committee. Major donors like the Byrnes will always have a line to College executives—even if, as appears is the case here, those executives mislead them. But the Board-packing plan will distance the average alumnus by diluting his voting power and abrogating the contract the Association of Alumni made with the Board in 1891.

The Board-packing plan always threatened to cause Dartmouth to lose a large number of middle-class donors. Now, it seems, it is pushing the major donors away, too. In more cynical hours one might presume that all billionaire Dartmouth families might endorse the plan. It would concentrate power in the hands of a few elites, after all. Bravo to Mark and Patrick Byrne for taking a stand on principle.

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