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Alumni Trustees: How the Nominating Committee Really Works

The Nominating and Alumni Trustee Search Committeee of the Alumni Council is charged with nominating appropriate alumni to be members of the Board. As we have seen, elections in which alumni cast a meaningful ballot have effectively ended, but one would hope that the Committee could do its work with a small measure of independence from the Board and from the Kim/Folt administration. Not so.

Gazzaniga8.jpgThis year a group of alumni from the Class of ‘61 suggested to the Search Committee that their classmate, Mike Gazzaniga, should be on the Board. Gazzaniga is one of the leading scientists of his generation, as Dartmouth acknowledged in according him an honorary degree this year. The words “father of cognitive neuroscience” seem permanently attached to his name, a fact that has earned him recognition in the press as well as among his peers. He has a refined understanding of the liberal arts, and he has taught at numerous institutions of higher learning, including UC Davis, Cornell Medical College, SUNY Stony Brook, the NYU Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Dartmouth, and UC Santa Barbara, where he currently directs the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind. At Dartmouth, he was the Dean of the Faculty from 2002-2004.

Can you think of a better Trustee? Beyond his professional qualifications, Gazzaniga would be the only Trustee on the Board with an inside view of the workings of the College and a broad range of independent contacts among the faculty.

So how did his candidacy fare with the members of the Search Committee? In short, it didn’t. Not only did Gazzaniga not make the final round of interviews, but according to Dartblog sources, he was not contacted at all by the AC’s Committee.

How can that be? Perhaps Gazzaniga is critical of the the College’s current direction? His speech at this year’s Commencement dinner could be interpreted that way. But that shouldn’t stop the AC from choosing him, given the Board’s supposed commitment to diverse points of view. Read Trustee Jeff Immelt’s Commencement Speech at Notre Dame in 2009:

Part of growing as a leader is to open the doors to divergent opinions, to let critics into the boardroom, and to engage diverse viewpoints and perceptions. Institutions cannot be insular or static.

I know that Notre Dame is a force for good in the world. But sustaining that reputation requires a real and earnest engagement with that world, a certain level of give-and-take. Notre Dame is an international enterprise. You cannot bring about positive change in so diverse a world without working cooperatively with those who are different, who may disagree with you, but whose perspectives should be welcomed and seriously considered.

Of course, Dartblog readers certainly know that the Board’s stated position on an issue can oftentimes have no relation to actual policy. In fact, the Trustees’ public stance is often a clue to diametrically opposite behavior, which I submit is the case in this instance.

As we have seen before, the Board has a great deal of informal and formal influence with the Alumni Council’s Nominating Committee. Take a look at the Alumni Council Constitution, Article IV, Section 2, Paragraph C:

The Chair of the Nominating Committee of the Board of Trustees of the College may sit with the Nominating Committee of the [Alumni] Council as a non-voting ex-officio member at such times as the Nominating Committee is dealing with the subject of nominating candidates for the position of Alumni Trustee.

It takes no great leap of imagination to understand that the Board and Kim/Folt put the kibosh on Gazzaniga’s candidacy, which otherwise should have been a slamdunk for the members of the Search Committee. Why would the Trustees and Kim/Folt want to keep someone like Gazzaniga’s off the Board? Simple. His intellectual qualities and broad experience would outshine everyone in the room at Trustee meetings. We can’t have that now, can we? As readers have seen time and again, a shared, easygoing mediocrity is the very definition of the Olde Boys’ Club. Add to that stew Provost Folt’s tendency to, ahem, spin the facts, which Gazzaniga would be in a position to point out — unlike the other out-of-touch Trustees — and it’s obvious why he would be anathema to the powers that be.

In rejecting Mike Gazzaniga’s candidacy, President Kim, Provost Folt, and Dartmouth’s Trustees — mostly MBA degree holders and other corporate operators with no professional understanding of higher education — have displayed for all to see that they are more concerned about the comfort of their own positions than the wise governance of the College. And they have been consistently aided and abetted by the Alumni Council.

Addendum: Gazzaniga has written a much admired, new book, Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain. As the Times recently stated, he “is best known for a dazzling series of studies that revealed the brain’s split personality, the division of labor between its left and right hemispheres.” To get a feel for the man, take a look at a video interview associated with the Times’ piece.

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