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Bucking the Deans at Dartmouth

A new challenge to the university monolith on the hill.

11:00 PM, Feb 20, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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The rules governing election to the Dartmouth board restrict speech to a great degree. As Patricia Fisher, Dartmouth's director of alumni leadership, explained to me, the restrictive election rules enforce "a level playing field." Electioneering is prohibited; once Robinson and Zywicki are certified as candidates after they submit their petition signatures this week, their websites will come down (as did Rodgers's last year). The campaign will be limited to the candidates' 400-word-personal statements and capsule biographies that accompany the ballots submitted to alumni.

And in a bow toward the information age, the rules have been modified this year to allow the candidates to send two email messages and to post a short video for alumni, provided they are reviewed and approved in advance by the alumni council balloting committee. Despite these severe constraints, the election should be interesting.

Peter Robinson is the Hoover Institution fellow and former Reagan speechwriter who wrote the earth-shaking 1987 "tear down this wall" speech. Todd Zywicki is a professor of law at George Mason University Law School and a blogger at The Volokh Conspiracy. In addition to their desire to preserve Dartmouth's traditional character as an institution devoted to undergraduate education, Robinson and Zywicki share concerns about the repressive atmosphere and rigid orthodoxy of political correctness on campus. (Zywicki's site links to a Dartmouth Daily article by student Dan Knecht, The Monolith on the Hill. Knecht writes, "In my almost four years at Dartmouth, I have encountered more than a handful of dyed-in-the-wool liberals. I have yet to meet one conservative professor.")

The election has been the subject of a fascinating article in the local Dartmouth-area newspaper, the Valley News, which quotes Hans Penner, a retired religion professor and former dean of the faculty. Penner reveals more than he intends, observing: "It always seemed to me that alumni [trustees] that wanted to get into the actual workings of the college make more trouble than it's worth. They don't know what's going on . . . It's the faculty and the administration that they should trust."

Given the constraints under which the election operates, Robinson and Zywicki are only nominally running against the four candidates selected by the alumni council; the views of those four candidates are unknown to anyone outside the council's nominating committee. Robinson and Zywicki are running against the Dartmouth administration and the state of affairs on campus. With any luck, another wall or two will be torn down.

Scott Johnson is a contributor to the blog Power Line , a contributing writer to The Daily Standard, and a 1973 graduate of Dartmouth College.