The Magazine

Dartmouth, the NYT, and more.

From the May 23, 2005 issue: Tear down this Board!

May 23, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 34 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The Dartmouth Insurgency (cont.)

In a stunning (at least to their critics) upset, Dartmouth alums Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki have each won a seat on the college's board of trustees. Robinson, a Hoover fellow and former Reagan speechwriter ("Tear down this wall" came from his pen), and Zywicki, who teaches at George Mason University's law school, had run Internet petition drives to get on the ballot, an effort chronicled in these pages by Duncan Currie ("The Dartmouth Insurgency," April 25). The results were made public last week, following nearly two months of electronic and mail-in voting.

Chalk up another victory for the "new media"--namely, for the right-leaning blogosphere. Robinson, a past contributor to this magazine, and Zywicki, who blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy site, relied heavily on online word-of-mouth to publicize their uphill efforts against four candidates handpicked by the alumni council.

Dartmouth rules bar trustee candidates from electioneering--but only once they've been certified. So as they labored to acquire the requisite 500 petition signatures, Robinson and Zywicki were free to tout their platforms on personal websites and friendly blogs. Though their candidacies were uncoordinated, each championed similar goals: ending Dartmouth's de facto campus speech code and improving the undergraduate experience.

Although both stressed that these issues were nonpartisan, blogs sprang up almost overnight to denounce them as ideological threats. Groups such as "Alumni for a Strong Dartmouth" and "Dartmouth Alumni for Social Change" zinged Robinson and Zywicki for their "reactionary" politics and criticism of Dartmouth president James Wright.

The Dartmouth establishment had a good reason to be startled by the two outsiders. In 2004, another petition candidate, Silicon Valley tycoon T.J. Rodgers, won election to the board of trustees--the first petition candidate to do so since 1980. Rodgers, a self-described libertarian, ran on a similar platform to those of Robinson and Zywicki.

Now three center-right alums in two years have gained positions on the 18-member board by campaigning against the Dartmouth administration and against politically correct speech codes. To say this has raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers in Hanover would be an understatement. Robinson and Zywicki--like Rodgers before them--have gone at the academic establishment head-on and emerged victorious. They join the board officially in June, following Dartmouth's commencement exercises. Their first meeting will probably take place next September.

Trustee-elect Robinson spoke to The Scrapbook last week, calling the outcome "a victory for alumni participation in the governance of Dartmouth College." He emphasized that blogs "made it possible for me to reach alums" and kept up "interest in the campaign."

More broadly, he said, graduates everywhere can now stay in much better touch with developments at their alma mater. "I learned more in three months of reading these blogs about the actual state of affairs in Hanover, New Hampshire, than [I did] in 25 years of reading the alumni magazine." Blogs thus pose a mortal threat to the "propaganda machines" of major universities. Said Robinson: "That strikes me as a sea change."

Physician, Shrink Thyself

Remember how, back on February 1, 2004, New York Times op-ed page editor David Shipley wrote a column describing the high standards he used to select the articles that appeared in his pages? "Our decisions about which essays to publish aren't governed by a need for editorial variety alone," Shipley wrote. "Among other things, we look for timeliness, ingenuity, strength of argument, freshness of opinion, clear writing and newsworthiness."

And remember how, two days later, on February 3, 2004, Shipley published an essay by Erin Sullivan--the author of Saturn in Transit and The Astrology of Midlife and Aging--which used astrological tables to predict the outcome of the 2004 Democratic primaries? "If seeking the presidency is like reaching for the stars, then why not look to the stars--and the other heavenly bodies--for insights on the candidates," Sullivan wrote. "John Kerry . . . is a Sagittarius with four Gemini planets in the public relationship sector of his birth chart. . . . Born with the rare Mars retrograde, he entered life with a rage--a deep, inner need to overcome (the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also had the Mars retrograde). . . . The long-term picture depicts him achieving his highest goals." Oops.

When we read Sullivan's essay last year--title: "The Stars Have Voted"--The Scrapbook chuckled softly to ourselves; how witty and sophisticated, we thought, that Shipley would make fun of his own pretentious "high standards" by publishing a piece of credulous pseudoscience not a week later!