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The Empire Strikes Back

Dartmouth's alumni association tries to keep the school's alumni in their place.

12:00 AM, Oct 17, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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EARLIER THIS YEAR, in a stunning rebuke to the school's administration, Dartmouth alumni elected two insurgent petition candidates to the college's board of trustees--Hoover Institution fellow and former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson and George Mason University Law School professor Todd Zywicki. Both Robinson and Zywicki had run against the administration on issues ranging from free speech and political correctness to the athletic program and class sizes.

The election of Robinson and Zywicki last spring followed on the heels of the election of insurgent alumnus T.J. Rodgers last year. After the election returns were in (Zywicki has collected articles about the election here) it seemed as though conservatives had the liberal Dartmouth establishment on the ropes, but the most recent installment of the saga calls to mind The Empire Strikes Back.

ALUMNI PARTICIPATION in trustee elections at Dartmouth is governed by the constitution of the college's alumni association. Last month an alumni association task force released the draft of a proposed new constitution that would, among other things, drastically alter the manner by which alumni participate in the election of trustees to the board--that is, the half of the board that is elected by alumni (the remainder of the board serve ex officio, or are selected by the trustees themselves). It's a little difficult to get a handle on the proposed new constitution--it's over 6,500 words long--which seems a bit much compared to the 1,600-word existing constitution, or, for that matter, the 4,500-word U.S. Constitution.

DESPITE ITS OPACITY, certain qualities of the proposed constitution shine through. The proposed new constitution complicates and degrades the election process in ways both gross and subtle. Joseph Asch commented on some of the key changes in a column for the Dartmouth. (Revision proponent Josiah Stevenson responded to Asch's column here.) Dartmouth students Scott Glabe and Joe Malchow have also provided shrewd analysis and commentary in the Dartmouth Review and at Malchow's Dartblog.

Among other things, the proposed constitution gives the alumni association greater control over potential insurgent candidacies and substitutes a "preference" voting system for the current "approval" voting system. As Asch, Glabe, and Malchow note, one can fairly infer that the principle rationale of the proposed changes is the erection of additional obstacles to the election of insurgent alumni candidates in trustee elections.

One feature of the proposed constitution that opens a window into the collective mind of its authors is the allocation of a block of seats on the elected alumni assembly to designated alumni groups, including Asian, black, gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgender, and Native American alumni. As Malchow observes, "This is, on its face, outrageous, undemocratic, and wrong." It is in fact symptomatic of the ills that plague Dartmouth and so many elite educational institutions, ills that in part prompted the candidacies of Rodgers, Robinson, and Zywicki in the first place.



SO NOW WHAT? Next weekend alumni will be drawn to Dartmouth for homecoming. The alumni association will convene a meeting on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. and at that meeting Dartmouth alumni will elect members of the association's executive committee. In a scenario that sounds familiar, a slate of insurgent petition candidates pledged to protect the current petition-trustee electoral process has qualified to run for the leadership of the association. There's just one wrinkle: Alumni association rules restrict voting to alumni in attendance at the meeting.