The Magazine

Gunfight at Alumni Corral

A new round in Dartmouth's running battle.

Apr 30, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 31 • By WHITNEY BLAKE
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Alderson, for his part, says the central question is whether the college needs a "complete makeover or simply a redirection," and says he would fall in the latter category. Attacks on bureaucracy are "overblown"; the growth in college administration was not necessarily "inappropriate." John Mathias, a Chicago-based attorney who graduated with Alderson and has supported his campaign financially, has three children currently at Dartmouth, and told me that the issues Smith is raising are "fictional."

In short, it's a race not unlike those of recent years. Except, unlike earlier candidates picked by the alumni council, Alderson has a conservative celebrity in his corner. In the April 6 issue of the Dartmouth, George Will weighed in for his friend Alderson with "a Big League Endorsement." Will credited Alderson for pioneering "new ways of thinking about the evaluation of baseball talents" as chronicled in Michael Lewis's bestseller Moneyball. "The point that is germane to Dartmouth," he wrote, is that "the success of any institution depends on clear and constantly refreshed thinking about how best to match resources to the institution's mission. . . . Dartmouth's turmoils have earned it unwanted and often unjust attention around the nation. Alumni and others who desire a less tumultuous and more constructively stimulating future for the College could begin by making Sandy a trustee."

Four days later came the Buckley rejoinder on National Review Online. "Mr. Alderson is a clubby alumnus with a legal background and a hyper-active career as a baseball executive, not the worst way to gain favorable attention from patrons of the sport, who include the formidable George F. Will, Princeton Ph.D. and a man of sovereign judgment in most matters. The other principal contender is Stephen Smith," who like the three insurgent trustees "is bent on preserving those traditions at Dartmouth which made it, over the years, so singular an institution of learning, so beloved of its alumni." Moreover, "with every disadvantage known in the land (poverty, single parent, black skin) [Smith] has triumphed, in an enormously competitive environment, against East Coast snobbery and insularity. This is a moment when one wishes one were an alumnus of Dartmouth, so that one could vote for Steve Smith."

Ironically, Smith contends that, when properly understood, the contest is not really political, and he tries to dissuade the use of the "conservative" label in the race. He started out as a Democrat, and actually credits his experience at Dartmouth for his political evolution to the Republican side.

Conversely, Alderson says the race is all politics, and it's "baloney" to say otherwise: It's about people who want the school to return to the days "before women were admitted, and before the Indian symbol was removed," referring to Dartmouth's unofficial mascot, changed in the 1970s. The attack on bureaucracy is really about "big government vs. small government," which is "code talk" for attacking diversity.

If it seems implausible for the white CEO to attack the Anacostia native as a foe of diversity, don't forget that in college politics, diversity can take on many different meanings. In an April 2 column for the Dartmouth, a member of the Alumni Council nominating committee questioned whether Smith really would bring diversity to the board, since, like Zywicki, he is a law professor in the state of Virginia. Alderson echoes this talking point: "How many people from the same class, in the same profession, in the same location do we need?"

In an election conducted via mail and the Internet over a six-week period, the outcome is impossible to predict. Junior Joe Malchow, who is following the campaign closely on his blog, Dartblog.com, remarks that students see the campaign as a forum to have their concerns addressed, so in a sense, the petition candidacy is an immediate victory for students. Malchow contends that the other candidates only took stances on issues after Smith came out first with his platform. One alum who is a close observer of Dartmouth affairs describes an increased endowment and increased funding for athletic facilities starting in 2004, when Rodgers was elected, and calls this the "petition trustee effect." Indeed, it's hard to see why alumni would want to eliminate tumult and turmoil from trustee elections. However things turn out May 15, the bucolic college town of Hanover, N.H., looks likely to remain in the national spotlight as a test case for conservative efforts to reform elite academia.

Whitney Blake is an editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.