Dartmouth has two new trustees. Normally, we wouldn’t care about such things at EphBlog, but our own alumni trustee elections are underway, yet no one seems to care. There certainly won’t be a front page article in the Boston Globe when the results come out in June.
There are two separate issues here. First, the Dartmouth nominating proceedure is very open. The two winning candidates were put on the ballot because they were able to generate a substantial number of signatures. They were not nominated by the powers that be at Dartmouth. Indeed, they were actively campaigned against, At, Williams, on the other hand, the proceedure is very closed. Unless you can get the nominating committee to put your name on the ballot, you can’t run, even if a large number of alumni would gladly vote for you.
I think the Dartmouth model is better. Does anyone know why the Williams procedure is so closed?
Second, the outsider candidates at Dartmouth had views that were greatly at odds with the current administration. More details below. I wonder how similar candidates would fair at Williams.
The victory of two dark-horse candidates for Dartmouth College’s board of trustees this week has revived a struggle over competing visions for the future of the small Ivy League campus.
Peter Robinson, who wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan and is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, and Todd J. Zywicki, a George Mason University law professor who contributes to a libertarian-leaning web log, ran on platforms that were scathingly critical of the administration, saying it has become too politically correct and has stifled fraternities, de-emphasized athletics, and shortchanged teaching in favor of research.
”Dartmouth’s leadership has turned its back on [its] great legacy,” Zywicki wrote in his campaign statements. ”The administration has enlarged class sizes, starved the athletic program, and attacked the sororities and fraternities.”
Robinson and Zywicki, who gathered 500 signatures each to win a place on the ballot without the approval of an official alumni council, represent a vocal strain of conservative Dartmouth alumni who for more than a decade have contended that the university has gone astray. It is unclear what percent of alumni share their views or what kind of influence their presence on the board will have on Dartmouth’s future.
Some alumni have expressed alarm. ”Both petition candidates, in short, seem to me to long nostalgically for some ‘Dear Old Dartmouth’ of the past, without admitting the idealized past they crave represents a Dartmouth that was often hard on women, gays and lesbians, and minorities; monolithic in terms of its social life; and fostered an anti-intellectual environment,” Susan Ackerman, a 1980 graduate and chairwoman of the religion department, wrote on a website opposing the two petition candidates.
In separate interviews, Robinson and Zywicki said their dissatisfaction with the Hanover, N.H., college dates back many years. Zywicki, class of 1988, cited the late 1980s call of former president James O. Freedman to make a place for ”creative loners” on a campus known for its emphasis on sports and partying.
Freedman’s successor, James Wright, made waves a decade later when he initiated a crackdown on fraternities designed to ”end Greek life as we know it.” His statement that ”Dartmouth is a research university in all but name” has also been pilloried by critics who prefer the traditional focus on undergraduate teaching.
Controversy, meanwhile, has swirled around whether Dartmouth has a ”speech code.” A fraternity lost recognition in 2001 after its members published a newsletter commenting on the alleged sexual practices of specific female students. Robinson and Zywicki mentioned the issue in their platforms, but recent statements from Dartmouth officials supporting free speech have assuaged their concerns.
The latest episode to enrage some alumni came last December, when a letter written four years previously by the dean of admissions, Karl Furstenberg, became public. Furstenberg had praised Swarthmore College’s decision to eliminate its football program, saying ”sadly football, and the culture that surrounds it, is antithetical to the academic mission of colleges such as ours.”
The administration has welcomed the two new trustees, with Wright, still Dartmouth’s president, saying in a statement, ”Mr. Robinson and Mr. Zywicki both have a deep affection for Dartmouth, and I look forward to working with them.”
But at the same time, officials dispute many of the two men’s comments about the direction of the college. Wright recently told a group of alumni that ”I have regularly insisted that Dartmouth provides the strongest undergraduate education in the country. This is our legacy and this is our ambition — and this is our niche.”
Officials acknowledge that some of the most popular courses are oversubscribed, but they say that their faculty-student ratio is similar to those of elite liberal arts colleges like Amherst and Williams. Dartmouth is also in the midst of an effort to expand the size of the faculty by 10 percent. And school officials have insisted that they maintain full support for a strong athletic program.
Geoff Berlin, a member of the class of 1984 who created a website opposing the two petition candidates, pointed out that the four ”official” candidates approved by the alumni council got far more votes combined than Robinson and Zywicki, but were defeated because establishment votes were split among four candidates while critics cast their votes for only two. More than 15,000 people, a quarter of living alumni, cast ballots.
”Frankly I would say they misled the alumni, because most people don’t spend hours looking into the facts,” Berlin said, referring to the two winners.
As of June the board will have 18 members: eight elected by alumni, eight appointed internally, and two others — the president and the New Hampshire governor.
Another petition candidate with similar views, T.J. Rodgers, CEO of a California semiconductor company, won last year and inspired Zywicki and Robinson to run. The three say they’ll use their bloc to influence college policy.
”What I do think, though, is that all three of us consider alumni participation in the governance of the college as critical,” he said.
Robinson, who graduated in 1979, has said Dartmouth is interested in the alumni’s money but not their advice. The Internet, he said, has helped graduates gain new influence; the campaign for the board was marked by sparring on student and alumni web logs.
Those damn web logs!