A Lack of Tact?

by Dave Gacioch | 5/21/99 5:00am

Is it possible that Dartmouth Trustee Susan Dentzer '77 just has no tact? It can't be! After all, she is a well-respected correspondent for The News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, so she has obviously learned to choose her words carefully at some point along the way. Maybe she just doesn't get it ...

For those of you who are completely lost right now, I am referring to Trustee Dentzer's newest soundbite (referring to the Student Assembly's recommendation of Kyle Roderick '99 for appointment to the Steering Committee): "It weighed. I can't say it weighed heavily." This after April's "the Trustees own the College." (which wisdom she shared with those in Collis Common Ground last Saturday in response to a student question about how the Trustees were planning to better involve students in College decision-making). Incidentally, both are currently vying with "this is not a democracy" for honors as Trustee Dentzer's most ill-thought-out and, coincidentally, most oft-quoted declaration.

According to Webster's New World Dictionary, the word "trustee" is defined as: "a person to whom another's property or the management of another's property is entrusted." Makes sense. A trustee is someone who is entrusted to manage an entity owned by someone else, or, in the case of Dartmouth, lots of someone elses. Ergo, by definition, the trustee (read this sentence closely Susan) cannot be the owner of the college with which she is entrusted. Perhaps then she should give some degree of weight to the carefully considered recommendations of others.

We have a mystery on our hands. Who, then, if not the Trustees, owns Dartmouth? I would humbly argue that Dartmouth College is an institution so special and so unique, and one which has impacted so greatly the lives of so many special men and women, that it cannot be owned by any single person ... nor by any group of 16 for that matter (yes, Susan, I mean the Board).

The structure of the Board of Trustees may have confused Trustee Dentzer somewhat. Since the seven "Charter Trustees" are nominated and confirmed within the Board itself, the seven "Alumni Trustees" are elected by the alumni but confirmed by the Board itself, and the President is chosen by the Board, Governor Jeanne Shaheen holds the only Trustee position out of 16 over which Trustee Dentzer doesn't have a direct say. Perhaps, then, it was this system through which the true owners of the College grant the Board near-absolute power, which confused Trustee Dentzer into her delusion of grandeur.

A letter which appeared last month in the pages of this publication, in which a recent Dartmouth alumnus politely, yet firmly, sought to remind Trustee Dentzer and her fellow Board members (some of whom, in all fairness, hold differing views of the Board's role than does our dear Susan) that our Trustees are merely that: caretakers of the institution we all hold so dear. He eloquently argued that it is truly the many individuals who have walked and continue to walk Dartmouth's hallowed halls who truly own the institution. Perhaps some weight might be due their (our) considered opinions.

It is for the students and, as time passes, the alumni that Dartmouth truly exists. All of us who have made our mark on the College on the Hill and on whom its mark has been indelibly left are the true owners of our beloved Dartmouth. In that spirit, our friend Trustee Dentzer can indeed claim ownership of the College, but not as a Trustee. Rather, the mark Dartmouth made on her as a student and now as an alumna cedes to her a more immutable claim of ownership than does any membership on any Board. The fact that her co-owners around the country and the world have entrusted her to protect and nurture the institution represents not a grant of power, but a yoke of responsibility.

Certainly Dartmouth is not at present a democracy. Perhaps it should not be, although that is a point which I am not willing to concede just yet. But for goodness sake Susan, don't ever again forget that you are merely our caretaker, that all of Dartmouth's sons and daughters - students both past and present - hold precious our legitimate ownership of the College on the Hill, that our serious-minded recommendations about the future of the College and those who will have influence over it deserve to be weighed heavily in your decisions.

For our sakes and for the sake of the College we all love, I sincerely hope that our friend Susan needs only a competent public relations consultant, and not a stern reminder on the nature of the sacred trust which we have all placed in her and in her Trustee comrades.

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