Trustee candidate Chu '68 reflects on past

by Kathleen McDermott | 1/21/00 6:00am

When Michael Chu '68 arrived at Dartmouth in the fall of 1964, he marveled at the rustic charm and beautiful autumn foliage, stepping into puddles just to hear them crack.

Thirty-six years later, after working as a political organizer in Uruguay, having graduated from Harvard Business School with highest honors and directing the world's leading non-profit microfinance organization, he is one of three nominees for a seat on the Board of Trustees.

The other nominees for the vacant alumni Trustee position are Kevin Ross '77 and Maxwell Anderson '77.

Born in Kumming, China, Chu spent his childhood in Montevideo, Uruguay.

During his undergraduate years at the College, Chu was chairman of the Undergraduate and Interdormitory Council in North Fayerweather, a member of the fraternity Delta Upsilon and leader of the Tucker Foundation's Upward Bound program.

Through Upward Bound, students from Dartmouth and several other colleges spent the summer at Talladega College in Talladega, AL, leading an academic program designed to encourage low-income youth to continue in their studies.

"We were seen by the local police as rabble-rousers from the North," he said.

"It afforded us a real window," into the realities of a segregation that was only beginning to end, he said. "We still saw public restrooms with 'white' and 'colored' signs ... We saw things change dramatically between the two summers we went."

Chu said his senior year was a time of tremendous social and political upheaval: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were shot, students protested against the ever escalating Vietnam War, and both Governor George Wallace and Malcolm X visited the campus -- Malcolm X just three days before he was shot.

Students leaving Dartmouth wanted to participate in the social changes, Chu said.

Chu, a government major, returned to Uruguay and involved himself with opposing a military takeover of the government.

The 1971 election in Uruguay was "literally contested under fire," with "concrete bricks in the ground floor windows to stop fire from machine guns," Chu said.

In 1974 he returned to the United States, attending business school at Harvard. Upon graduation he worked in various investment banking and management consulting positions.

But when an old friend, remembering Chu as a young radical at Dartmouth, asked him to serve on the board of ACCION, a microfinance organization "dedicated to bringing financial services to these smallest of small business people," he accepted.

To Chu ACCION is "an effective response to poverty," seeking "to change the face of poverty, rather than just alleviate it."

Chu has also been active in Dartmouth's alumni association, interviewing candidates since his business school days and helping in the Alumni Fund.

"Dartmouth shines as a liberal arts institution," he said.

As Trustee, Chu said he would work to preserve the values of a true liberal arts education -- the pluralistic search for knowledge, a search relevant in a world changing at an unprecedented pace.

Chu also said that he sees the wise management of the College's endowment as a vital issue.

A truly diverse College community must be created, one that includes not just the polar extremes, but "the Midwestern kid from the farm," something possible only if the middle class is not left out in the shuffle of increasingly higher college costs.

Looking back on his years at Dartmouth, Chu said that he remembers not only the beautiful campus, but "the quality of minds that were around me ... People were bright, but there was always a real down to earth feeling ."