Retaining Institutional Memory
Recently, Janos Marton '04, the "reform" candidate, was elected as next year's student body president. Congratulations are due to Janos, for it is an honor to be chosen by one's peers to lead.
When the "reform" candidate is elected, there is one of two reasons behind it. One is that the Student Assembly is not doing the job that the current student population thinks it should be doing. The other is that there is such a strong working relationship between the students, administration and the faculty that little or no conflict erupts, and the student body views this as a fault of the Assembly. Jim Rich '96, the "reform" candidate in the 1995 election, stated, "In its present form, the Student Assembly is a totally defunct governing organization If the administration refuses to respect student opinion, the SA should take their case to the Trustees and alumni through one-on-one meetings and direct mailings. If the students feel strongly enough about an issue, it is the responsibility of the SA to stand up to the administration on their behalf." He continued to describe his platform by stating, "I'm proposing a comprehensive overhaul of the SA's governance structure and legislative tactics. The plan promises to restore the Student Assembly as a legitimate and credible voice for the student body -- a government that is representative, responsive, effective and accountable." Rich's posters shouted for student services, student advocacy and being for Dartmouth. Rich reformed the Student Assembly into the organization that has been developing since his election as president.
Over the past four years, I have seen Rich's vision achieved -- the administration currently is respecting student opinion and student ideas, especially through the mechanism of the Student Assembly. But there are students who do not see that for whatever reason. They assume the Assembly does nothing for them and so they voted for the "reform" candidate -- Janos -- who would change the Assembly. Fine. But next year, I hope that bridges are not burnt that have been built over the past seven years.
The reason I question the ability of Janos to maintain the bridges is because he does not have any kind of institutional memory, and that is a negative quality in a leader. For example, on May 9, the article entitled "Greek appeal, posters led to Marton victory" quoted Janos as saying, "Since the [Student Life Initiative] has come out, no one has run on a pro-Greek platform." That is nave and discredits Janos.
Many people said that Dean Krishna '01, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, received a major part of his vote from the Greek community because of the points of view he portrayed regarding that community. Krishna ran against Drew Pluhar '00, who ran a pro-Greek-only campaign, for Assembly President in 1999. Pluhar wrote in his election column, "the freedom to choose our social options will be the defining issue in this election. The Greek system is part of this College's institutional identity. If we lose it, we relinquish our only existing social option. More importantly, we establish a dangerous precedent whereby a vocal minority of students and a detached Board of Trustees impose policy mandates on a dissenting majority." Krishna was the choice of the student body, not Pluhar.
Case Dorkey '99, the Vice-President when the SLI was released, viewed the Greek system as a means of student empowerment. Dorkey wrote in a column that "most people do see some good in the current system. It could be the positive experiences and fond memories that led my dad to bring me back to Theta Delt before anywhere else. Or, the advantages of single-sex environments. Or, the support network and continuity. Or, the student poll that yielded 80 percent support. If you check the opinions in the pages of The D since February  I'm sure you can find plenty more reasons." Regardless of his personal opinions surrounding the Greek system, Dorkey's goal was always to create an institutional voice for the student body.
Like the diverse opinions among students at Dartmouth, Assembly leaders have also had varied opinions. After a new Assembly President had taken the helm, Josh Green '00 wrote, "The problems with the Greek System are numerous I do not want these things in order to make the 20 percent happy and the 80 percent unhappy. I want these things in order to make the 20 percent happy and to make the 80 percent happier and healthier. And I want these things to ensure that the 80 percent interact with the 20 percent and vice-versa." He did what he had pursued as the previous Assembly President -- for every student to have the power to express their personal opinion regarding the College.
The Greek system -- an institutionalized social system -- has been a hotly contested issue during my four years at Dartmouth. But that is not as important as student voice and students' opinions being heard and advocated for by the Student Assembly. Don't just look at today -- check out yesterday! Think about what the past leaders did and how they pushed for student voice and legitimacy. The past will reveal interesting and funny stories, I promise. But more importantly, it is the best tool that students have. Generations change too quickly here without understanding our institutional memory. Janos, you're just beginning -- don't be afraid to look back at the past.