A Long Overdue Change
Many students on campus are not aware of it, but significant changes are underway on the Board of Trustees. With the election of Todd Zywicki '88 and Peter Mark Robinson '79 earlier this year, the lifting of the moratorium on new residential fraternities and sororities last June, and the general process of expansion, a unique opportunity for change exists in both the structure and direction of the Board.
Although I, and many other students, formerly believed that the Board of Trustees was a body that was far distanced from students, the Board and alumni organizations actually have a significant effect on everyday life at Dartmouth. The Board of Trustees is the group that shapes college policies. For instance, it was the Board that lifted the moratorium on the establishment of selective, residential Greek houses at its meeting last June. Without this decision, the current seventh sorority initiative would face serious structural obstacles. The lifting of the moratorium also signaled a break from former policies toward Greek organizations and represented a new approach to student demands on behalf of College leadership in general.
Another body close to the Board is the Alumni Council. Composed of alumni chosen for their outstanding leadership and dedication to Dartmouth, the Council has the power to make recommendations to the Board and other College leaders. Following the start of construction on the alumni gym, the Alumni Council was instrumental in supporting the swim team's protest that the construction would damage the team's ability to train. Considering the effect that these organizations have on the way we experience Dartmouth, students have a powerful incentive to voice their opinions.
Dan Iosifescu '07 and Student Body President Noah Riner '06 are working towards the long-term goal of stronger student-trustee relations and increased communication. Iosifescu, the chair of Student Assembly's Alumni Affairs Committee, is hopeful that the result will be a Board that has a student perspective on the direction of the College.
Iosifescu and Riner have several ideas about how to attain this goal, but want to open a dialogue with the Board in order to find something that all parties can agree upon. One such idea is the incorporation of a young alum on to the Board of Trustees itself. Although currently about half of the trustees are alumni trustees, none have the unique perspective and intimate knowledge of a recent graduate from Dartmouth. This change could "foster a degree of cooperation between the students and the alumni," said Riner, and this cooperation could build on the relationship that already exists. Inclusion of young trustees has strong precedent among Dartmouth's peer institutions. Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Princeton, Duke and Skidmore all reserve spots on their respective trustee boards for young alums, and sometimes even students. At Dartmouth, however, there are no means to elect young trustees.
Student suffrage is another ambitious plan that would increase student communication with Board members. If students were allowed to directly vote for the representatives who sit on the Board, the mission of the Board would closely mirror student concerns. Student suffrage would greatly contribute to the goal of "moving towards one Dartmouth," inclusive of all Dartmouth students and alumni, that Riner and Iosifescu identify as one of their long-term goals.
One of the most ingenious aspects of Iosifescu's vision for increasing interaction between students and Board members is the development of a temporary working group to facilitate dialogue about specific initiatives. In the past, at Dartmouth and at many other institutions, the procedure for student-led changes consisted of simply a student presentation of a finished proposal for the powers that be to accept or reject. A working group, by contrast, would allow actual conversation and discussion between students and those who have the power to make structural changes. "A working group is essential," says Iosifescu, not only to the development of policies more palatable to all parties, but also to the establishment of a precedent for closer cooperation. This type of structure is crucial in any situation of important change and improvement.
Iosifescu's and Riner's initiatives represent a thought-out plan for a greater sense of community at Dartmouth and an intelligent vision for Dartmouth's future. In Riner's words, "there is a reason for hope" about the eventual changes that will be made, and these changes deserve the full support of trustees and alumni, as well as the Student Assembly and the student body in general. In circumstances of transition, there is always the potential for important opportunities to be missed. Consequently, it is reassuring to know that Dartmouth's student leadership has the determination to push for broad innovations and to fight for outstanding values that will help to center the College's mission more squarely around the students.