Alums spar over proposed constitution

by Phil Salinger | 10/28/05 5:00am

After this weekend's Alumni Association elections, those present at the meeting discussed the proposed amendments to the Association's constitution, a debate that has become hotly contested.

The Task Force on Alumni Governance, a body created in the spring of 2004 to reexamine the Alumni Association's constitution, rolled out its proposal in September.

The most controversial sections of the draft constitution include a change in the voting process to elect alumni trustees, restrictions in who can run for Alumni Association leadership positions and the method whereby the Association can amend its constitution.

In a confidential letter obtained by The Dartmouth, College Trustee T.J. Rodgers '70 outlined for the alumni governance task force his requirements for the new constitution.

In a letter copied to College President James Wright and Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Neukom, Rodgers wrote that he would not vote for any draft constitution that would result in "weakening or emasculating the Trustee petition process" or "reducing any of the current very-modest rights of Alumni Association members."

Rodgers and Trustees Peter Robinson '79 and Todd Zywicki '88 also signed a brief statement predicting a "major confrontation" if the proposed constitution "were contested publicly."

Rodgers, Robinson and Zywicki won spots on the Board of Trustees after being nominated by alumni petition rather than receiving nominations from the College's Alumni Council.

The draft constitution proposes to enact Instant Runoff Voting as the method to elect alumni trustees.

Instant Runoff Voting, a system that has traditionally disadvantaged outsider candidates, asks voters to designate first- and second-choice candidates. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the votes for the last-place candidate are redistributed among the other candidates according to the second-place votes specified on the ballots. Such a process would continue until some candidate had a majority of votes.

The Alumni Association's Nominating Committee, as proposed by the draft constitution, would nominate the majority of the candidates for an alumni trustee position each year, although those not nominated by the committee could get on the ballot by gathering signatures from one percent of the alumni body of about 65,000.

Rodgers, who was elected to the Board of Trustees as a petition candidate, told The Dartmouth that this system would cripple the chances of petition candidates.

"The reason I don't like Instant Runoff Voting is that if several establishment candidates run against one petition candidate, the system allows the establishment votes to compound and add up against the lone petition candidate," he said. Robinson and Zywicki won the alumni trustee election as petition candidates last year.

Proponents of Instant Runoff Voting argue that former voting systems do not adequately demonstrate the wishes of the voters, because petition candidates can win even if the majority would prefer any nominated candidate to a petition one.

Trevor Burgess '94, a member of the Alumni Governance Task Force, denied comment on the subject.

The draft constitution calls for a body called the Alumni Assembly, a 122-member subset of the Alumni Association which would serve as an alumni senate and service organization.

If the draft constitution is passed, only those who have held positions in the Assembly previously would be able to chair the Assembly or the Association.

Opponents of this issue feel that it debilitates the advent of new and different ideas to the Alumni Association and Assembly.

The candidacy requirement "propagates the current management of the alumni association," Rodgers said. "It causes the succession of like-minded individuals in the alumni association, so new ideas can't get elected."

Last, the method of enacting constitutional amendments, or entirely new constitutions, which requires a three-fourths vote by those present at an annual or special meeting of the Alumni Assembly, has drawn criticism. Critics argue that no votes on such serious issues should be restricted to those able to be present in Hanover.

Rodgers said that alumni should be able to vote via e-mail or other mechanisms since, he said, the proposed system allows the current Association leadership to hold such votes when meetings of their constituencies have convened in Hanover, allowing a non-representative sample of the alumni to vote.

"[The proposed system] limits the turnout to approximately one-tenth of one percent of eligible voters and those voters then make decisions for all of the alumni," he said.

As of now, the draft constitution has not been brought up for official debate and a vote yet. Rodgers said that he hopes that those on both sides of these issues, himself included, can work to modify the proposal to make it satisfactory to all sides before the constitution comes up for a vote.

If a vote comes up on the current proposal, Rodgers warned, "It will be a big political squabble and I don't think the school needs that right now."

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