Alumni constitution voting begins

by Phil Salinger | 9/16/06 5:00am

WEB UPDATE, September 16, 3:00 p.m.

Editor's note: As part of The Dartmouth's ongoing coverage of the proposed Association of Alumni constitution, this article outlines the major changes to alumni governance that will take place if the proposed constitution passes and the key arguments of its most vocal advocates and opponents. Voting opened Friday on the proposed constitution and will continue until Oct. 31.

Merger of alumni organizations

The Association of Alumni originally formed in the middle of the 19th century as a body to create communication between the College and alumni. A separate Alumni Council was founded later to act as a representative body for the Association in order to be a more efficient means of expression and fundraising, according to chair of the Alumni Governance Task Force, the body that drafted the proposal, Joe Stevenson '80.

If the proposal passes, the Association and the Council will be merged into one organization called the Alumni Association.

A body called the Alumni Assembly would replace the Council as a "representative senate" for the Association, according to the executive summary of the AGTF.

Though the Association, which encapsulates all living alumni, votes for Trustees, only the Alumni Council can currently nominate Trustees, which would change under the new constitution.

Alumni trustee selection process

The proposed constitution would make large-scale changes to many aspects of the alumni trustee selection process, changes that have become a focal point of the constitution debate.

AGTF member J.B. Daukas '84 said that they created the new rules to encourage head-to-head elections and to ensure that no candidate has a campaigning advantage, all in an attempt to make elections fairer.

Under the current system, the nominating committee must nominate three candidates for each open seat and voters can vote for as many candidates as they want.

Kelley Fead '78, an AGTF member who has since helped organize the pro-proposal group Dartmouth Alumni for Common Sense, argued that this system disadvantages the nominated candidates by dividing votes amongst them while the petition candidate wins by getting all of a minority constituency.

Trustee T.J. Rodgers '70, who was elected as a petition candidate in the spring of 2004, said that he did not think such unfairness existed because voters could vote for however many candidates they wanted in the current system.

Since the 1990 creation of this election procedure that requires the current nominating committee to submit three candidates for each seat, three of four petition candidates who have run for trustee seats have won. Before 1990, however, all but one of several petition candidates had lost.

Currently petition candidates can wait to announce their candidacies until after the nominating committee releases its slate of candidates. In the proposed constitution, however, petition candidates must announce themselves no later than the morning of the day that the nominating committee releases its slate.

Daukas said that the purpose of the timeframe change was to ensure that the nominating committee would know how many candidates to nominate in order to set up a two-candidate race.

He also noted that because the nominating committee must release its slate on the final day for petition candidates to announce themselves, there would be little time for "gaming" on the part of the nominating committee.

The proposed constitution requires the nominating committee to slate enough candidates so that no one runs unopposed, but cannot submit more than two candidates per open seat.

Critics, including the three sitting trustees who ran as petition candidates, say they oppose the proposal to a large extent because of the changes to the petition trustee process.

Some have postured that that the nominating committee could organize the slate to favor a candidate they prefer.

"It does not create head-to-head match-ups as advertised. It just gives the nominating committee the power to unilaterally set the field as they see fit," Todd Zywicki '88 said.

Daukas said that the nominating committee has the power to set up head-to-head elections, but is not required to do so because there could be cases where a non-serious petition candidate is running or if several similar petition candidates declare their candidacy for the same seat.

Rodgers said that the purpose of having petition candidates was to allow for entrants to run in reaction to the nominated slate.

"When I decided to run as a petition trustee, I ran because I didn't like what I saw," Rodgers said.

College President James Wright characterized Rodgers' opposition as a "fair concern," but said that the potential benefits outweighed anything lost.

"There's no perfect solution and I will acknowledge that, and I think Dartmouth women and men are reasonable and can figure out that there are not perfect solutions," he said.

Along with 13 other trustees, Wright recently endorsed the proposal at a Board of Trustees meeting last week. The three trustees who ran as petition candidates voted against the constitution.

Some have contended that the present system provides an unfair campaigning advantage to petition candidates. Currently, campaigning is not allowed, but petition candidates are permitted to spread their message in order to get signatures.

Rodgers said that he did not think petitioners have an advantage under the current system. In his letters asking for signatures, Rodgers said, he wrote things similar to those in his candidate statement, so he did not get to say anything extra to voters.

The proposed constitution lifts all restrictions on campaigning, a change Rodgers said he supports.

Proposed Association election processes

The new Alumni Assembly -- to replace the Alumni Council as a representative body for the Association -- would consist of about 125 members, but could vary slightly.

The alumni at large would elect some 21 members of the Assembly. The 50 most recent graduated classes would elect another 50, although no specific voting method is stipulated in the constitution.

Currently, elected class representatives fill fewer than 30 of the Council's 96 seats and none are filled by those elected by the Association on whole, a marked difference from the proposed Assembly structure.

In addition, four assembly-members would be ex officio members: the vice president, the president-elect, the president and the past president of the Association, all of whom would have been elected by the alumni at large. The remainder would come from graduate school alumni, classes that have already had their 50th reunion, alumni clubs and affiliated groups.

Critics of the proposed Assembly selection process contend that it only ensures that a small minority of the Assembly would be elected democratically.

The authors of one anti-proposal website, AlumniConstitution.org, argue that the proposed constitution only guarantees that the ex officio members and the 21 members elected by all alumni would be elected democratically. The site's authors contend that the 50 class representatives under the proposed constitution "may be 'elected' simply by a small committee, or even by that group's outgoing representative."

Bill Hutchinson '76 said, on behalf of the AGTF, that it was beyond their responsibility and practically unrealistic to stipulate specific voting procedures for the class representatives.

"All those groups are independent and it's difficult for an outside party to dictate how they're going to run their affairs," Hutchinson said. "I don't know what more we could do short of becoming the election police, which is not something I think anyone wants to become involved in."

Many in favor of the proposed Assembly selection process think that the Assembly is set up to be more representative of alumni views than the current Council, all of whose members are appointed.

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Wright noted that there would be considerably more opportunities to gain a seat democratically in the Assembly than there currently are in the Council.

New and altered committees

Three main Association committees would emerge out of the new constitution. Firstly, the balloting committee would supervise all elections, including those involving Trustees.

The makeup of the balloting committee has been a point of contention. Some opponents of the proposal have argued that the committee would not be established democratically.

Rodgers, Zywicki and Peter Robinson '79 noted in their September letter to alumni that all alumni via the Association would elect less than half of the balloting committee.

According to the proposed constitution all alumni would elect four of the seven balloting committee members -- three specifically for their role on the committee and the Association president. The Assembly would elect the other three.

Secondly, the nominating committee, which oversees all nominations for trustees and other Association officials, would have a different make up than its present-day counterpart. The proposal stipulates that half of the committee be elected by the Association and half by the Assembly. Currently, all of the nominating committee comes from the Council.

The third committee would establish an Alumni Liaison Board, which would communicate with the Board of Trustees and the College administration to voice alumni sentiment. It would compile alumni views through meetings and polls. Currently no such body exists.

Ten of the 16 members of the new Alumni Liaison Board would be elected by the entire Association: six would be elected for the purpose of serving on the ALB and the other four would be the vice president, president-elect, president and immediate past president of the Association. The other six members of the ALB would be Assembly members elected by the Assembly.

Leadership arc

Among the most controversial aspects of the proposal is the path to the Association presidency. The proposed constitution would change the leadership structure so that whoever is elected Association president would not take office until two years later.

The elected candidate would first serve a year as vice president and vice chair of the Assembly, then a year as president-elect and chair of the Assembly and only in the third year would that candidate become president of the Association.

Daukas said that the proposed structure was another compromise in itself, as some constituencies thought that the alumni should not directly elect leaders at all due to the risk of electing someone without any Association experience. He said that the proposal found a middle ground in which leaders are elected, but they must gain some experience before taking over.

Despite this middle ground, Daukus said that even as intermediate roles, candidates "enter into important positions of power immediately."

Some critics have said that the move would keep candidates from taking action on their campaign platforms, which could be moot by the time they finally take office.

"The proposed constitution would thwart the ability of alumni to elect leaders to deal with current issues," Rodgers, Robinson and Zywicki wrote in their September letter to all alumni.

A "streamlined" organization

According to Trustee and eBay President John Donahoe '82, who voted for last week's Board of Trustees resolution backing the proposal, the change "streamlines alumni organizations. Most alumni don't understand the current system. This streamlines things into one."

Stevenson said that currently the Association, which consists of any matriculated Dartmouth student whose class has graduated, does not serve much purpose except to elect trustees, and the proposal would give it more responsibility.

"Over the past years the association has been sort of a shell of an organization. It hasn't done much ... The council did all of the heavy lifting," Stevenson said.

Rodgers, who opposes the proposal overall, said that the major overhaul of combining the two organizations was a "slightly positive" move.

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