Trustees vote 14-3 to endorse alumni constitution

by Phil Salinger | 9/11/06 5:00am

SECOND WEB UPDATE, September 11, 12:35 p.m.

The Dartmouth Board of Trustees voted Saturday to endorse the newest revision to the controversial proposed Alumni Association constitution by a margin of 14 to three.

The endorsement, which was reported to alumni in an e-mail Sunday, represents the first official departure from the College's previously neutral stance on the constitution.

Three of the Board's current members, T.J. Rodgers '70, Peter Robinson '79 and Todd Zywicki '88, were elected by petition, and each has been a vocal opponent of the constitution.

If the one-time petition candidates voted according to their public stances, Wright -- a voting member of the Board -- voted in favor of the endorsement by default, despite his repeated insistence that his administration stay neutral on the issue. No Trustees abstained from Saturday's vote.

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Robinson said he voted against the resolution. He also said that Wright publicly supported the proposal, but that the president said that his administration will remain neutral in its actions.

Neither Wright nor Board Chairman Bill Neukom '64 have been available for comment.

Board guidelines generally prohibit Trustees from speaking publicly about official business, but that policy was partially lifted to allow Trustees to speak their mind on the proposed constitution.

"I am very pleased with the Board's action, both in taking the vote, in reporting that it was a split vote and by allowing everyone to speak about it," Robinson said. "By reporting the split vote, the Board is showing that people who love Dartmouth College can come to differing views on this constitution."

Zywicki said that he thought the decision to send an e-mail about the endorsement to the alumni body continued the College's one-sided portrayal of the debate to alumni. He alleged that the College's external communication to alumni has been biased in support of the constitution, and said he considers it unprecedented to send an alumni-wide e-mail merely to inform them of one issue.

Zywicki said that Robinson, Rodgers and he are preparing a letter to be sent to all alumni about their views so that voters can hear arguments for and against the constitution.

Perhaps the most contentious issue in the ongoing debate concerns changes in the rules surrounding petition candidates in alumni trustee elections. If passed, the constitution would shrink the number of signatures a petition candidate would need to run and would also shift the time at which petition candidates are required to declare their candidacies. Currently, petition candidates may announce their intentions after the nominating committee announces its slate; the proposed constitution would require petition candidates to file prior to the announcement of a final slate.

Proponents of the constitution say that the change in timeframe eliminates the campaigning advantages of being a petition candidate, as petitioners under the current system automatically garner significantly more publicity than nominated candidates with aggressive, public petition campaigns following the nominations.

Critics have lambasted the proposal for crippling both the chances of and the purpose of petition candidates. They say that the change in timeframe would allow the nominating committee to pit candidates most likely to beat the petition candidates. They have also argued that the point of having petition candidates is to allow for candidates who do not approve of the nominated slate to enter the race, which cannot happen under the new system.

The Trustees voted at their annual planning retreat held this year in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Correction Appended

FOR THE RECORD:Due to a reporting error, the first web update of this story incorrectly attributed a quotation that the endorsement was an attempt to "ram through" the proposed constitution to Todd Zywicki '88.

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