Message to students fakes alumni address

by William Schpero | 10/8/07 2:17am

An e-mail sent to students last week that attempted to justify the Association of Alumni's suit against the College was manufactured to make it falsely appear to have been sent from the Association's official account. While the message was drafted by those members of the Association's executive committee who voted for the lawsuit, none of those involved would disclose how it was sent -- beyond saying that "student volunteers" were responsible.

The message's text identifies the senders as "the executives of the Dartmouth Association of Alumni who are seeking to prevent the Trustees from implementing their highly controversial reorganization of the governance of the College."

Tim Dreisbach '71, one of the members of the executive committee who voted for the suit, said that although he had provided a student volunteer with the message's text for the purpose of distributing it to students, he did not know how the student executed the task. Dreisbach refused to comment on whether he would consider it appropriate for the student to have tried to falsify the e-mail address from which the message was sent.

"I have no idea how it was sent to students," Dreisbach said. "We have a number of students who have been very supportive of alumni and so students helped mail that. How they did that, I don't know."

Dreisbach said he could not disclose the names of the students involved without their prior permission. After discussing this issue with one of the students, Dreisbach told The Dartmouth that the student declined to comment considering the "current campus climate."

"We have some students who had helped us, but I don't know if they want their names disclosed or not," he said. "That is somebody's personal privacy you are asking me to disclose. I am not going to do that without their permission. I am not going to reveal someone's identity if they want to remain anonymous."

Association President Bill Hutchinson '76 voted against the suit and was not involved in the drafting of the message.

"I would like to apologize to the students for whoever has done this," he said. "I think [the letter] is propaganda, and I think it is extremely slanted in its viewpoint. It is not something that reflects the entire alumni body."

The e-mail appears to have been sent from a non-existent Harvard University address through a private server hosted in Florida. The server, entitled "wheelockmail.com," was purchased in April 2007. The individual responsible for sending the message made the e-mail seem like it was from the official Association account by setting the Association's BlitzMail address as his address in a third-party e-mail program.

The e-mail describes at length an account of the history of the current controversy and defends and explains the specific goals of the lawsuit filed last week against the College in Grafton County Superior Court.

With the suit, the majority of the Association's executive committee seeks to bar the College from adding eight more members to the Board of Trustees, thus creating more seats for those selected by the board than for those selected by alumni.

The distribution of the e-mail is the latest in a series of events opposing recent governance changes at the College that has relied on anonymity. Funding sources have not been disclosed in the ongoing lawsuit or in the national advertising campaigns this past summer that criticized the governance reform effort.

"It is a continuation of really reprehensible behavior on the part of some alumni," Hutchinson said.

Questions about the origins of the e-mail first arose as Hutchinson confirmed to The Dartmouth that the e-mail was not sent from the Association account, as such official communications require a vote by the executive committee. A vote never took place.

"I am not sure who sent it or from where," Hutchinson said. "It was not something the executive committee approved or voted on."

Hutchinson added later, "For anyone to do this is to my knowledge unprecedented and I question the ethics of how this was done."

The message was sent in response to College President James Wright's Oct. 3 e-mail to students regarding the Association's lawsuit, Dreisbach said.

"We thought students deserved to hear both sides of the story," Dreisbach said, adding later, "I really want people to understand that what the Association of Alumni and the majority of executive committee has done here is something we did with due consideration and we are doing it because we believe it is best for alumni."

It is unclear whether the sending of the message by the Dartmouth student represents a violation of the College's Information Technology Policy and the use policy specified by the server hosting company, Hosting Matters, of Jacksonville, Fla.

News of this controversy coincided with the release of a statement by the Alumni Council, the second of Dartmouth's two alumni representative bodies, opposing the Association's lawsuit.

"While the Alumni Council is aware that Dartmouth alumni have varying opinions on the desire for "parity," the Council believes that the lawsuit is meritless, against the will of the majority of Dartmouth's alumni, and harmful to the interests of the College and the alumni," the Council's statement said.

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