Supporting the Board Changes
Your editorial of Sept. 7, 2007, "An Old Tradition Fails," raises two issues relevant to the wisdom of alumni electing trustees: Do alumni have a democratic right to elect trustees? Are such elections the best way to compose a board that will act in Dartmouth's best interests?
Your editorial asserts that Dartmouth alumni do not have a fundamental right to elect trustees because alumni are not governed by the College.
"Democracy is government by the governed," you note in defense of this position. Dartmouth alumni have very little vested interest in the board's decisions because they do not bear the consequences of those decisions. Moreover, alumni participation in trustee elections would suggest that alumni have little interest in government at Dartmouth. Less than 25 percent of the alumni actually voted over the past four trustee elections, despite the unprecedented visibility of those elections due to their contested nature and the ease of voting facilitated by the 2001 implementation of electronic balloting.
Unlike the alumni, however, students and faculty are governed by the Board of Trustees, and they have a great deal of self-interest in the board's decisions.
If elections at Dartmouth should be democratic, should not students and faculty be given the vote? How many board seats should we set aside for them? Of course, no peer institution enfranchises faculty and students, but neither do any give a real democratic voice to the alumni, as shown in the governance committee's report of August 2007, which presented a detailed review of governance at 30 peer institutions.
By uniquely giving its alumni the privilege of electing so much of its board, Dartmouth has unfortunately invited the partisan politics and "demagoguery" of which you accuse recently elected trustees. Political campaigning in recent contested elections has damaged Dartmouth by distorting the truth, confusing the real issues and dividing the alumni. It has seated a group of trustees who seem united in their ideology and who appear likely to vote as a block.
Dartmouth is harmed by trustees who approach their responsibilities like congressional legislators, representing individual constituencies and personal interests. We need trustees who act more like Supreme Court justices, who seek to serve the institution as a whole, not a particular political power base. You correctly state that trustees should be stewards; that is, that they consider and resolve the opinions of all constituencies, not politicians who represent the will of their electorate.
I agree with your editorial that it is in Dartmouth's best interest to "place a great deal of power in the hands of people dedicated to stewardship and to future boards." I commend the governance committee's thorough analysis and review of the issues, and I support the board's decision to expand the size of the board by increasing the number of board-appointed trustees.