Time to Move On

by Andrew E. Lewin | 10/8/07 2:27am

I recently spoke with Richard M. Zuckerman '72, chairman of this newspaper during the controversy over the decision to go coeducational 25 years ago and a leader in that effort. He noted that many of the same passions displayed in the governance debate were present then, but after the board reached its decision, Dartmouth alumni moved forward for the good of the College. It is now time to do the same.

Six members of the executive committee of the Association of Alumni, all elected as "petition candidates," have filed a lawsuit against the College, acting on their own. They have also blitzed students to attempt to justify their extraordinary and unprecedented action, setting out a somewhat incomplete statement of the facts in a rambling explanation of their action.

Rather than pursue common ground, they continue with the same pattern of confrontation that has characterized their statements since they were elected last spring. They represent a partisan political group with an agenda that consists of putting their own interests and views forward, not that of representing all alumni viewpoints. Instead of addressing real issues, such as class size and the direction of the College, they raise "democracy" as if the control of the College by a partisan minority is in its best interests.

It is worth noting that these are self-appointed spokesmen for alumni interests. While they did win a majority of the executive committee in an election where only some 25 percent of eligible alumni voted, the Alumni Council, and not the Association of Alumni, represents all alumni interests. While the Association of Alumni of Dartmouth College was organized in 1854 to represent all Dartmouth alumni, with the formation of the Dartmouth Alumni Council as the representative body of the alumni, the Association's role was limited to conducting College alumni trustee ballot contests.

Who is really behind this effort? And who is funding the effort? Those initiating the suit disclaim all knowledge as to the source of funds. Why? It seems to me that they ought to know who is funding these efforts against the College, and to what purpose. But then, over $300,000 in anonymous funds were behind the Wall Street Journal and New York Times ads as well.

A great deal of money is being spent, money that could be used to further students or the College's mission. Why is it being spent in this way? Are non-Dartmouth alumni providing the funds? Conservative foundations? We do not know.

Alumni do not have a legal right to elect trustees beyond that given to them by the board, and as an attorney I am confident that these efforts will fail. Their entire case rests on the 1891 Agreement, which, as has been noted, is not a contract. I have no doubt that all actions taken were legal and in full compliance with the College's charter. But the College will have to spend a great deal of time and money defending itself against this lawsuit, which is being funded by anonymous sources.

Trustees have a legal obligation to an "undivided duty of loyalty," meaning that they don't represent only a subset of alumni or a certain constituency or interest group; they must act in the interests of the institution as a whole.

The governance committee clearly articulated its reasoning in a comprehensive published report whose conclusions were not addressed or touched on in the blitz to Dartmouth students. Board governance isn't about parity. It's about being effective for the strategic reasons that a board exists.

Alumni will continue to have a significant voice in the College. Although alumni trustees will be diluted, they will still constitute a significant portion of the board, and Dartmouth will have the highest percentage of alumni-nominated trustees of any comparable school.

This is not about whether the decision was good or bad for Dartmouth. The board has acted and it is time to move on. As Dan Linsalata '07, an opponent of the changes has noted, "can anything besides national embarrassment for the College come from alumni suing their own alma mater? Not a chance" (Voces Clamantium, Oct. 4).

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!