The Rudder and The Rock

by Nathan Bruschi | 5/16/08 3:43am

David Shipler's letter to the editor demonstrates a lot of what is wrong with the expansion plan for the Board of Trustees ("The Conservative Campaign," May 5). He postulates that the motive behind the AoA lawsuit -- designed to maintain parity between elected and appointed members on the Board -- is "to allow inroads by a highly publicized and pervasively ideological brand of conservatism." This encapsulates the perverse logic of those in opposition to the lawsuit -- the assumption that we only support democracy insomuch as we agree with those who get elected.

I confess that I once supported the anti-lawsuit position. I remember being happy that the Board was going to expand itself to stop seemingly delusional and disconnected petition candidates from overtaking the Board. I remember being upset when I learned that the supporters of those petition candidates were suing the College. I even briefly joined Dartmouth Undying's Facebook group. But in the end, it was the anti-lawsuit partisans (not the litigants) who caused me to switch my affiliation. Let me explain.

I agree that the Board should be expanded. Increasing the size of the Board would give it greater diversity that would help it better govern the College. But why not add an equal number of elected and appointed trustees instead of just increasing the number of charter trustees?

The most common answer to this question offered by the Board is "because we can." Pro"Board-packing partisans have pointed out that the 1891 Agreement is not legally binding, and that as a private entity, the Board can increase its membership at will. I accept this argument, but it does not address the benefits of diluting the power of elected trustees.

The closest the Board has come to explaining its decision to add members only of their own choosing was in a Blitz sent to students on September 8, 2007 by Board Chairman Ed Haldeman '70. He presented justification for the packing plan behind the guise of the Governance Committee Report, which concluded that the current election structure is too politicized and expensive and therefore must be altered. However, alumni who wish to become trustees but cannot buy their way onto the Board through vast donations to the College have no other recourse than open election. The committee report also wrongly assumes that politics is a bad thing. There are legitimate and serious disagreements that exist in the Dartmouth community and they should and will continue to be publicized -- even if Haldeman and the Governance Committee Report wish this was not so.

John Mathias '69 moralizes readers in his column, asserting that "suing each other is no way to resolve differences of alumni opinion about College governance" ("Time For Alumni Unity," May 6). When the Board refuses dialogue and acts unilaterally in its own interest, what other means of recourse do the alumni have? Unfortunately, without the lawsuit, the Board's politically motivated plan will forever destroy the charter-elected trustee balance.

Haldeman further maintains that the packing plan will "preserve alumni democracy by retaining alumni trustee elections." This is insulting to the intelligence of both students and alumni. Are we to thank Haldeman for reducing the power of alumni to vote for trustees by 20 percent? If in the wake of the 2006 Congressional election President Bush decided to pack the House and Senate because he didn't like the elected officials, would anyone have the audacity to call this democracy?

This is the crux of the argument: Charter trustees are upset because petition candidates with views hostile to theirs keep winning Board seats, and they want it to stop. It would be a downright lie to claim that the current Board "restructuring plan" did not arise in part because of four consecutive petition candidate victories.

Taking drastic action requires impressive rationale, and so far the Board has not made a sufficiently compelling case for adding charter trustees. If anything, the Board endangers its own credibility, as this radical scheme smacks of corrupt bargains and anti-democratic values. By removing one of the few checks on College governance, we ultimately stifle the voices of alumni -- the College's most valuable asset. As a quote etched onto a stone overlooking the BEMA darkly reminds: "Who doth not answer to the rudder shall answer to the rock."

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!