AoA moves to amend trustee election rules

by William Schpero | 11/11/08 3:52am

The Association of Alumni proposed an amendment to its constitution on Monday that would bring trustee election procedures in line with Board of Trustees' recommendations. The amendment would alter the voting system and the number of candidates allowed in the elections, among other changes, in an effort to "simplify and clarify election procedures," Association President John Mathias '69 said.

The proposed amendment, on which alumni will vote in the spring, follows the Association's withdrawal of its lawsuit against the College in July 2008. The suit stemmed from the Board's September 2007 governance report that called for the addition of eight new trustees and changes to the alumni trustee election process. The Board added five of those new trustees this September, ending more than a century of parity between the number of alumni-elected and Board-selected trustees.

The amendment calls for a one person, one vote system, ending the previous approval voting process, in which alumni could vote for an unlimited number of candidates.

In addition, the amendment allows the Alumni Council to nominate one or two candidates for the Board, rather than three as had been required in the past. The option to nominate candidates by petition remains unchanged.

Historically, three Council-nominated candidates have campaigned against one petition candidate in alumni trustee elections. Assuming alumni typically did not take advantage of the approval voting process and only voted for one candidate, the Council candidates were put at a disadvantage because they split the vote. By allowing fewer Council candidates, the proposed amendment could theoretically make it easier for those candidates to win.

"I don't think that was the issue, but I don't have the empirical data on that at all," Mathias said in a telephone interview. "I don't know what others were thinking, but I did not cast only one vote."

In the past, petition candidates have been outspoken in their criticism of College policies, whereas Council-nominated candidates have generally been more supportive. The four most recently elected petition candidates currently on the Board filed a brief in favor of the Association's lawsuit.

The amendment does not adequately address elections in which there are more than two candidates, former Association executive committee member Tim Dreisbach '71, who supported the lawsuit, said.

"The devil is in the details," he said.

The amendment also requires that candidates win a majority of votes for election -- races in which no candidate gains more than 50 percent of the vote will result in a runoff election.

Moreover, candidates must now run for a specific seat when there are multiple alumni-elected trustee openings on the Board.

"One has to deal with the situation where there are multiple openings at one time," Dreisbach said. "From what I read in this, the petitioner and the [Council-nominated candidate] have to say, 'are you running for seat A or seat B?' That gets very confusing."

The amendment also changes the language in the constitution to reduce alumni-elected trustee terms from five to four years and term limits from 15 to 10 years. All trustees currently serve four-year terms, according to Mathias.

"That reflects reality," Mathias said. "That has been an error in the constitution. [The amendment] corrects what was for whatever reason a mistake in the typography of the constitution. We thought it would be wise to go ahead and fix it."

The amendment is the product of a combined Association and Alumni Council group that has worked on trustee-election reform for the past few months.

"In general, we were discussing election reform so that we could meet the requirements that the Board has articulated in its governance report for conducting trustee elections," Mathias said in a previous interview.

The Board has said that it would take over administration of the alumni-trustee election process if the changes were not made.