Teszler: Sununu Must Go

Gov. Sununu has no place on Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees.

by Max Teszler | 4/6/21 3:00am

In recent years, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has seemingly made it his mission to make our lives as college students as difficult as possible, refusing to vaccinate all of us, spreading blatant falsehoods to justify that choice and trying to take away our right to vote — the list goes on. From his rhetoric, it's clear that Sununu sees “out-of-state” students as enemies, a group of no use to him beyond serving as a political punching bag for him to show how he’s supposedly prioritizing the “real” New Hampshire residents. And he does this all while sitting on Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees — the body which elects the College President and has final authority on key decisions including the College’s budget. It’s a disgrace that someone with such demonstrated contempt for college students should be honored with a spot on the Board. If the College wants to show that it cares about students, Sununu must be removed, and the governor’s seat on the Board must be eliminated.

Sununu serves on our Board of Trustees ex officio, meaning he holds the seat by virtue of his position as New Hampshire governor — but despite the mostly ceremonial nature of his post, he is still entitled to a vote on key College decisions. He appears to be largely absent from the role, in recent years not even bothering to attend commencement ceremonies, as the other trustees typically do. If anything, Sununu’s absenteeism demonstrates the unnecessary and outdated nature of his role on the Board and bolsters the case for reform. And with a governor like Sununu, his presence harms Dartmouth’s mission. The role may be symbolic, but it’s terrible symbolism that someone who unabashedly expresses malice for college students is on our Board.

I can’t claim to know what Sununu truly feels in his heart about Dartmouth and other college students, but his actions demonstrate his willingness to go out of his way to harm us, despite the pleas of activists, doctors, leaders in higher education and local officials. During this pandemic, he has resorted to outright fabrications in order to justify his decision not to vaccinate college students, claiming that “no state in New England is giving out-of-state college students a vaccine” — a demonstrable lie, given that New Hampshire’s neighbors, Maine and Massachusetts, both made the logical and scientifically-sound decision to vaccinate their out-of-state students. He has also claimed that students would be cutting the line in front of New Hampshire residents and that vaccinating us would be a “disservice” to them. But again, the truth is the opposite — vaccinating a large group of young people living in the state will only help tamp down infection, reducing breeding grounds for further outbreaks. In addition, given that federal formulas include college students in the state’s allocation of vaccines, his actions really only make sense as a deliberate attempt to make life harder for students — a goal in  pursuit of which he’s willing to ignore public health and basic common sense.

This vaccination rollout isn’t the first time Sununu has made a special effort to target college students. After telling activists he would not support restrictions on voting rights, he signed into law H.B. 1264, a law condemned for targeting college students’ franchise. In normal times, we live here a majority of the year and are counted in the Census as New Hampshire residents — but for Sununu and members of his party, apparently, that’s not good enough for us to participate in New Hampshire civic life. Though H.B. 1264 turned out to be unconstitutional and unenforceable, he went out of his way to keep it in place, vetoing the New Hampshire state legislature's symbolic attempt at repeal. The political motives are unmistakable: It is widely known that college students overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and the law came following narrow losses for Republicans in the 2016 state elections. And that may be the heart of it all — to Sununu, we are mere inconveniences in his pursuit for political power.

President Hanlon has criticized some of these actions in the past, including calling on Sununu to get rid of H.B. 1264. But for some reason, even after Sununu vetoed a restoration of voting rights, the governor remained on the Board. The rebuke, then, amounted to nothing more than a strongly-worded statement. Forcing Sununu off might be difficult since the College charter specifically enshrines his position, but the Board has changed in composition in other ways, growing in size from the original 12 members to 26 today. Though we received land grants from the state in the distant past, Dartmouth has since grown separate from the state government, as evidenced by the state legislature renouncing its role in College governance back in 2003. Permanent elimination of the governor’s seat offers a chance for new representation of student interests — a student delegate on the Board, for instance, would do a far better job than an absentee state governor. After all, students are the ones who have taken the real, necessary steps against Sununu's actions, organizing campaigns to oppose his voting restrictions and vaccination plan.

 Sununu has made the governor’s spot not only outdated, but an active affront to students — and for every day he remains on the Board, Dartmouth is saying, in some small way, that his actions are okay. In allowing Sununu to remain in his role on our institution's highest governing body, the College is showing its willingness to turn a blind eye to Sununu's harmful lies, disregard for public health and blatant attempts to disenfranchise student voters. His tenure on the Board of Trustees must not last one day longer — Sununu should be immediately ousted from his role, and his position permanently eliminated.