Where motley is worn

In his great poem “Easter 1916,” William Butler Yeats reflects with ambivalent admiration on the Irish uprising against the British. Yeats moves from noting how the uprising has altered his perception of his fellow countrymen, to paying tribute to the sacrifice of those fallen at arms, to wondering whether their valor may have required too much hardness of heart, to asking whether their sacrifice might prove needless. Yeats nevertheless finds the uprising a transformative moment. The poem concludes with a tribute to the executed leaders of the rebellion:

I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

At Dartmouth College, where green is also worn, the college’s alumni council has produced a transformative moment of its own.

Last year Dartmouth alumni rejected the alumni council’s candidates for two vacant trustee position in favor of two insurgent candidates — Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki. Robinson and Zywicki had the temerity to submit themselves for election against the alumni council’s official slate. I wrote about their campaign several times here and in “Bucking the deans at Dartmouth” for the Daily Standard.

It appears that some people at Dartmouth College, who are opposed to reform-minded newcomers like Robinson and Zywicki, are intent on asserting the rights of an occupying power. Merle Adelman, the current Vice President of the Association of Alumni, sent out yesterday this letter, which describes her intent to delay the regular annual meeting and elections by as much as a half-year. In other words, the elected leadership is refusing to put its own offices to the regular annual vote.

This is a frankly unbelievable move. Besides being unconstitutional — the governing constitution requires yearly meetings, yearly elections and, of course, year-long terms for the leadership — this is a blatant power grab aimed at ensuring that no new faces get elected before the proposed new constitution is passed. As we observed in “Big Green Machine strikes back,” the proposed constitution is geared toward making life very difficult for future Robinsons and Zywickis.

There seem to be two reasons that the current officers would refuse to give up their power. First, because new leadership may not be as willing to bend the rules to get the new constitution in place. Second, because if the new constitution does somehow come to be ratified, it will automatically take whoever are the current officers and set them on four-year power tracks. In other words, the constitution is constructed to resist change by slowing down the gears, and the leadership positions are filled not from a starter election, but from the current officers. So it would be a stunning turn if the constitution were ratified but the “right” people weren’t in position to have their power solidified and lengthened. Hence this move.

However, as Joe Malchow points out in “Ho capito, signor sì!,” alumni governance isn’t the material concern. That the trustee election process is controlled at the alumni governance level is. And this latest move is disappointing and clearly desperate.

If you are a Dartmouth alumnus and want to express your concern, the daily newspaper accepts op-eds and letters to the editor at this address. But this is certainly something to call your old friends about. Dartmouth should not be disrespected in this way.

Dartmouth is a college that has long prided itself on the extraordinary attachment felt by its alumni to the school. At Dartmouth, all appears to be changed, or changing, but it is something far from a terrible beauty that is born. Working “Easter 1916″ in reverse, the college is showing itself to be, in Yeats’s damning phrase, “where motley is worn.”

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