Of Dartmouth and dirty tricks

Nick Stork just graduated from Dartmouth College this past June. He’s the kind of student who makes the school: a Religion major, a varsity football player and president of Gamma Delta Chi fraternity. A serious young man and loyal son of Dartmouth, Stork has become interested in the questions of college governance that have also interested us and that are raised by the new alumni constitution submitted for approval of alumni this fall. Writing for the independent site Vox Clamantis in Deserto (Dartmouth’s motto), Stork has expressed his opposition to the proposed constitution.

As a senior this past June just before he graduated, Stork had an unusual experience. He posted his account of the experience on the site yesterday:

Last year, my senior year, I became involved with the “Vox Clamantis in Deserto” website. I felt it was a positive and necessary outlet for undergraduate opinion. When the site had posted a petition in opposition to the proposed constitution, I privately emailed my fraternity, Gamma Delta Chi, asking my friends to consider signing the petition, or to at least familiarize themselves with the facts of the issue. As the president of the fraternity and friend of the brothers, I expected my email to remain within reasonable confidence, and I feel certain that it did.

After I was unable to attend a lunch for Greek leaders that was given by Mr. Spalding, Assistant Director for Young Alumni and Student Programs Rexford Morey invited me to meet with Mr. Spalding on June 7. I was puzzled: I had missed group meetings with administrators before without being offered a “makeup.” Only after the meeting took place did I understand the motivation behind the accommodation: an article in the April 25, 2006, issue of The Dartmouth.

The article quoted Mr. Spalding’s opposition to and my support for www.voxclamantisindeserto.org. After the article appeared, I expanded on my views on the “Vox Clamantis in Deserto” website. Satisfaction with Dartmouth College, I argued, was due to its character, spirit, history, and culture, and satisfaction with the College could coexist with a sincere questioning of the administration. In fact, I explained, it was my deep love for my College which led to such frustration with its mismanagement.

I now believe it was because of these views that I found myself in the Alumni Center at 9:15 a.m. on June 7. Mr. Morey met me in the hall. I was not expecting him—I had been invited to meet Mr. Spalding. Mr. Morey led me into a conference room. My eye was immediately drawn to a stack of papers in the middle of the conference table. On top of the stack lay the email that I had sent to the brothers of Gamma Delta Chi.

Mr. Morey and I sat down, and when we were seated Mr. Spalding entered. After we shook hands, I asked why he had a copy of my email. Mr. Spalding told me that we would get to my email later. He then asked my opinions of College issues.

I explained what was already conveyed on www.voxclamantisindeserto.org: That the proposed constitution, if passed, would greatly curtail the freedom of petition candidates for the Board of Trustees to run fair and balanced races; that it would allot privileges and voting rights to “affiliated groups” and special interests; and that it would create a weak alumni association by forcing presidents-elect to wait two years before assuming real power. After the election to the Board of Trustees of three consecutive petition candidates, I said, the proposed constitution amounted to an underhanded attempt to make the election of any more petition trustees almost impossible. Certain people didn’t like the results of recent elections, so now they were changing the rules.

Mr. Morey responded by describing the postings on www.voxclamantisindeserto.org. including my own, as incorrect, spiteful, and “flat-out lies.” Mr. Spalding altogether agreed and began a lengthy diatribe advocating the proposed alumni constitution.

Mr. Spalding then pointed to the email I had sent to my fraternity brothers. He began quoting it to me. He became agitated. He criticized the views I expressed and the way in which I expressed them. Next Mr. Spalding began questioning me about my personal life, including my membership in student groups. He had made clear to me that he knew which groups I belonged to, what positions I held, and who my friends were. As I answered his questions, I got the distinct impression that he was checking his notes against my replies, verifying the records in a file he had compiled on me. As the meeting ended, Mr. Spalding once again attacked the “Vox Clamantis in Deserto” website.

Mr. Spalding never did explain where he got a copy of my email, which I had sent using my Dartmouth email account. I find it difficult to believe that any of the fraternity brothers to whom that email was addressed would have forwarded it to the Vice President for Alumni Relations. I left that room feeling extremely intimidated, as if I’d been operating under Mr. Spalding’s microscope for a year and nobody had bothered to tell me that my actions were being recorded and monitored.

Today’s Dartmouth (the student newspaper) reports the reaction of Spalding and President Wright to Stork’s account. Given the nature and seriousness of the abuse of authority and apparent misconduct alleged by Stork and not denied by Spalding — is calling out students on their views of college governance part of Spalding’s job? where did Spalding’s copy of that email message come from? — President Wright’s lack of reaction to or curiosity about the underlying facts is striking. I, for one, would like to know: What did President Wright know and when did he know it?

UPDATE: Joe Malchow has formulated important reflections and questions here.

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