A word to Dartmouth alumni

As you can’t help knowing by now, the powers-that-be at Dartmouth College are engaged in a public relations blitz and major league turn-out-the-vote effort supporting passage of the proposed alumni constitution. We urge alumni to vote “Reject” on the proposed constitution and “Accept” on proposed amendments two through five. (Voting continues through October 31.) Today the American Council of Trustees and Alumni issued a press release (with many links) on the college’s electioneering:

Despite growing alumni concern about fairness and due process, Dartmouth College administrators have refused to respond to inquiries from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni concerning questionable election procedures.

Graduates of Dartmouth College are currently voting on whether to accept a proposed new alumni governance constitution. The document—which a broad coalition of students and alumni opposes as undemocratic—would dramatically restrict Dartmouth’s unique petition process for alumni trustees.

According to Dartmouth’s student newspaper, college spokesman Roland Adams pledged that the administration would remain “uninvolved” in the debate. “This is a discussion mainly among Dartmouth alumni, and that’s as it should be,” Adams said.

But, before the voting even began, 2006 graduate Nick Stork told the student newspaper that during his senior year he was called into a meeting with two administrators and berated about an e-mail he had written opposing the new constitution. Student employee Andrew Eastman also said that his supervisor—a Dartmouth administrator—called him in for a meeting in which he was verbally “attacked for what [he] had written” about the proposed constitution on a website. And two mass e-mails encouraging a “yes” vote were sent to alumni using Dartmouth e-mail servers.

In an August 23 letter to Dartmouth president James Wright, ACTA noted these irregularities, asking him to take immediate steps to make certain his administration was keeping its pledge of neutrality to alumni. Over a month later, Wright still has not responded. Instead, he and others have stepped up the administration’s electioneering in favor of the proposed new constitution.

On Sept. 9, Wright himself violated the neutrality pledge when he voted—in his capacity as a Dartmouth trustee—to recommend that alumni vote “yes” on the proposed constitution. Wright also endorsed the constitution in a speech, going on to accuse concerned alumni of uttering “many misleading statements” and “attacks on Dartmouth’s alumni volunteers.”

The day after the trustees voted, Dartmouth sent another mass e-mail to alumni, this one with an exhortation from the chairman of Dartmouth’s board to vote “yes.” Dartmouth administrator Patricia Fisher also sent a mass e-mail from her College account on Sept. 11 with an alumna’s call to “advocate for the proposed constitution.”

Concerned alumni say the online ballot—which will be available through Oct. 31—is also biased. For each provision on the ballot, the Executive Committee of the Dartmouth Association of Alumni has inserted a large multi-colored statement endorsing or rejecting the proposed change. No such statements are available to other viewpoints.

“Can’t Ivy League graduates make up their own minds?” ACTA’s Neal asked. “It truly is a sad day when a college thinks it must force feed its own alumni on how to vote on matters affecting the future of their alma mater.”

ACTA has been supporting concerned alumni at Dartmouth for over a decade. ACTA National Council member William K. Tell, Jr. spearheaded the creation of Dartmouth Alumni for Open Governance in the 1990s. In 2004 and 2005, ACTA lauded the election of alumni petition candidates—T.J. Rodgers, Todd Zywicki, and Peter Robinson—to the Dartmouth Board of Trustees on platforms of free speech, an undergraduate focus, and support of athletics. All three now oppose the proposed new constitution because it would impose burdensome new requirements on future petition candidates.

The campaign to enact the proposed constitution began in May, when the leaders of the Dartmouth Association of Alumni announced that they were “postponing” the scheduled elections for their own offices. ACTA protested this move in a June 1 letter, which resulted in media coverage in the New York Times, New Hampshire Union Leader, Boston Globe, and many other outlets.

The Wall Street Journal has since editorialized against the constitution, joined by Dartmouth’s liberal and conservative student newspapers and the leaders of the New Hampshire Young Democrats and Dartmouth College Republicans.

“At a time of many challenges in higher education, alumni and students can offer informed and thoughtful input,” Neal concluded. “We hope President Wright will reverse course and keep his promise to let the alumni debate this issue themselves. The administration’s electioneering is neither necessary nor appropriate.”

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