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The first shoe drops at Dartmouth

We’ve been warning for some time that, in response to the election to the Board of Trustees of independent alumni rather than those who toe the administration line, Dartmouth would, in effect, pull the plug on the democratic system of governance that’s been in place since 1891. The following email from Board Chairman Ed Haldeman means that Dartmouth has done just that. Haldeman writes, in relevant part:

Dear Members of the Dartmouth Community,
Earlier today, the Dartmouth Board of Trustees took several steps to strengthen [sic] the College’s governance. Given the intense debate about this issue in recent months, I wanted to write to you as soon as possible to tell you what we’ve done and why. . . .
The changes we are making preserve alumni democracy at Dartmouth by keeping eight alumni-nominated trustees. They expand the Board with eight additional charter trustees, adding alumni to meet the needs of the College. And, they address the destructive politicization of trustee campaigns that have hurt Dartmouth. These changes represent a balancing of competing interests. They are true to Dartmouth’s founding principles. And, they will ensure that, moving forward, the College has a strong, effective, and independent governing body. . . .
After. . .much thought and deliberation, the Board of Trustees concluded that Dartmouth should strengthen [sic] its governance by taking steps to:
* Expand the Board by Adding More Alumni to Better Meet the Needs of the College: We are expanding the Board from 18 to 26 to ensure it has the broad range of backgrounds, skills, expertise, and fundraising capabilities needed to steward an institution of Dartmouth’s scope and complexity. Dartmouth has been at a competitive disadvantage to its peers, with one of the smallest Boards of any comparable institution. We have had 18 members on our Board, versus an average of 42 trustees at peer schools and an average of 34 at other liberal arts colleges. We also are giving the Board more flexibility to select trustees who offer the specific talents and experiences that the College needs, which elections don’t ensure. We will accomplish both of these goals by adding eight new charter trustee seats to the Board.
* Preserve Alumni Democracy by Retaining Alumni Trustee Elections: We are maintaining alumni trustee elections at their current level and preserving the ability of alumni to petition onto the ballot. Dartmouth currently has the highest proportion of alumni-nominated trustees of any peer institution and is one of the few schools that allows alumni to petition directly onto the ballot. The Board believes that this gives Dartmouth’s alumni an important direct voice in our governance and fosters greater alumni involvement in the College. Dartmouth will continue to have one of the most democratic trustee election processes of any college in the country.
* Simplify the Alumni Nomination Process: Dartmouth’s trustee elections have become increasingly politicized, costly, and divisive. It’s not the results of these elections that are the problem, but the process itself. So we are charging the Alumni Council and the Association of Alumni to develop and implement a process for selecting alumni trustee nominees that preserves elections, maintains petition access to the ballot, and adopts a one-vote, majority-rule election process.
* Improve Direct Board Engagement with Alumni and Other Stakeholders: A larger group of trustees representing even more diverse backgrounds will help us enhance Board engagement with key areas of the College including academic affairs, student life, and alumni relations. We are therefore creating new Board committees focused on each of these three critical areas. This will facilitate greater interaction and communication with individuals in each of these three areas.
While we will continue to have eight trustees nominated directly by alumni, a significant number of seats on the Board, I know some will ask why we didn’t simply expand the Board through an equal number of charter and alumni trustee seats. Given the divisiveness of recent elections we did not believe that having more elections would be good for Dartmouth. We also believe that the Board needs more trustees selected for the specific talents and experiences they can offer the College – which elections can’t guarantee. We will still have more alumni-nominated trustees than most other schools and the opportunity for regular contested elections. But we think this is the best balancing of Dartmouth’s interests. . . .

So there you have it — more elections aren’t good for Dartmouth because they are “divisive” and don’t guarantee the outcomes that Haldeman and the administration desire.
Dartmouth alumni now face a choice that for some of us will be difficult and perhaps even “divisive” — whether to financially support a college that, due to distrust of its alumni, seeks to insulate its administration from their meaningful say.
UPDATE: Joe Malchow has the gory details. Among other things, Haldeman and his gang apparently implemented, in essence, the changes to the constitutional provision on elections that the alumni rejected last year. No apology was issued to those of us who wasted our time voting in that election.
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