Since 1891 Dartmouth’s board of trustees has been split half-and-half between charter (board-selected) trustees and elected trustees. Beginning with the election of Cypress Semiconductor chief executive officer T.J. Rodgers in 2004, Dartmouth alumni have elected four straight petition trustees in recent trustee elections. Following Rodgers have come Peter Robinson, Todd Zywicki and, most recently, Stephen Smith.
In the largest voter turnout in Dartmouth’s history, Dartmouth alumni also resoundingly rejected the adoption of a revised alumni constitution that would have changed the election procedures that landed Rodgers, Robinson, Zywicki, and Smith on the board. One reason for the large vote was the Dartmouth administration’s substantial investment in a marketing campaign to identify suporters and get them to the polls. Dartmouth’s investment in the election was not just a losing effort, but rather, as events yesterday revealed, pure corporate waste.
Dartmouth’s board has now acted to quell the disturbance of alumni in Dartmouth’s governance. In doing so, the board has achieved by diktat what it could not achieve by consent. It has made the opening represented by the election of Rodgers, Robinson, and Zywicki Dartmouth’s Prague spring.
I have no doubt that the trustees who supported this action — packing the board with charter trustees and revising election procedures along the lines of the rejected alumni constitution — took the course of action they understood to be in the best interests of the college. Yet the actions appear to have been taken by trustees fundamentally lacking in the sense of shame that prevents lesser mortals from embarrassing themselves in public.
Board chairman Ed Haldeman, for example, is a successful businessman and wealthy benefactor of Dartmouth. He complains how “costly” trustee elections have become while voting to pack the board with trustees whose principal qualification for service will be the size of their checkbooks.
The board’s action is that of a schoolyard bully. Having failed to secure preferred results through existing procedures and democratic outcomes, it has exercised brute force to change the rules and pack the board. The distinguished members of the Dartmouth board who supported the package of governance recommendations submitted to it yesterday have disgraced the college.
To repeat, ordinary folks would be embarrassed to engage in such conduct. But chairman Haldeman and his supporters on the Dartmouth board are saved from the remorse that would afflict those who can see themselves as others see them.
UPDATE: A reader writes to ask:
Has anyone done a post contrasting the Dartmouth Board with the changes to the Putnam Board that Haldeman was forced to institute following the 2004 scandals? The SEC ordered Putnam to ensure that 75% of fund directors are independent and reelected every five years.”
Dartmouth alum Roger L. Simon comments:
[T]he Dartmouth Board of Trustees becomes something like the Assembly of Experts in Iran, electing the college president much in the way the “Experts” elect the Supreme Leader.
What a horrid lesson in democracy to Dartmouth students. The people who put this system in action consider themselves “progressives” but are in reality reactionaries. And sadly they are representative of American academia in general.
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