The Dartmouth Party Line: A Report

Dartmouth alum Zach Hafer attended the presentation of Dartmouth board of trustees chairman Charles Haldeman and charter trustee Michael Chu on Monday evening and kindly filed the following report at our request:

I went to the “conversation” with Haldeman and Chu last night at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. After being introduced by David Spalding, both Haldeman and Chu spoke for about five minutes. Haldeman focused on “something we can all agree on, the strength of Dartmouth College.” He then discussed the $3.9 billion endowment, the 30 percent increase in applications over the past 10 years, the academic metrics of the incoming students, etc. Both Chu and Haldeman then discussed very briefly why they felt that changes had to be made. Their two main points were: a desire “not to bring the divisiveness of Washington to Hanover” (I guess it’s “divisive” when you lose and “hard-fought” when you win); and a need for a larger board to meet the challenges of the global economy. I’m serious; they actually said this with straight faces.
After their introductory remarks, it was opened up for questions. I would characterize the questions as about half supportive of the trustees and half opposed — remember it is NYC and UN week to boot. Also note that the invitations for this went out very late — I got mine five days before the event. Most alums asked very good questions, many stating directly to Haldeman and Chu that they were very skeptical of what they’d done and it seemed like nothing more than an effort to disenfranchise alumni. The responses were entirely unsatisfying. Paraphrased, both Haldeman and Chu said repeatedly that alumni/petition candidates would continue to have a special place on the Board and that they only did this because they care so deeply about Dartmouth and want Dartmouth to be able to adapt to the increasingly global world of the twenty-first century.
I asked two questions. Prior to my substantive questions, however, I was forced to defend Stephen Smith, who had been called a liar and deemed unfit to serve by a previous questioner. I noted that I had taken two classes from Smith at the University of Virginia Law School, that he was the best professor I had in three years, that he was a good friend and one of the most honorable men I knew, and that he deserved a lot better than having his good name smeared when he wasn’t even there to defend himself.
As to my questions, I starting by asking if, as they said, Dartmouth was “as strong as it’d ever been,” why the need for the wholesale changes in governance? Predictably, they answered that it had nothing to do with recent events, but instead a need to keep Dartmouth competitive in an increasingly global world. I followed up by asking them if, in light of the four recent petition trustee elections, alongside the defeat of the new Constitution, they had considered the example they were setting for Dartmouth students that when democracy fails and one’s ideas are rejected, he/she should just change the rules of the game? The answer was more of the same: even though not all of you are going to agree with this, we ask for a presumption of good faith as we are alums too and are only trying to do what’s best for Dartmouth.
All in all, aside from the cathartic benefits of being able to speak directly to Haldeman and Chu, the evening was a total disappointment.

PAUL adds: So the Dartmouth party line is, “trust us” and something about “the global economy.” How can Haldeman ask for a presumption of good faith when he can’t do any better than this? Clearly, he doesn’t grant the alumni a presumption of minimal intelligence. Otherwise he wouldn’t (a) serve up such drivel and (b) assume that we’re incapable of electing trustees suitable for “the global economy.”
Haldeman and company gave up any right to a presumption of good faith when they held an election to change the method of electing petition candidates, lost the election, and changed the method anyway. If that isn’t bad faith, then everything I understand about democracy, fairness, and respect for the opinions of fellow community members is wrong.

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