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A word to our Dartmouth readers — why I voted against the constitutional amendment

The leadership of Dartmouth’s Association of Alumni (AoA) has proposed an amendment to ithe AoA’s constitution. The amendment would change the procedures for the election of alumni trustees to the Dartmouth Board of Trustees. Voting on the amendment ends May 6.

I voted against the amendment. For the reasons presented below, I urge our Dartmouth readers to consider doing the same

The amendment provides:

With this amendment, the Alumni Council will first nominate either one or two candidates for each vacancy. Assuming, based on consistent recent history, that at least one petition candidate will thereafter also be nominated, we expect that this procedure will promote head to head elections. Alumni will cast only one vote for each vacancy according to the familiar, well-understood one person/one vote procedure. If there are three or more candidates for any one vacancy and no one receives an absolute majority of the votes cast, there will be a runoff election between the top two vote getters, hereby assuring that the winner will receive a majority of the votes cast.

In proposing this amendment, the AoA leadership is once again doing the bidding of the board of trustees, which believes that the proposed system will make it easier to defeat petition candidates like T.J. Rodgers, Peter Robinson, Todd Zywicki, and Stephen Smith. The Board clings to the view that these petition trustees have succeeded not because alums are dissatisfied with the way the college is being run and/or because they want diverse points of view to be represented, but because the election system is unfair.

The current system, the product of an AoA reform in 1990, calls for the nomination of at least three candidates for election to the Board. The election then proceeds under an “approval” method wherein voters are allowed to cast their votes for as many candidates as they wish.

Personally, I believe that this system is as good as the one the AoA is now proposing. As this piece in the Dartmouth Review notes, the “approval” method is arguably the fairest, most accurate gauge of support for a given candidate. The article quotes Robert Norman, the retired Dartmouth math professor, as saying “I have found that a substantial majority of academic experts. . .favor approval voting over systems that use successive eliminations. . .that limit expressions of preference.”

I also tend to agree with my friend John MacGovern of the Hanover Institute, who argues that “this new amendment, with its new requirement that alumni must run for a particular vacancy, would make the elections much more political and personal.” John notes that “in a multi-vacancy situation, no longer will alumni be able to pick the best two candidates from the whole pool of candidates running but will be forced to pick alumni based on what particular vacancy they are running for.”

That said, I don’t think it makes very much difference which system is used to elect trustees. My primary reasons for voting against the amendment are based on other considerations.

First, as John MacGovern has also noted, the Board is trying to coerce the acceptance of its favored method of electing trustees by threatening to freeze all alumni trustee elections and hand over the whole election process to the administration unless its changes are adopted. No self-respecting man or woman of Dartmouth should vote for the amendment under these circumstances.

Second, a no vote would serve as a rebuke to the Board. Such a rebuke would be well deserved. Not only has the Board violated Dartmouth’s contractual obligation to permit alums to elect half of its members, but recently, in an unprecedented move, it sacked Todd Zywicki. The Board also happens to be presiding over the slow decline of Dartmouth.

A no vote would also be a rebuke to the current AoA leadership which has been a tool of the Board. It might also discourage the AoA leadership from pushing for additional “reforms,” that would limit the ability of petition candidates to spend money on trustee races. This idea, which AoA head John Mathias apparently is already pushing, would enhance the advantage already enjoyed by the “establishment” candidates whose message is supported by the college and who don’t need to spend money to get on the ballot or to make the case for electing an outsider.

The AoA was elected as a “unity” slate that would bring the alumni together in part by persuading the Board to compromise on its anti-democratic positions — the ones that had led to the lawsuit the “unity” slate promised to shut down. Once elected, the former “unity” slate kept its promise to shut down the lawsuit (a new one has been filed by certain alums individually, though). However it has done nothing to moderate the Board. Rather, it has consistently done the Board’s bidding and, free of constraint, the Board has become more aggressive, as the canning of Zywicki shows.

The proposed amendment is part of this course of conduct. That alone would be sufficient reason to oppose it at this juncture.

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