Where motley is worn

In his great poem “Easter 1916,” William Butler Yeats reflects with ambivalent admiration on the Irish uprising against the British. Yeats moves from noting how the uprising has altered his perception of his fellow countrymen, to paying tribute to the sacrifice of those fallen at arms, to wondering whether their valor may have required too much hardness of heart, to asking whether their sacrifice might prove needless. Yeats nevertheless finds the uprising a transformative moment. The poem concludes with a tribute to the executed leaders of the rebellion:

I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

At Dartmouth College, where green is also worn, the college administration has produced a transformative moment of its own. Two outsider candidates — Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki — have had the temerity to submit themselves for election to the college board of trustees. I have written about their campaign several times here and in “Bucking the deans at Dartmouth” for the Daily Standard.
Knowing the odds against them and the restrictive rules that governed the election, Robinson and Zywicki geared their preelection activities to the scheduled commencement of the election on March 7 (voting is to be closed on April 11). The rules against electioneering have been honored by the college more in the breach than in the observance. Moreover, mysterious maladies have hit their campaigns. One of Zywicki’s two permitted email messges to alumni was lost in transmission. The hard copy ballots that were to be sent to alumni in early March did not make it into the mail until some time last week.
I called the college today to ask where my ballot was and whether the voting deadline would be extended. The powers-that-be at the college extended the voting deadline this morning from April 11 to April 22 — or so I was advised in a telephone conversation with a college representative this morning. Tonight she writes to tell me that she “inquired about extending the voting deadline with my supervisor, and he informed me that it is up to the Balloting Committee of the Alumni Association, not Alumni Relations. He has passed along the suggestion to them, and as soon as we hear a response, I will let you know.”
Referring to my quotation of a college representative in the Daily Standard column, Frank Gato writes today;

Patricia Fisher’s claim that “the restrictive election rules enforce ‘a level playing field'” has certainly not been true in practice, whatever their intent. From the moment Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki filed their petitions, the rules have been applied selectively and with patent unfairness.
A group of alumni intertwined with the administration-friendly Alumni Council began electioneering attacks on the two petition candidates, and College personnel have added their own disparaging public statements. In addition, the paper ballots, which were to have been mailed on March 7, still have not arrived in alumni mailboxes.
Robinson and Zywicki timed their statements to accord with the announced start of the election, but while alumni have been awaiting the delayed ballots, they have been receiving statements from [Dartmouth] President Wright that undercut the campaign positions of the petition candidates. Also during this interval, the Council candidates’ statements are being released seriatim and increasingly sound like echoes of the Robinson and Zywicki campaigns.
If this is Fisher’s notion of a level field, she should at least acknowledge that one team has the more favorable playing surface.

Dartmouth is a college that has long prided itself on the extraordinary attachment felt by its alumni to the school. At Dartmouth, all is changed, but it is something far from a terrible beauty that is born. Working “Easter 1916” in reverse, the college has showed itself to be, in Yeats’s damning phrase, “where motley is worn.”
CORRECTION: The original deadline for voting in the trustee election is April 22. Whether it will be extended is apparently subject to consideration as set forth in the email message quoted above that I received from the college.


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