Where motley is worn, take 3

Last year we covered the successful campaigns for trustee of Dartmouth College waged by Hoover Institution Fellow Peter Robinson and George Mason University Law Professor Todd Zywicki. I wrote about the trustee election in “Bucking the deans at Dartmouth” for the Standard.

In a disappointing sequel to the election, the powers-that-be at Dartmouth mean to quell the uprising represented by the victory of Robinson and Zywicki over the college’s official candidates. The powers-that-be now seek to rewrite the rules under which Robinson and Zywicki (and, before them, the inimitable T.J. Rodgers) were elected. The effort, specifically, is to uproot the constitution which has governed the Dartmouth Alumni Association — and therefore trustee elections — for decades and supplant it with a new document.

We’ve commented already on the 18-page proposal, which resembles too much the European Union constitution in length if not in depth. At more than 7,000 words, it runs considerably longer than the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Others have taken notice as well: The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education commented in “Dartmouth, What Are You Doing?”, as has the conservative Dartmouth Review and even the liberal Dartmouth Free Press. The editors-in-chief of those two most inconsonant of undergraduate publications, juniors Daniel Linsalata and Andrew Seal, have come together for a joint statement against it, observing by the lights of decency, not ideology, that Dartmouth’s unique outlet for reform candidates should be preserved in its present form.

The latest news comes from our email inbox, where we’ve received a forward of an official message sent by Sam Ostrow, the president of the Dartmouth Class Officers Association, to members of that association. (Joe Malchow reports on the message here.) Ostrow’s message asserts in the very first paragraph that “the Association is NOT taking a position for or against the Constitution” yet has as its subject “Support for the Alumni Constitution” and proceeds to outline a specific plan for recruiting supporters — which have so far not been forthcoming — of the overhaul and getting them to go public. The text is reprinted below.

Date: Thu, 6 Jul 2006 14:58:00 -0400
From: “Ostrow & Partners, Inc.”
Subject: [DC-VOLUNTEERS] Support for the Alumni Constitution
To: [email protected]H.EDU

Dear Class Officer:

In the coming months, the Class Officers Association will be conducting a “Get Out the Vote” campaign for the voting on the proposed new Alumni Constitution. You will be receiving mail and e-mails from me on your responsibilities in that activity. However, you will note that the Association is NOT taking a position for or against the Constitution. Our role and responsibility is to maximize participation in the voting process.

However, do know that I support the proposed Constitution, voted for it at the Alumni Council, and am proud to list my name as a supporter on communications to the alumni body as a whole. I urge you to do the same.

What you can to do help —

* If you support the constitution, join me in endorsing the document and listing your name with mine as a supporter on communications to the alumni body. Let me know via reply e-mail.

* Send a message to your class leaders and ask if they will do the same.

* Ask them if they would be willing to contribute funds towards placement of an ad in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine during the voting period.

* Respond with their names to Kaja Schuppert ’95 by Wednesday July 12.

Thank you for all you do on behalf of your Great Dartmouth Class.

Sam Ostrow
President, Dartmouth 67 and Dartmouth Class Officers Association

That the email was forwarded beyond the inner circle strongly indicates that at least some of its recipients consider such electioneering improper. They seem to have a point. The message gives up the game: the alumni organizational infrastructure, supported financially by Dartmouth College, ought to remain neutral on issues of governance. Instead, those in charge intend to use Dartmouth’s resources to present only one side of the debate.

It is also noteworthy that the person assigned the task of managing the campaign to ratify the constitution is Kaja Schuppert, who sits on the Executive Committee, the members of which recently, in the style of a banana republic, extended their own terms rather than let a planned annual election take place. We covered this shameful tactic in “Where motley is worn, take 2”.

All Dartmouth alumni, regardless of their opinion on the constitution, seem to desire higher turnout. This would be good for Dartmouth, a school which already has famously high alumni participation rates. But this e-mail obviously advocates far more than a simple get out the vote effort. It asks exclusively for the names and endorsements of the likeminded, and sets out a procedure for amplifying their voices while necessarily quieting dissenting voices.

It makes quite clear that College resources, into which alumni and students alike pour earnings, are being used to stake out a partisan position. When John and I sat down with Dartmouth president Jim Wright in May, we reported in “The Wright Stuff” and “Why The Wright Stuff Is Wrong” that President Wright supports the proposed constitution.

Of course, every member of the Dartmouth community is entitled to his opinion — as petition trustees Rodgers, Robinson, and Zywicki have demonstrated, if I am not mistaken, by publicly opposing this proposed constitution. But President Wright assured us that during the debate the College itself would remain scrupulously neutral. Ostrow’s message appears markedly to belie that assurance. We take President Wright to be a man of his word and trust that he will take appropriate action to prevent the College from using its resources to promote one side of the debate on the new constitution.

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