Two years ago in my Standard column “Bucking the deans at Dartmouth,” I placed the trustee election in which Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki were running in the context of William F. Buckley’s historic contribution to the conservative cause:
WHEN WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY founded National Review in 1955 at the age of 29, he lit the fire that sparked the modern conservative movement. Buckley had already achieved notoriety–if not celebrity–with the publication of God and Man at Yale in 1951. He attacked the undergraduate education on offer at Yale for its hostility to Christianity and its adulation of collectivism and sought to dispel the indifference of Yale alumni to their supervisory responsibility, calling on them to grasp the nettle of university governance.
Yale was, of course, only the example which laid closest to Buckley’s hand. Mutatis mutandis, as Buckley himself might say, he undoubtedly could have written the same book about any of America’s most prestigious universities. In the ensuing decades the conservative movement as a whole has experienced successes that must exceed even Buckley’s visionary imagination. Yet the university remains untouched by Buckley’s call to action. In fact, it understates matters considerably to say that circumstances on campus have not improved since 1951.
Now Mr. Buckley himself takes a look at the current Dartmouth trustee election in “The high cost of loving Dartmouth.” Mr. Buckley writes:
The role of the college trustee is endlessly nibbled about in academic politics. Mostly, the college establishment is regnant. Trustees are expected to be affable creatures, preferably rich and generous. They are not expected to weigh in on college affairs, which are adequately handled by presidents, provosts, deans, and lesser administrative folk.
In my book God and Man at Yale, published 56 years ago, I wrote about the phenomenon of the somnolent college trustee. I prophesied that the role of the trustee would one day become a matter of earnest alumni concern, roiling the waters, and this certainly has happened at Dartmouth College.
There is a trustee election happening there this spring which has attracted the attention of critics from coast to coast. Here is the situation: Between April 1 and May 15, Dartmouth alumni will cast their votes. There are lesser candidates in the field, but essentially it is a race between Sandy Alderson, the candidate of the Dartmouth establishment, and petition candidate Stephen Smith.
A quick word is all that is necessary to contrast the candidates. Mr. Alderson is a clubby alumnus with a legal background and a hyper-active career as a baseball executive, not the worst way to gain favorable attention from patrons of the sport, who include the formidable George F. Will, Princeton Ph.D. and a man of sovereign judgment in most matters.
The other principal contender is Stephen Smith. His career might have been written as a Horatio Alger tale. He grew up with a single mother in a municipal slum, worked his way up the slippery education ladder and became a student at Dartmouth. He then went on to the study of law and emerged among the happy few selected by a Supreme Court Justice to clerk for one year. From there, Smith went to practice law in Washington and soon was drawn to the University of Virginia, where he holds a chair as a professor of law. He is a practicing Christian, a Catholic with five sons, and add to the above that he is a black American.