Different profession, same line

Voting has commenced in this year’s Dartmouth trustee elections. The alumni are electing two trustees. One of them will be Morton Kondracke, who is running unopposed. The other will be either Joe Asch or John Replogle. In this post, I argued that Asch is an outstanding choice for trustee and Replogle a poor one.
Since Kondracke has no opponent, it doesn’t matter much whether we vote for him. However, I think it is important that alums who share my general views about issues relating to Dartmouth have a sense of what they can expect from Kondracke. This post offers my sense of this.
We know how Kondracke and those in the Dartmouth power structure who caused him to be nominated want us to think about him. They want us to think of him as a fair and open-minded moderate who, in his words, “will perform as I have as a journalist–work hard to understand the issues, listen to all sides, determine what’s best. . . .” This sensible centrism will, again in Kondracke’s words, help bring an “end the rancor surrounding trustee elections that has damaged Dartmouth’s reputation.”
Prior to the onset of the campaign, this narrative had some plausibility. Kondracke is well-respected in his field and oozes political moderation on television. Despite my mixed view of the mainsteam media, I found refreshing the prospect of having a journalist on the Board, as opposed to yet another corporate CEO.
The real issue, though, was always whether Kondracke has a clue about what’s actually going on at Dartmouth or the intellectual curiosity to find out. If not, then there is no hope that he can add value to the Board.
It is now clear to me that Kondracke falls short in these important respects.
Consider his position on the key issue of parity on the Board of Trustees:

I certainly favor expanded elected alumni representation on the board and will work to achieve it. I am even open to working for parity if it can be achieved while providing Dartmouth with the qualified trustees we need.

But does Kondracke believe that parity can be achieved while providing Dartmouth with qualified trustees? Either he won’t tell us or he doesn’t know.
If he won’t tell us, he’s being disingenuous. If he doesn’t know, he hasn’t paid enough attention to merit being a Trustee.
Rather than assuming bad faith, I assume Kondracke doesn’t know. But then, it’s fair to ask, how will he decide? In other words, what must Dartmouth’s alums do to prove to Mort Kondracke that, with our Dartmouth education in hand, we are capable of determining what kind of trustees Dartmouth needs? And how long will our probationary period last?
Absent an answer (and I don’t expect Kondracke to provide one — why should he; he’s unopposed?), let me try one. Our only hope of eventually causing Kondracke to conclude that Dartmouth alumni are capable of electing half the trustees is consistently to elect the candidates served up by the Dartmouth power structure — candidates like Kondracke and his running mate Replogle — rather than those pesky petition candidates. It was, after all, the election of petition candidates that caused the power structure to violate its contract with the Association of Alumni and revoke our right to elect half of the Board.
This leads me to Kondracke’s advocacy on behalf of Replogle. I have no problem with the fact that Kondracke supports his fellow hand-picked candidate. Many smart, well-meaning alums do. But the nature of Kondracke’s attacks on Joe Asch undermine his claim, in this context, to be the fair and open-minded inquisitive journalist.
For example, Kondracke told the student newspaper that at a recent alumni event in Minneapolis, he complained that Asch “has been a non-stop critic of the College, and he is also inclined to be a micromanager.” These, as I’ve noted, are Replogle’s standard talking points against Asch.
But do they withstand scrutiny of the kind one would expect from an ace journalist? The second point — that Asch is a micro-manager — is intellectually lazy and only a little short of dishonest. The only evidence for it is that Asch has provided lots of in-depth, fact-specific criticism of the way Dartmouth is managed. But it doesn’t follow that Asch would attempt as a trustee to “micro-manage” Dartmouth. Kondracke states that “it’s not a trustee’s role to micro-manage policy or try to act as an administrator, but I will. . .question expenditures. . . ” That’s the kind of thing we can expect Asch to do, only he’ll ask better questions because he knows more.
As I have said:

There is no evidence that [Asch] intends to tell Jim Kim how to manage time sheets [Replogle’s derisvie suggestion]. But the fact that Joe understands the inner workings of the college should, other things being equal, make him a better trustee than his more detached and vastly less knowledgeable opponent.

Kondracke admits that “some poor fiscal decisions were made in the past.” That’s the conventional wisdom now, but it wasn’t always so. I submit that no one did more to expose these poor decisions than Joe Asch. He deserves better than to be derided as a micro-manager.
But Asch is a “non-stop” critic, says Kondracke. Again, he betrays his intellectual laziness. The issue isn’t the pace of Asch’s criticism, but its validity. Can Kondracke point to instances in which Asçh’s criticism has been inaccurate or unfair? I doubt it. It’s not that such instances don’t exist; they may, but Kondracke hasn’t paid enough attention or done enough digging to know.
All he seems to know is the party line.
I fear that, as a Trustee, this may be about all he ever knows.


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