Did President Kim try to influence Dartmouth’s alumni elections?

In the past month, I have criticized Dartmouth’s President Dr. Jim Kim twice: first, for taking what I thought was a cheap shot at the Dartmouth Review and second for asking Dartmouth’s African-American alums to vote in the Trustee elections after their leadership group (BADA) had endorsed one candidate and denounced the other as a racist.
Following my post on the latter issue, I invited readers to correct any misstatements or unfair interpretations I may have made. David Spalding, Vice President for Alumni Relations, has graciously commented on both of my posts. Here is what David said:

1. The Dartmouth Review reference from your original post is one that President Kim has made many times. When he says “of all places” it is meant to reflect the surprise that crowds have expressed about a Dartmouth president reading the Review on a regular basis given its years as an administration critic. He is a voracious reader of all things about Dartmouth, and actively reads the Review and its blog still. He is also the first Dartmouth president to give an interview to the Review which he did last summer.
2. President Kim sent messages to a variety of groups to encourage them to participate in this election. He sent a postcard to all alumnae on March 13th to encourage them to vote. It was reported in the Dartmouth Review that Emily Esfahani Smith and Diane Ellis from the petition slate for the Association leadership were also focused on encouraging more women to vote in this election because they have been underrepresented in past elections. President Kim also simultaneously sent a message to each member of the five Affiliated Groups to encourage them to vote because they have typically been underrepresented in alumni activities.
3. The e-mail from President Kim to the members of BADA was sent on March 31st,over three weeks after the BADA e-mail that Joe Asch refers to which was sent on March 8th. There was no connection between the timing of the messages.
4. We do not have access to the polling data of Dartmouth Undying, just as we do not have access to the data that came from the telephone poll that the Hanover Institute commissioned in 2008.

When President gave the speech in question, I didn’t interpret his reference to the Dartmouth Review the way David does. And recognizing that I can be too sensitive about these things, I discussed the remark with someone who is more neutral in these matters than I am, who also interpreted it as I did. However, David’s interpretation — that Kim was playing off of, and even distancing himself from, the distaste that others have for the Review rather than expressing his own — is a plausible one. I am happy to accept it.
I am also willing to accept David’s statement that there was no connection between the disgraceful BADA email denouncing Joe Asch as a “blatant racist” and President Kim’s email urging the members of BADA to vote. However, it is still my view that Kim improperly assisted in the effort to defeat Joe.
David does not assert, nor do I think he could, that BADA’s support for Joe’s opponent was unknown to President Kim. Thus, it seems plain that Kim attempted to drum up votes among a portion of the alumni population that he knew was likely to vote overwhelmingly for one candidate — the establishment candidate, John Replogle. The fact that Kim made similar appeals to other minority groups (e.g., Latino alums and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender alums) doesn’t change the analysis; if anything, it makes matters worse. President Kim surely understood that most, if not all, of these groups consist of members who were more likely to support John Replogle than Joe Asch.
David’s argument that members of these groups are “underrepresented” in these elections, even if true of all of them, leaves me cold. It’s not the duty or proper function of the college president to try to drive any particular segment of the alumni population to the polls like some sort of community organizer. Moreover, all segments of the alumni vote in relatively small numbers. If President Kim’s interest had been only in improving voter participation, he would not have confined his March 31 appeal to minority group members.
It looks to me like this was not his only interest, and that he was trying to assist John Replogle’s candidacy. I will have more to say about this soon.
Finally, let me comment on David’s statement that “we do not have access to the polling data of Dartmouth Undying, just as we do not have access to the data that came from the telephone poll that the Hanover Institute commissioned in 2008..” I assume that the “we” here is the Dartmouth administration. But David is also part of Dartmouth Undying. He ran twice on that slate and one of his subordinates ran on it this time.
As long as college employees actively participate in the politics of one side in alumni elections, it will be difficult to sell the notion that there is a wall of separation between the administration and that particular faction. And it will be ludicrous to equate the adminstration’s relationship with Dartmouth Undying to its relationship with the dissident Hanover Institute.
If Dartmouth wants a more unified alumni, it would be great if (1) its alumni relations staff stopped running for office in elections that are likely to be contested and (2) its president stopped making special appeals to segments of the alumni in such elections.


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