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Dartmouth’s Governance Committee Come to Chicago

October 19, 2007

Last week two member’s of Dartmouth’s Governance Committee came to explain the changes in governance to alumni in Chicago. After having attended the meeting and reflected on what was said by the committee members (Christine Bucklin and Michael Chu) I have few thoughts:

  • First pure reporting, alumni sentiment was strong in opposition to the governance changes. The ration of those in favor of the changes to those opposed was no more than 1:5.
  • It was pretty clear (as I suspected from my prior correspondence with a member of the committee) that almost no value was ascribed by the committee to the value of parity (between alumni trustee and charter trustees) per se.
  • Given the last point it is understandable how people of good (as these two seemed to be) could make the recommendations they did. Their presence was a tangible reminder of the time commitments that all members of the board make to Dartmouth.
  • The committee was too quick to let itself off the hook for the vocal opposition the changes have produced. They said many times that they realized that they would be criticized no matter what they did and that knowledge liberated them to ignore the voices of critics. Perhaps, but why not listen to the substance of their arguments?
  • The committee members claimed that contested elections of petition trustees had harmed student and faculty recruiting. Perhaps, but only anecdotal evidence of this was presented and those anecdotes ignored any possible helpful effects on recruiting.
  • The meeting had a somewhat surreal quality in that opinions are generally solicited before a decision is made, not after. Obviously, not so here.

I think any real sense the value of participatory democracy to the voters was genuinely lost on the committee. Does anyone doubt that a system in which the current U.S. Congress selected 2/3 of the members of the next Congress and the voters selected only a third would be superior to the current system? Had I thought of it at the meeting I would have posed the question, but I think I know the response: these are completely different institutions.

I think most people would be hard pressed, however, to see how that makes any meaningful difference in the answer.

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