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A Letter from Certain Dartmouth Trustees

April 29, 2008

Today I received an email from the "non-petition" Trustees of Dartmouth College attempting to influence my vote in the Association of Alumni elections. The letter is posted on Dartmouth’s website here. The I found the letter to be outrageous for a number of reasons:

  • First, why are College funds and mailing lists and web hosting being used by a subset of the Board of Trustee to make partisan points in this election? These resources were not made available to those Trustees espousing the opposite viewpoint. As my wife incredulously asked, "Is this something members of a corporate board would do?"
  • Second, the letter makes many references to "this group" but it is seldom clear to which group they are referring. Can you tell from reading the letter? I can’t. Perhaps they refer to different groups in different instances, but it is impossible to tell. In any event, the effect is to falsely imply that a single small group is behind everything they mention.
  • Third, in a display of chutzpah that is striking from a group of trustees that complains that others have "politicized Dartmouth elections" the letters authors proceed to unearth out-of-context quotes from their fellow Trustee (albeit a petition Trustee) Todd Zywiki "saying those ‘who control the university today[,] they don’t believe in God and they don’t believe in country.’" Does anyone seriously believe that he was accusing the other Dartmouth Trustees and administration of being unpatriotic atheists? Not anyone sensible. In context the quotation was saying (with rhetorical flourish) that the perpetuation of the academy had become and end in itself that its members defend it against interlopers. More extended excerpts of the informal talk from which the quotation was taken can be found (with unsympathetic comments) here. After reading this letter from the trustees, it is hard to disagree one other sentence from Zywicki’s talk "The establishment within these universities is vicious."
  • Fourth, the letter is breathtaking in its Orwellian constructions, like "Four of our trustee colleagues filed an amicus brief against the College to try to achieve through the courts what they could not achieve in the boardroom through normal Board processes." I guess no one could possibly think that these board members were trying to achieve through dilution of alumni elected trustees a result that they could achieve through alumni elections.

This letter exemplifies why I (and I suspect many others) have voted for petition trustees in Dartmouth trustee elections. It is not that I find terrible fault with the direction of the College or believe big changes should be made (other than making it less expensive for my children of course). I do believe, however, that Dartmouth could use some fresh perspectives in its governance. A group of trustees that is so myopic as to believe that this letter actually does their cause some good needs to cede more power to independent Trustees not have the power of such Trustees diluted.

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