November 15, 2005

Minority Representation on the Alumni Association

Joe Malchow cries "foul" when he discovers that the new alumni constitution drafted by the Alumni Governance Task Force makes a provision whereby certain alumni might be able to have two votes on the Alumni Association.

The basics of the situation are that under a certain provision that establishes a way for "[a]ny group of 100 or more Dartmouth alumni who share a common bond based on self-identified information that they are members of a group of historically marginalized alumni [...] and who desire to affiliate with each other as a sub-group of the Association of Alumni" to set up a formal group which will be represented by two members on the Alumni Association. It dawns upon Joe that it is technically possible for one of these two people to also have been elected as the class representative--and therefore they will have two votes, Baker-Berry will collapse, all the Keystone will run dry, and the Dartmouth football team will start winning again as it's the end of the fucking world!!! Aaargh!!! Honestly, is this really such a big deal?

Instead of stopping at what would be a reasonable suggestion--that a clause be added to prevent any member of the AA from representing two groups--Malchow goes for the whole hog, bellowing "discrimination." Joe clearly does not care about fixing this loophole--he only wants to keep minorities from forming groups which will be represented on the AA. A reasonable person would realize that any person who does represent two groups will have been selected/elected by those two groups and therefore likely is a good-faith choice on the part of both groups. I don't understand in this case why democracy should not be allowed to take its course. Is the job so demanding that no fairly-elected person could fairly represent the opinions of the Pacific Islander group and the Class of '92? Where's the beef?

The beef is: Joe Malchow doesn't care about minority people.

But should we? That is, are the specific allowances for the representation of minorities on the Association proper and legitimate or are they discriminatory? The only practical reason to ask this question is if it is likely that this measure would derail proper decision-making on the Association by the construction of a non-representative system. I don't think this is the case.

Well, first of all, I think Joe is subject to a little bit of paranoia. Who is to say that all these minority groups will vote together? If everyone on the AA were white, would it be readily assumed that they would all vote together? Also, this presumes that there is in fact a national correlation to college politics--that there are definitely "left" positions and definitely "right" positions to Dartmouth politics and that minorities will typically align on the left. I am still unconvinced that Dartmouth issues cleave this neatly or at all. Finally, this presumes that the representatives of minority groups would not be competent arbiters or taken holistically would not be as competent as an Association made up of mostly non-minority persons elected by a body of mostly non-minority persons. I'm not even going to bother rebutting that. I have enough faith in the Dartmouth education that I assume most people who graduate are reasonably competent.

Those are (some of) the practical reasons. But Joe's argument is anything but practical. Instead, he says, "In short, the requirements are, as my correspondent writes, “exclusive and discriminatory.” It is wrong on its face."

"Wrong on its face?" Is it really? Well, what do the terms "exclusive" and "discriminatory" actually mean? Simply that there are qualifications for the positions which others can't fill. Is that a bad thing "on its face?" Is it a bad thing "on its face" that Presidents must be 35 and non-naturalized US citizens? Those are "exclusive and discriminatory" restrictions. But they are positive. For Joe, race is entirely different--it is entirely negative.

The problem is clearly not actual discrimination--that is the most necessary part of any democratic process--I discriminatorily chose Kerry over Bush in the last election. The problem is whether to let minority groups have a guaranteed place in the governance of the College. I think my opinion on that matter is no secret, so I won't elaborate here.

But the point is, Joe's argument that this is wrong because it's discriminatory or because it might give someone two votes falls flat-- "on its face."


  1. Anonymous10:49 PM

    Why stop there? Maybe someone could run as a class rep, a rep for an affinity group, and also an at-large seat and have THREE votes!

  2. When I first read the post, I thought "connor" had written it.

    Would either you or Joe mind saying what any of this means?

    Joe's posts would be a lot better if they were about 1/3 as long as they are. You have to wade through a ton of fluff to figure out what he's actually trying to say.

    I take his point to be that every Dartmouth alum has one vote or one representative, except for minorities, who get two. If I understand it correctly, it would be like adding 3 seats to the U.S. Senate, 1 for each of GLAAD, the NAACP, and the National Baptist Convention. And the same person could hold, for example, an Illinois seat and the NAACP seat and get two votes, if s/he was "fairly elected" by both constituencies.

    Is this analogy accurate? Because if it is, I think Joe has a good point buried in all of the garbage about gerrymandering, the Supreme Court, Franklin Roosevelt, etc., and it's not fair to say that he "doesn't care about minority people." Why should minorities get a class rep and an identity politics rep, while the WASPs get only the class rep? Why should there be extra seats on the council to raise "the Pacific Islander perspective" when the council contemplates a tuition hike? I don't think that Joe is concerned about "minority bloc" voting. Rather, it sets a bad precedent when every minority student gets an extra representative on the council because of their race. It's not that he doesn't care, it's that he objects to special treatment.

    If I'm mistaken about how the council is set up, would you mind explaining that?

  3. Your analogy is correct, I think, as is your understanding of the setup of the Assembly is correct as far as I understand it.

    You in fact put this in terms that I think are a lot more succinct and accurate than mine--the big problem is not whether somebody would get two votes; that is unlikely and could be addressed with a simple addition of a very minor and likely uncontroversial clause.

    The problem is double representation--do minority groups have a legitimate right to send a representative to present their interests in addition to the larger class rep?

    Eschewing moral arguments, I'll just make a practical one--the assumption is that there will be votes for which being a minority has no advantageous (or partial, if you prefer) perspective, and votes for which some minority groups will have an advantageous (or partial) perspective because they 1) have the interests of their minority group at heart or in their mind and 2) they likely have greater experience with the actual issues at play.

    I disagree with this assumption--I think all votes would be better served having a guaranteed diversity of opinion (just in the case of Dartmouth governance; not, perhaps for the nation). But I will accept it for the time being.

    If having minority representation is a problem, it is a problem because it will derail proper democratic representation. But this is only going to occur if a) minority groups' desires are contrary to the majority's interests and they vote together or b) minorities are incompetent or less competent at making impartial, measured decisions about Dartmouth's future and present.

    Take the recent decision to divest. How would guaranteed minority representation really have affected that decision? It would if there were an African affiliated group perhaps. But that is one group. They'd have to convince everyone else of their case just as if they were not from Africa. And do you really think that just because a Peruvian-affiliated group is also composed of "minorities" they will vote with the African group automatically? That seems dubious.

    Alternatively, maybe it would be suggested that minorities simply can't be impartial about a situation like the Darfur divestment that touches on (one) minority's interest. I hardly think I need to point out the prejudice in that idea.

    My point is not to say "this is perfectly proportionate representation." It's not.

    But does it matter? How will democratic principles be affected in practice? Joe just gives theory; I should think that conservatives who are so used to pointing out the discrepancies between practice and theory in the pursuit of Marxism or other quasi-liberal idealisms would not fall into this trap.