November 16, 2005

More on Minority Representation

A commenter made me realize that I didn't do a very good job explaining why Joe Malchow is wrong to complain about double minority representation on the Alumni Association.

Joe is wrong because he identifies the wrong problems (discrimination, which--in the non-pejorative sense--is a necessary process of any selection/election, and double votes, which is an unlikely eventuality and can be easily and non-controversially prevented). The real problem is double representation--some people maybe represented with two (or three) votes. Those people are going to be minorities.

But how much will double representation really affect the democratic operations of governing Dartmouth? Not much, I think.

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 they would if they were not from Africa. And does anyone 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. It is unlikely that minority representatives will vote as a bloc just for the sake of screwing white males over 50.

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. Maybe they can't be trusted to handle money from people that aren't like them--they'll just give it away to the NAACP or something. I hardly think I need to point out the prejudice in that idea. It would be ridiculous if it weren't so noxious.

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

But does a little disproportionate representation matter for Dartmouth? (It's an entirely different ballgame for states or nations.) This is not reverse apartheid or something.

Seriously, how will democratic principles be affected in practice at Dartmouth? 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.


  1. This makes sense. I disagree, but it's a sensible argument.

    In practice, there shouldn't be much effect. A handful of extra voices in the room probably won't change much, unless there happens to be something close to a tie in the voting.

    "Guaranteed diversity of opinion" sounds good, but the conservative objection to it is that it effectively says to minorities "your opinion is twice as important as anyone else's, because you're [black/Peruvian/gay/whatever]." The injury is symbolic, rather than practical, for the most part. And it endorses a principle with which Joe presumably disagrees (and with which I disagree also). As with affirmative action, I disagree with it out of principle, not out of sympathy for white kids who have borderline qualifications.

    The point may seem academic, but I think the same thing can be fairly said of the divestment decision. Dartmouth didn't alter its current investment portfolio at all. Out of the thousands (hundreds? millions? I really don't know) of companies out there, Dartmouth singled out six (only one of which was lucrative), and said that it would not invest in them. Even if every other academic institution follows suit, I doubt that the one lucrative company depends heavily on American educational institutions' money to survice. The policy won't hinder th e genocide through an economic chain reaction. But it's still a good idea, because it's a firm statement in support of a principle--that Dartmouth is unwilling to ignore moral issues in favor of profit, and that others should do the same.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the principle behind the divestment decision (though I hope that it is confined in application to equally unambiguous causes and not, for example, to the Israel situation), but I disagree with the principle behind the Alumni Council restructuring. If you think that these sorts of things matter, then Joe has a point.

    I'm not outraged, and I don't mean to belittle the importance of considering how some issues affect different people differently along racial/ethnic/other identity lines, but I don't think that writing identity politics into the Alumni Association's by-laws sets a good precedent. Unlike many other organizations and governments out there, people of "diverse" backgrounds seem to have little difficulty getting leadership positions in Dartmouth organizations. I don't think that the Alumni Association is in danger of being a WASP-ocracy without these extra seats, and I think it's a bad precedent to put them in.

    That said, as your post shows, there's much to be said for the other side of the argument, and if the alumni council has spoken then my objections are not so relevant.

  2. Yeah, I agree with you more than you may think. I'm definitely not trying to say that there is no inequality here. I'm just trying to say that we should look at it from a practical perspective and identify the real conflicts of interest.

    I don't even think this measure is unqualifiedly good. I think there is reason to believe that the Alumni Association would be made up of a diverse group of individuals without these measures.

    But, to reiterate, these measures do not intrinsically harm the possibility of democratic governance, and it pissed me off that Joe treated them as if they did.

  3. Anonymous12:06 PM

    Asian Pacific Association, <30 members. 2 Votes.

    Tuck School of Business Alumni Association, 5000+ members. 1 Vote.

    My problem isn't that minority groups are getting a vote, it is that they are getting a vote that is vastly disproportionate to the size of their voting body.

  4. The rules require a minimum of 100 members for such a group.

    That's not 5000, but it is significantly larger than 30.

  5. Anonymous1:58 PM

    The rules require 100 members to form a group, but there are no specific requirements on how many members a group needs to maintain its status. Can you ever see Dartmouth revoking a group's status once it is established.

    When I checked a few weeks ago, the Asian Pacific organization had 17 active members (presumingly the ones who could vote).

    I can see one rep, but why two?

  6. [Responding to Seal's first comment]

    That makes sense. There are reasons to dislike the measure, but it isn't the death of democracy or representation. Thanks for elaborating.

  7. Crafting a new representative alumni organization is hardly an exact science, nor should it be. The point is not to ensure that each alum will have exactly the same number of representatives as any other alum, but to try to include as many people and perspectives from as many different alumni groups as possible and to increase interest, participation, and contributions from the alumni body as a whole. It has always been possible to be "represented" by several alumni councilors and it would continue to be possible in the proposed Alumni Assembly. For example, if you were an African-American graduate of both the College and the Tuck School who lived in New York City, you would, in theory, be "represented" by four or more different people on the Assembly: someone from your undergraduate class, someone from BADA (assuming you participated), someone from Tuck, someone from the NY Metro alumni club (again, assuming you were up to date on your dues!), and perhaps an elected at-large member who shared one or more of your views. Does this create over representation? Not necessarily. For example, several years ago there were four or five classmates of mine on the Alumni Council and none of them shared my views on the critical issues of that time.

    So, the question remains: which group would you eliminate, or which group's numbers would you increase, and on what grounds? Even some suggested "pure" forms of representation have their own inequities, such as limiting the make-up of the Assembly to only one representative from each class, which ignores the dramatic differences in class size. And what shining principle is it that would selectively prune minority groups while leaving other potential "over representation" possibilities?

    Wouldn't it be better to try to give greater strength to groups through which alums most commonly connect with the College and where the greatest potential for increasing the vigor of the alumni body is deemed to exist? As its proposal has evolved to date, that is the route chosen by the AGTF.

  8. Wouldn't it be better to try to give greater strength to groups through which alums most commonly connect with the College and where the greatest potential for increasing the vigor of the alumni body is deemed to exist? As its proposal has evolved to date, that is the route chosen by the AGTF.

    If this is true, then each fraternity, sorority, sports team, campus publication, club, et cetera which can be said to give any group of students its strongest tie to the college should have its own seat on the council. There should be a DOC seat, a women's rugby seat, a Chi Gam seat, et cetera. Singling out the groups the ACTF has for extra seats smacks of a symbolic nod to political correctness.

    While it's certainly true that giving the NAACP its own seat in the Senate would "increase the vigor" of the voting public, it would still be a pretty sorry thing to do.

  9. Anonymous4:13 PM

    Bill -

    I've read a few similiar posts of yours and other AGTF members over on the AGTF blog. With all due respect, each message tap dances around the subject.

    Can you specifically state why minority groups have twice the representation as alumni groups such as Tuck? You've covered in your previous posts your general principles - please be specific. How do those principles apply to the minority groups - how do they apply to the graduate school alumni groups?

  10. First, to "BMC": You are perhaps forgetting that affiliated groups already have one seat each on the Alumni Council, so we are only talking about increasing each group's representation by one seat in a body that will have about 122 seats (the total number will vary by a seat or two from time to time for several reasons). We are not injecting an entirely new entity. However, your NAACP example is intriguing and I personally do not think it would be such a sorry thing to do. It would surely invigorate a sizable segment of the voting population (if that were your aim), and what it might do for race relations in this country could very well outweigh the uproar from some folks who feel that no special treament should be given. You may be onto something (the world heard it here first).

    Also, while we're dreaming, your rhetorical proposal to have every possible interest group represented would, in my mind, be ideal, if a tad unwieldy. Who knows? Maybe sometime down the road women's rugby alumnae will petition the Assembly for a seat and we can have this discussion all over again.

    Trying now to answer "Anonymous", there is no single rationale for most of what the AGTF has proposed, and increasing affiliated group representation is no exception. In addition, my reasons for buying into the idea are undoubtedly different from those of any other member of the group. So I can only tell you why I now support it (which I did not, initially).

    First, there is the fact that they currently have seats on the Alumni Council. On the whole, the AGTF has tried hard not to take anything away from alumni/ae (go with what works, go with precedent if it makes sense).

    Secondly, they asked for greater representation. You can get a better answer as to what their reasons were for that request by asking their leadership, but I heard two things that hit a nerve for me. My thing is participation. The Association of Alumni has been moribund and the alumni body has been dormant for far too long in my opinion. Much of my activity is focused on getting alumni to come back, to speak up, to vote, and to give. What I heard was that many alums do not associate themselves with or particpate in the usual alumni groups (classes, clubs, etc.) and relate to the College, if at all, almost exclusively through their affiliated group. I want to make it easier to hear from and to get word out to more alumni, and if we are going to reach these alums, it is going to be through the affiliated groups. A wider pipeline (two seats) would be a big step in this direction. Second, their leadership is actively trying to get their members to give more, to vote more, and to participate more in an arena in which they feel largely uncomfortable and unwanted, and they seek an extra seat to telegraph greater acceptance, respect, and partnership in the life of the College. The "why bother?" alienation that (I say) is rampant in the alumni body, and perhaps nowhere else more so than in minority groups, could be strongly affected for these alums by adding an additional seat for their affiliated group. To me that is an exciting prospect and a small price to pay. Now, do I wish I could do that for a lot of other constituent groups (like graduate school alumni/ae)? You bet, but I think there would have to be the same level of demand and potential for dramatic effect. (Hang on women ruggers, your time may yet come).

    Lastly, I have yet to hear a counter-argument that outweighs the benefits I envision and convinces me that it is a step we should not take (i.e. "why not?").

    I hope that helps. Please remember that listening to us AGTF members explain ourselves is fine, but we are still refining our proposal and need to hear your suggestions. What would you do if you were in our shoes? How would you find the right balance between representation and manageable size? Who would you put in and who would you leave out? You can put your thoughts on our blog ( Thanks.

  11. Anonymous3:12 PM

    Bill -

    Just because the Alumni Council now includes seats for special interests is no reason to increase their representation in that body when the entire constitution is revised. Using their current existence as a justification for future existence strikes me as an excuse, not a reason.

    In fact, this would be an ideal time to reconsider the premise of representing alumni special interests. Their inclusion dilutes the representation provided by the at-large seats and the class seats (the "House" and the "Senate" of the council). There is no good reason why Dartmouth should adopt a corporatist model for its governance, where those deemed to have the "most interest" in the system are given special governing privileges.

    It is true that Dartmouth is not a government, so the ordinary "rules" do not apply. But as with free speech, there's no reason the College shouldn't follow these norms, and it would probably be better off if it did.