November 28, 2005

Reviewer's Folly

The author of the Review editorial "Steward's Folly" (is it Ellis or Glabe?--the website is annoying in that it doesn't give the byline for editorials) makes an interesting argument about the possibility of expert opinion without the benefit of experience.

I have some minor philosophical quibbles about this argument but I'll let them go. What really interests me is the application of this argument to the administration's justification for amassing and protecting their power--that they know what's best for the College because they are working in it. I'm especially interested in the language the author uses to describe who gives the administration power and whom they are representing.

Let me just say this. The word "student" (nor any of its synonyms) does not appear once in the editorial. Here are the relevant quotes:
We are stewards they [the administration and the liberal old guard of alumni] say, not representatives, and more democracy will force the board to cater to alumni special interests at the expense of the big picture—one to which faculty, administrators, and the ever-ambiguous "future of Dartmouth College" all contribute brushstrokes. And as stewards, they say, they are the only ones capable of seeing that future. This is the reason the ancien regime of alumni are working so hard to make it more difficult for petition candidates to succeed.
[T]he Lone Pine Revolution [...] is legitima[te and...] seeks to restore rather than reinvent. Moreover, as a course in the American founding would remind us (if such a course were offered at Dartmouth), legitimate power— though it may be invested in leaders in a representative government—is ultimately derived from the people.

Where this fact is ignored, whether it be at Dartmouth or in a two-bit banana republic, all power rests on an unsteady foundation; where it is well regarded, any power, even the extreme power of sending young to men into battle, may be exercised. At Dartmouth, the "people" are in large part the alumni, and, until their wishes are heeded, the College’s stewards serve no one but themselves.
Not one word regarding how much say students--who also might be considered (and in my mind more legitimately considered) "the people"--should have in this glorious democratic Revolution. Who is the Review writing for? The answer should be, by now, obvious.

According to the Review, the administration is only legitimate if it regards its original power as coming from the alumni. This is a Declaration of Ambivalence toward the students--the alumni's wishes are the single most important criterion in establishing the legitimacy of and evaluating the performance of the administration. Students are irrelevant. In fact, by their own admission "any power...may be exercised" when the alumni are properly consulted.

This kind of thinking might work for determining the future of the swim team, but I'm afraid it can seriously destructive if it is pursued blindly into more vital matters such as curriculum, student life, and student safety. There are some decisions in any society made by experts without wide democratic review, and some of them will be important ones. This is a fact of governance, not a fancy. It is, in fact, part of the consent Locke speaks of as the original of political power--it lies at the heart of the judicial system, and, ironically, at the doorstep of the Oval Office War Room.

1 comment:

  1. Leadership*Power

    One who angers the few, will be seen and accepted as a leader by the many.

    One who angers the many will be seen and accepted as powerful by the few.

    Those who live and act in fear and anger will suffer the egos and deceptions of the powerful.

    Those who live and act with compassion, tolerance and understanding will enjoy the benefits of truth guided by the Rulz of Love.


    Love*Rulz (Available on DVD ;)