May 31, 2006

United Against the Constitution

Dan Linsalata approached me a few weeks ago now about publishing together something about the alumni constitution. The fruit is in this morning's edition of The Dartmouth.

"Co-authoring" (actually, I feel obligated to say that Dan did more than the lion's share of the writing and the thought) an op-ed with a Reviewer will probably surprise many and may even disappoint some of you. Let me offer a word first: as we say, Dan and I clearly are at odds on many issues, but there is really no two ways to see this draft. What Joe Malchow and The Review have said about it is true—the constitution draft has many serious flaws that will prevent a fair system from developing. Perhaps to some, even some of my readers, that is a good thing, but I don't think those who disagree with the 'Lone Pine Revolution' have anything to fear from fairness or democracy.

My only question is, why do we need all this business in the first place? I'd prefer less alumni governance, not more, for the reasons I sketched out in my DFP editorial. Unfortunately, I also had to realize that this constitution business will not just go away at my word, and that I needed to speak more specifically against the draft. I'm hoping that, at any rate, the plea in today's op-ed for greater student involvement in these matters is heard.

I feel strongly about this—college is different from commerce, from the religious realm, and from previous levels of education. If there is one type of institution on earth which the inmates actually could run well (with some help) and beneficially for everyone, it is a college (not a university, perhaps, but a college). That certainly doesn't mean that alums are obligated to give us a bigger say, but it does mean that if they did, things might actually go well. And if alums conduct their own affairs this poorly, well...


  1. Anonymous9:39 AM

    I don't think you understand the concept of pragmatism. This constitution, I believe, will help keep cons out of power and help the fairly liberal establishment currently governing Dartmouth--the one slipping and losing ground to the cons by the day--in power. Opposing the constitution will open the door to the cons. (Notice it's mostly cons who oppose it: not a coincidence.) This would be an unacceptable tactical loss for liberals. Thus you are wrong, unless your're a closet con, which I'm beginning to think you are. Sometimes the democratic option is not the right one. Dartmouth should be run by a liberal elite, period. Get with the Program.

  2. I'm going to guess that was a posting by a sarcastic conservative.

  3. Anonymous10:51 AM

    Actually, Andrew, you have probably guessed wrong. That is not surprising as you are also missing the real threat of not passing the proposed constitution because the current situation under which we exist is not a level playing field at all. It structurally favors petition candidates to the Board of Trustees. The new constitution, besides trying to correct this deficiency, also enables the alumni to have a stronger voice in a structured manner. You do not want them to go away politically because they are the voice that preserves a strong and balanced Dartmouth. You want to ensure that all voices, conservative as well as liberal, are heard and acknowledged by the Trustees. That has been a problem in recent years, but to solve it by pushing alumni away is wrong. When their attention leaves, so will their philanthropy, and you can't afford that.

  4. What favors the petition candidates is efforts like this constitution that are transparently designed to keep certain voices from emerging at all.

    Look, despite the well-publicized conservative Revolution, I haven't found the world crashing down on my head, and believe me, I'd be the first one talking about it. If you think Dartmouth is so likely to be utterly commandeered by a bunch of right wing whackos who want to kick the women and kids of color out, well then start something from the grassroots, not the boardroom. Don't abuse the system to get your way; that will only inflame the regressivist assholes and make moderates sympathize with you. How daft are you people? You've started a turf war that has put Wright in an enormously bad position and that has crushed the possibility of any meaningful student or facult involvement in the process--both groups are going to be shut out as either liabilities for you liberal alums or enemies for the conservatives. Way to go.

    And if you worry that a simple student's request for less alumni involvement is going to turn donors away, well what the hell do you think this "keep the cons out" strategy is going to do? Please, for the love of Daniel Webster, think for a moment.

  5. Anonymous9:05 AM

    Fair enough. Let's think about this.

    First, you publish a piece in the D, which is probably more widely read than your blog, that you acknowledge was co-authored by the editor-in-chief of The Review. Then you later admit on your blog (again, probably less widely read than the D) that it was principally conceived and written by that other author. Is this ethical journalism? Perhaps you didn't commit plagiarism in the purest academic sense (after all, you did provide a citation), but in portraying it as equally yours as well as his, you were being fraudulent.

    Okay. Let's say this was "an honest mistake." It's a stretch, but let's go with it. Then, if nothing else, you were used. You have enabled a public opponent of the new constitution to point to your work and say, in effect, "See, even Andrew Seal, that champion of liberal causes, agrees with me that this is a bad proposal." What's the big deal if, in fact, you do agree? Well, the big deal is this: why didn't your co-author have the cojones to put his name on the very piece that he basically wrote? Because, dear Andrew, he and his minions wanted you to carry their water for them so they could point to it as independent opposition. Bravo! Score one for them.

    Fraud or dupe? You choose. Enough of the criticism of your intelligence or integrity. Here's why the new constitution matters to so many alumni:

    1. It provides for a structured voice for alumni to air their issues and opinions to the Trustees. To be sure, it works only if the Board agrees to treat the ALB with respect by meeting with it on a regular basis, which the Board has been silent about up to now, but it is better than the present system in which the CRG has been given little credence by the Board. To maintain the current system and argue that all alumni issues should be voted on by referendum is to agree that California's method of democracy is the best way of gathering alumni opinion. The problem with this is that most alumni are too busy with their lives to really delve into substantive issues in order to make informed decisions. So, after months of protracted public arguing in the papers and on blogs, which you say you decry as painting President Wright in a bad light, they ask fellow alumni whom they trust how they should vote. Isn't it possible that a representative form of governance might do a better job of getting informed on issues (even if they are then to be labeled "insiders") and make judgments on behalf of the whole?

    Does this mean that faculty and students are shut out of the process? I don't believe that they are. The faculty are probably the most influential group of stakeholders in the institution. If you don't agree, re-read the history of President McLaughlin's era. Their voice is heard by, in particular, President Wright. Good grief; he came from this faculty. As for the student voice, I don't think it is over-ridden by the alumni either. Students are omnipresent on campus; they are who the school thinks about everyday, all day. If you have an issue with your voice being heard, it is with the Trustees, not the alumni. Want a place on the Board; ask them to grant you a charter seat. When you become alumni, you too can run for an alumni seat.

    2. The new constitution attempts to deal with a structural problem that now forces the Alumni Council to nominate two candidates for every Board opening while petitioners can nominate only one. This, in effect, splits the vote in favor of the petitioner. Don't believe me? Just look at the results of the last two elections, and you will have to admit that it is a possibility. The new constitution does not restrict the ability of petition candidates to run for the Board, but it is trying to present alumni with an opportunity to make a clear choice when they vote. Let the best candidate (or at least the most favored one) win. If it is the will of the alumni to elect a petitioner in a head-to-head contest, so be it. That would send an even stronger message to the Board about alumni wishes.

    I don't characterize people who want to keep the status quo as "wackos." In fact, I think the conservative voice (if that's who they are, although you claim not to be one) is as important to hear as the liberal voice or any other voice. If we were to exclude conservative opinion from the debates on campus, we would miss an important rhetorical element as well as the inclinations of roughly half the people in the US. In fact on a campus that can justifiably be characterized as fairly liberal, it is more important than ever that students know what the other side of the debate is all about. However, I do think that when the votes are taken about who will sit on Dartmouth's Board, it ought to be perfectly clear what the will of the majority was.

    So, have a nice day, Andrew. If and when your exams are over, perhaps you'll take a few days to consider some of the above rather than simply dashing off another entry on the blog.

  6. Anonymous10:22 AM

    The main puzzlement/befuddlement:
    Where is Professor Connor Shepherd's wise and measured voice in this debate? I'm waiting to see what he thinks before I make a decision.

  7. Anonymous,

    Actually, I DID have the cojones to put my name on it. However for liablility reasons (I don't understand it either), the D refused to put two names in the byline. Not our decision, but their's. The article would not have run without making such a concession, despite extensive time spent negotiating to get both names in the byline. A suggestion: why don't you first get the balls to identify yourself, and secondly, know what you're actually talking about before you start making sweeping presumptions?

    As to Andrew's acknowledgement that I did most of the writing... while true, the thrust of the argument--that everybody loses when the alumni and the Board are perpetually divided into insider and outsider factions--was culled from Andrew's most recent editorial in the DFP and, admittedly, was something I had barely even thought of. I'm baffled as to where you get off thinking that he would blindly sign his name onto something that he didn't believe, especially considering that it came from me, of people.