June 2, 2006

Dear Mr. Anonymous Insightful Commenter person:

I think your accusations about my intelligence and integrity have been adequately addressed in the comments section here. If Connor had my back here (I'm not even sure he agrees with me, but hell), this is the point where he would call you a dome unit and I would laugh.

But to the meat of your comment, which Chris kindly posted for you:

When you say that the Constitution will provide "a structured voice for alumni to air their issues and opinions to the Trustees," I hear "will encourage a bureaucratic power-grabbing tug-o-war between the Lone Piners and the current alumni 'leaders.'" I don't really see how this is a desirable outcome, but please let me know what the benefits of infuriating retired conservatives are. See, they have both time and resentment on their hands, and that's not something I would want to try to incite. Now, if you think you can win, well good for you. But even if you could, I'd still be against you because I don't think you can deliver a twentieth of what the College needs.

The point is, I don't feel like more structure is going to help the College address the areas that I believe are its problems. Do you think a representative body is really going to form a cohesive opinion about how to deal with sexual assault on campus? Or will it be able to come together to agree upon and then expound the merits of creating an Asian/Asian-American Studies Department or an independent Middle-Eastern Studies Department? Will it be able to formulate a program that improves student writing? All of that is far, far from likely. O sure, you could probably get enough of your representatives on board for things like recommending more funding be given to club sports. But seriously, what needs of the students do you find that your representative body will be able to meet?

Again, I assert that passionate alumni interested in a specific cause and working through student (or even faculty) groups is and will always be much more effective than trying to get some insular body of alums to first identify the actual problems on campus and then offer valuable suggestions to the Trustees, who will then try to order or cajole the administration into some (probably modified) course of action. When I went to the Asian-American Studies Conference this term, I overheard the keynote speaker Gary Okihiro (who has been enormously successful at setting up a number of incredible programs at both Cornell and Columbia) speaking to a Dartmouth alum about how to organize support for the current effort to form an Asian-American Studies department. Guess what, he didn't mention forming a "structured voice" representing all Dartmouth alums. That's a strategy guaranteed to induce stagnation, torpor, and ineffectuality.

As for the other point—the argument that Joe and The Review have been making about the changes to the petitioning process has nothing really to do with how many nominated candidates there are. The issue is that petition candidates must announce their candidacy before the Nominating Committe chooses their candidates, meaning the whole point of petitioning—reacting to a poor choice of candidates—is lost. That is a serious flaw, and although it seems right now that it is specifically designed with the Lone Pine Revolution in mind, it will equally affect anyone on the left who is championing a cause or causes that the Nominating Committee either ignores or opposes. Justice isn't always fairness (sorry, Rawlsians), but fairness is occasionally pragmatically better.


  1. It's not that I don't have your back, Seal, inasmuch as a 5'9" 140lb. dude ever could, but more that I have no fucking clue what any of you are talking about. Truth be told, the last time I gave any conscious thought to it was when TJ Rodgers got elected, and I figured he was an asshole cause the Review interviewed him, so I called my mom, who confirmed that he was an asshole, and that was pretty much the end of it.

    Your criticisms seem pretty valid though; my default position on programs which have telelogical constructions concentrating on "providing a structured forum" or "framework for voicing opinions" or whatever. But I'm also not sure what the fuck a panel of trustees are going to do about anything.

    Regarding your sexual assault example, here's the situation as I see it: there's a bunch of dudes on campus who are always raping everybody, only we can't kick them out because if we do then we lose all our alumni donations and go broke. So the problem seems to stem from the fact that most of our undergraduates and alumni are huge assholes.

    Also, with Asian-American studies, as I understand it most of the push for those programs were centered around motivated undergraduates and maybe some administrators, and the trustees weren't that involved at all, because the decision was already made before it got to them. I guess my question is, what the fuck do the trustees actually do, and more to the point, what impact are they going to ever have on anything we care about?

  2. Anonymous11:37 AM

    Hello again. Hope you had a nice weekend. Exams over? How'd you do?

    I have to agree with you that the ideological tug-of-war of which you speak is not a desirable outcome, but I don't think you can avoid it right at this moment. You can concede, if you want to do that, but there are a lot of alumni out there who do not want Dartmouth to capitulate to a perspective that they feel is regressive. Of course, that is distracting, and potentially destructive, but to ask alumni not to care about the place is to be naive. I don't believe you are suggesting that they not care, but to ask them to not get involved, or not to lobby for their views, is not something they want to hear. In fact, woe be to Dartmouth when they stop listening.

    The issues you have raised are all important ones. They deserve attention and a response. However, these are on-campus issues more properly raised by students and faculty than by alumni. The alumni, I believe, admit that they do not know as much about individual issues and the proper distribution of scarce resources as the administration, so they address their energies to broader perspectives. (Not all the time, to be sure, but most of the time.) If you wanted to bring these matters to the attention of the alumni representatives, you could choose to do that. Have you thought about raising these issues with the Alumni Council?

    I think the student body has 2-3 representatives on the Alumni Council. I also think they make presentations to the Alumni Council. You could lobby one of those students to raise these issues with the Alumni Council because the alumni members have committees who meet with campus administrators when they are here. It's another way of getting your issues heard.

    My own belief is that the reason the student body cannot lobby the administration effectively is that it cannot get enough agreement on issues to decide upon an effective course of action. Do you have any idea how much power the student body could wield if it agreed on something, presuming it was legal and ethical? If you had a just cause, got agreement on a plan, and went public with it, you'd definitely have everybody's attention. As you have noted before, the school does not want to get into a negative publicity situation, and a public fight with the student body could be shaped like that.

    What I am trying to say in too many words, is that your issues are not really with the alumni. Also, you have not explored how you might use them, through the Alumni Council, as an ally. Want an example? Ask the swimmers if the Alumni Council helped them several years ago when they were facing elimination. That may not be the example that rings your bell, but it makes the point.

    Bear with me for a little while longer because your last paragraph is again as misguided as it is important. The whole point of the petition process for Trustees is not about reacting to poor choices for nominated candidates. It's hard to follow that line of reasoning. Are you going to claim that the Alumni Council's candidates for the past two elections were poor choices? On what grounds? Their resumes or their positions on Dartmouth? Look at the position statements they put forward in support of their candidacies. Most of them sounded just like the petitioners.

    What the petitioners don't want, besides having to announce their candidacies in advance as that might appear to commit them, is to lose their status as a petitioner and the structural advantage they have under the existing system. What if a petitioner announced a priori that she was going to be a candidate, and the Alumni Council agreed that she ought to be a candidate and nominted her? She would have to run head-to-head against another candidate rather than using the vote-splitting that is currently happening.

    I should think that the Alumni Council would seriously like to consider qualified candidates, so what's wrong with a petitioner being nominated if she is qualified by their standards. Nothing, except that it eliminates the label of "petitioner" and all that conveys both symbolically and substantively.

    Further, if an alum saw the slate and didn't like it, she would only have to wait until the following year to announce her candidacy. What is the problem with that? Trustees serve for about a decade now, so there is plenty of time to confront positions on issues. In fact, the argument over the petition process risks focussing attention only on the Alumni Trustees when there are some 20 members on the full board. It's not about "poor choices;" it's about values. If the values of the full board make someone feel as if she could do a better job, then she should apply as a petition candidate year-after-year until her opinion changes.

    In other words, don't be fooled by this bogus issue on restricting the petition candidate's ability to react to a "poor choice." That's a red herring. Seriously, is someone is only willing to run after the others have declared, that should be a tip-off that her views and values need to be explored much more fully. For starters, ask her why she wasn't willing to nominate herself in advance, but be prepared for a blast of b.s. in response. If nothing else, watch out for petitioners who say they will stand up for their constituents, meaning the values of those who voted for them. Trustees have a legal responsibility only to the public trust with which they have been entrusted, which is basically to you and future students.

    I would close by suggesting that all candidates, both liberal and conservative – and the vast majority who are probably somewhere in between the extremes – ought to be willing to declare their intentions openly and in advance. If you want to preserve for them the opportunity to react to earlier choices, no matter how well or fully those choices were considered, then you are going to preserve the very public contesting of positions on Dartmouth, and the potential damage it may inflict on the current President or his successors, that you decried in an earlier posting. Whether or not I "infuriate retired conservatives" is moot in that they are not going to go away. Nor should they, necessarily, but their positions do need to be challenged in a constructive manner. That's the essence of a liberal institution, and it is the structure for alumni debate that I believe the new constitution is trying to create.

  3. anonymous, i'll get to your comments tonight (or more likely tomorrow). but i have to ask, if you care enough about this issue to write such a lengthy response, why don't you offer a name? I don't have an anonymous commenting filter and I'm not going to start one, but it might help your case if you actually stepped forward as a person instead of a block of unattributed text.

  4. Anonymous10:51 PM

    Oh, Andrew! It's always about the body, isn't it? Here I was thinking we had a nice Platonic relationship, and there you are echoing that dude from the Review. Too bad because I had hoped you would like me for my mind.

  5. Anonymous11:45 PM

    Andrew, face it: you need to reconsider your position. I hope you're not above doing this. Ever since you wrote your op-ed and took your stand on this issue--which was, to be frank, rather rash--you've been inundated with very persuasive rebuttals of your argument from all kinds of angles by what are clearly many intelligent, reasonable commenters on here. The only people on your side, it seems, are a vocal group of activist conservatives. Have you actually thought about the possibility that you might be wrong here?

    I commend your skepticism generally, but I think your "devil's advocate" bent has obscured you from realizing how practical and sensible this constitution really is.

  6. To the second comment:

    1) You're right--I'm not asking alums not to care. I'm glad they care. And, honestly, I'm glad they get involved, but my understanding of "being involved" is totally precluded by the Alumni Constitution. I feel the Constitution will insulate alums from the College itself and especially the students, and the only real involvement will be between two groups of alums who hold each other in mutual suspicion and contempt. I feel that you all will be interacting only with the opposing viewpoint and not at all with what's really going on here.

    2) I don't feel it really makes sense for alums to be confessedly ignorant of the individual issues of what goes on in students' lives and still to be able to make decisions of "broader perspective," as you say. I feel that this is not only totally unfair, but inefficient, harmful, and thoroughly ridiculous.

    3) I keep trying to tell you: I don't like committees. I don't like bureaucracy. So, no, I don't want to talk to the student reps on Alumni Council. I want to talk to some concerned alumni individually and find out what they think and what they can do, not what the blessings of some committee will be nor whether they can overcome the inertia inherent in bureaucracy.

    4) I agree that some broad consensus among students would likely afford positive results. I'll probably spend a lot of next year figuring out how to do that.

    5) Okay, so you want to get rid of the structural advantage of the tag 'petitioner.' Alright, well how about junking the entire nominating process in general--make everyone run under the guidelines set forth for petitioners.
    More to the point, though, you don't think that it says something that the only three successful petition candidates have occurred in the past two years? And I don't think it says the system is broken. I think it says that you better find new ways of selling your candidates.

    6) You're absolutely right; the petition process is about values, but that doesn't mean it's not also about poor choices. Choice enters into it because alums are able to elect part of the Trustee Board, and therefore the public trust cannot be defined outside of some sort of democratic structure and under somewhat democratic values.

    A poor choice in a democratic structure is one that fails to generate enough approval to win. You've made poor choices. Make better ones.

    7) Retired conservatives do go away. They die. The makeup of the alumni body will greatly change proportionately over the next fifteen years. There are obviously many vocal conservatives younger than the post-50th-anniversary men, but every new class brings a wave of young men and women you should be targeting for future leadership and service. I hope you're doing that and not just tinkering with a shitty document. For Dartmouth's sake.