March 28, 2007

Interesting note from T.J. Rodgers

For the record, neither I nor any entity that I control has contributed financially either directly or indirectly to the campaign of Stephen Smith '88.

To be fully candid, I did interview Smith and sign his ballot petition because I thought he was both more independent and more issue-oriented than the only other candidate I interviewed -- Alderson.

Was Rodgers interviewing him in his capacity as a Trustee (and did other Trustees—besides Zywicki and Robinson—also interview him? Or was Rodgers just trying to vet which candidate would make the best addition to the Lone Pine Succession?

Also, please note that, while the title of the op-ed (which I'm not accusing Rodgers of choosing—it was quite likely chosen for him) states that "Trustees did not help Smith with monetary contributions" but Rodgers only claimed that neither he nor entities (i.e. businesses, foundations, action groups, etc.) he controls contributed. He does not make any claims about Robinson or Zywicki or former petition trustee John Steel. An important difference.


  1. Anonymous9:04 AM

    Was Rodgers interviewing him in his capacity as a Trustee (and did other Trustees—besides Zywicki and Robinson—also interview him? Or was Rodgers just trying to vet which candidate would make the best addition to the Lone Pine Succession?

    What do you mean by this? I think there might be an interesting question buried in there, but it sounds like you're asking whether Rodgers was wearing his trustee hat or his shadowy conspiracy cap during the interview, which doesn't make much sense to me. Forgive me for being dense.

    Also, I suspect that if Rodgers made any statements about what Zywicki and Robinson did or didn't do, you'd point the fact of him speaking for the three of them as further evidence of a shadowy conspiracy.

  2. whether Rodgers was wearing his trustee hat or his shadowy conspiracy cap during the interview

    That is essentially what I'm asking, and I'm not sure why it makes sense—I'm asking this question quite straightforwardly—is it common procedure for sitting trustees to interview potential petition trustee candidates? I really don't know. I assume it could be, but I haven't heard of it in other cases.

    And if Rodgers wasn't acting on behalf of the Trustee Board, I think we do have to ask the very obvious question of why he's interviewing candidates and checking whether they're "issue-based" or not. That does sound a little conspiratorial to me, perhaps not in a grand manner, but certainly in a "hey, it looks like they're not just independent candidates with their own separate bones to pick with the administration" way.

  3. Anonymous9:46 AM

    I suppose the reason I'm confused is that I'm trying to figure out what could possibly be improper or shady about Rodgers talking to Smith. What's the scenario you're envisioning that would cause an unbiased person to cry foul?

    My guess is that there's no procedure in place and that Rodgers heard that Smith was interested in running for trustee and just picked up the phone (or signed onto Blitz). To me, this is a normal thing for someone in his position to do. If I was a trustee and I heard that someone else was trying to do what I did, I might call the guy up and offer him some advice, particularly if he was looking at taking the same "petition candidate" path that I took. I'm guessing that all of the trustee candidates have spoken with members of the administration, formally or otherwise.

    I suppose it's conceivable that Rodgers took Smith and Alderson to an underground lair and said that his secret political machine would be pressed into the service of the one he found more acceptable, but this seems a little farfetched to me.

    Again, I'm open to the possibility that the coffee hasn't kicked in yet and that I'm being insufferably dense, but I'm having trouble figuring out how or why it could be improper for Rodgers to "interview" Smith. I agree that you're asking a straightforward question, but I suppose I'm asking why the answer could possibly be of any interest.

  4. I'm not saying it's improper for a trustee to speak to a petition candidate. I'm not even saying it's improper for Rodgers to speak to a petition candidate.

    What I am saying is that Rodgers is asserting his right to give a stamp of approval based on his own opinion of how "issue-oriented" a candidate is, which pretty much seems to mean that a candidate says the same basic things Rodgers thinks. It's not just that Rodgers wanted to chat with the candidates (he makes no mention of Oberg and Wolf) to see what kind of people he might be working with or even that he wanted to offer a fellow petition candidate some advice (why then talk to Alderson?). He calls it an "interview" and I fully believe that's what it was—an interview to determine Smith's fitness for Rodgers's support.

    I've been saying for awhile that I really don't like what this kind of politicking means for Dartmouth. When you have men or women who begin to assume leadership over a particular party line, you cut out the democracy and voluntarism that are or can be the strengths of Dartmouth's alumni involvement. Here's what I said last fall:

    We now see alumni politics largely as responses to the way our trustee elections go and what those trustees are saying. Polarizing figures like Rodgers or now Peter Fahey (after his letter to The Dartmouth forecasting “dire consequences” and a “downward death spiral” for Dartmouth) have begun to speak for blocs of Dartmouth alums in a way that is destructive to the ideals that are supposed to shape this battle—-greater participation and increased democracy.

    I think Rodgers's interview is dangerous for these reasons. I don't think trustees are meant to be party leaders, and I think that's what this interviewing indicates—that Rodgers is assuming the role of a party leader.

  5. Alastair Mackay1:13 PM

    I'm still early in the process of reading up on candidates and issues, but I seem to be as dense as Anonymous, above.

    The "D" letter by Rodgers that you link seems innocuous. Rodgers even says, "On the issue of Smith's independence, I advised him not to campaign on the basis of free speech on campus because of the great progress that has been made on that front in the last two years."

    Not the sort of aside that a conspirator would make publicly, in my opinion.

    If Rodgers is gunning for Party Leader, who constitutes the Rank-and-File? I ask because now and again I've been accused on-line of various memberships, while the tedious reality is that I'm just some guy who reads, tries to think, and occasionally writes comments like this. What if my outlook is commonplace--who gets to assign the appropriate Party (Conspiracy?) Label to people like me?

    (Of course, for all you know, I could be disingenuously writing this at the behest of the Hanover Institute guy, or Rodgers, etc...)

    Anyway, even if I'm unsure where I stand, I appreciate that you are sharing your point of view by blogging about the issues and linking to informative pieces.

  6. Mr. McKay, I am absolutely sure that there are many alums who have, in various ways, supported the petition candidates but are not in any way doing so because of a party loyalty or because Rodgers or some right wing think tank is manipulating them. I'm not trying to say to anyone, "if you disagree with me, you're part of the right wing conspiracy." I think that's intellectually lazy and pretty ridiculous.

    What I am trying to say is that Rodgers seems to assume that he is leading a group of people united by a common set of beliefs about the current administration and its job performance. I've heard that he sought out Zywicki and Robinson to run last year. He has frequently written in to The D claiming to be "correcting the record" (although that's apparently not something Wright can do) not just about his own activities, but about the other petition trustees and now about Smith. I don't think it's unreasonable to argue that he sees himself as the primary figure of an anti-administration movement, even if that movement is a disconnected one.

    I don't believe that any Trustee should perform their job as if they are representing any opinion but their own. Their opinions may be informed by speaking with other alums and with students and faculty, but I think it's dangerous for Trustees to start believing that they go into board meetings as anything more than an individual. I don't think Trustees are meant to represent interest groups. I think that will turn the trustee board into an ineffective body and one that makes our school look foolish and petty.

  7. Alastair Mackay5:53 PM


    Let me flip around the first paragraph of your thoughtful response to me to see if I can show why some of your writing makes me uneasy. Are there ideas you are meaning to communicate without quite saying them explicitly?

    How does this sound --

    "I am absolutely sure that there are also many alums who have, in various ways, supported the petition candidates and are doing so because of a party loyalty or because Rodgers or some right wing think tank is manipulating them. I'm not willing to say to any given person, "while you disagree with me, I don't think you're part of some right wing conspiracy.""

    To be clear, I am not putting words in your mouth. That's a paragraph that I wrote. Yet I find its text quite compatible with the views you express on the subject.

    If you think that a Rodgers-headed right-wing conspiracy is what is animating many or most of the alumni voting for Smith--well, then that's what you think (and my paragraph may sound on point).

    If you don't believe this, and suppose instead that the great majority of folks with opinions to the 'right' of yours are motiviated by factors other than a powerful Rodgers-led conspiracy: that doesn't come across with much clarity.

    In my opinion.

    (I'll try to focus on learning more about the 4 candidates, so while I'll re-visit to read, I probably won't write in on this subject again. Thanks for this dialog.)

  8. Mr. Mackay (sorry--I just noticed I've been misspelling your name),

    I don't think your re-phrasing is an accurate summation of my position, but I can definitely see how it might seem that way.

    I suppose the farthest I'm prepared to go is to say the following:

    There is a network—however informal—of alumni who are convinced that the College is in crisis due to too much liberalism in the administration and who wish to see that situation changed in a manner that reverses many of the trends they see as threatening the College's identity and heritage. These alumni are prepared to act both publicly and privately—even secretly (as with the Phrygian Society).

    There is also a much larger number of alumni who agree with some or all of this network's positions regarding the state and trajectory of the College. These alumni are for the most part skeptical of a conservative network, but not in the least skeptical that the administration and alumni leadership has for the past ten years or so done all manner of shady things. At any rate, these alumni are much more congenial to the idea of a network of conservative alumni than they are to a liberal administration. In other words, they could care less that conservatives are setting up secret societies for the explicit purpose of undermining the administration, but will be up in arms at the suggestion that the Athletic Director worries more about Native Americans on campus than the outcome of one, non-conference hockey game.

    Finally, the conservative network aims its arguments to exploit this preference among alumni by finding relatively innocuous issues (like Josie Harper) or dredging up issues that have been resolved (such as free speech) and pushing them as evidence of an administration that basically hates most of its students. I think that sort of tactic should invalidate the candidates who use it. There is an honest way to critique the administration, but the methods Smith, Rodgers, et al. have been using aren't it.

    I'd like to ask alums to consider not just what they're voting against, but what they're tacitly approving if they vote for Smith. I don't think it's crisis time here either—it would be invalid of me merely to substitute my crisis for yours—but I do think that honesty is a principle we should hold both sides to, and I think that if we do, Smith is not worth a vote.

  9. Alastair Mackay12:09 PM


    Thanks for the preceding remarks.

    At some point, a conspiracy becomes so dilute that it is relatively indistinguishable from "people whose perspectives have much in common often wind up attracted to the same sorts of candidates." Oftentimes, as here, the reality is somewhere in the middle. It's too bad there isn't a word lacking "conspiracy's" ominous undertones to describe "a network, however informal."

    I don't know who the Phyrgian Society are. I'll presume that I can use links and Google to enlighten myself.

    Your description of the heart of the Josie Harper affair was that some get "up in arms at the suggestion that the Athletic Director worries more about Native Americans on campus than the outcome of one, non-conference hockey game." Amusingly anodyne; my recollection from reading the material posted on the web is different. In my opinion, it was an instance of self-inflicted injury caused by unthoughtful adherence to political correctness. It reflected poorly on the Dartmouth administration as a whole.

    I think it's nice when a writer presents opponents' positions in a manner that they can recognize.