June 22, 2012

U.Va. Board May Reinstate Sullivan

Last week, we discussed the ongoing drama in Charlottesville, Va., following the ouster of the University's president Teresa Sullivan. Today, CBS reports that the Board of Visitors will meet next week to consider reinstating Ms. Sullivan, and the board-appointed interim president announced that he will stand aside until that meeting concludes.

We at Little Green Blog anticipated that faculty pressure would force the board to reconsider its decision to fire the president. If the Visitors defer to the faculty on this issue, we also expect they listen to faculty demands for the board's rector, Helen Dragas, to resign.

Addendum (26 June): The Visitors meet today to decide on reinstatement. Given intense student and faculty pressure on them to reinstate, the board may not have much of a choice. The board would only intensify the dissenters' passions were they to reject the faculty senate's requests after getting hopes up that might reverse course If, on the other hand, the board returns Mrs. Sullivan to her office, the rector will almost certainly have to tenure her own resignation.

June 18, 2012

The Virginians, They Smell Blood

Image courtesy of the Lee Foundation
When Helen Dragas, rector of the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia, hurled the blade that decapitated the University's administration, she did so with the rightful impunity earned by her rank and office. In the week following the announcement that the Visitors were forcing Teresa Sullivan to step down as the U.Va. president, Ms. Dragas unapologetically ingeminated the contention that Ms. Sullivan simply would not move quickly enough to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

During most of the past week, protests erupted amongst faculty and staff. Members of the administration were, however, largely silent, offering implicit endorsements of the board's authority if not its decision writ large.

On Sunday, the University's chief academic officer, Provost John Simon, broke that uneasy silence. In an address to the faculty senate, Mr. Simon voiced displeasure at the Board's decision, even suggesting he may leave the University if the Visitors botch the process further. "The Board actions over the next few days," Mr. Simon intoned,  "will inform me as to whether the University of Virginia remains the type of institution I am willing to dedicate my efforts to help lead."

Mr. Simon's paired his pronouncement with a personal expression of obligation to his sons, to provide them  "personal examples of courage during a crisis."

Mr. Simon's sentiments are undoubtedly heartfelt, but they also come at the same time as two important wrinkles to the tale unfolding in Charlottesville. One of the most prolific givers to the University, Hunter Smith, has requested that Mr. Dragas and her colleagues step down from the Board. And word this morning suggests that some Visitors requested Ms. Sullivan to remain at the University despite her having agreeing to resign last week.

Viewed in context, Mr. Simon's remarks suggest that U.Va.'s leadership smells blood. The board, seemingly impervious to the fusillade of attacks from faculty, students and media alike, has begun to show the extent of its injuries, and they are deep indeed.

The board will need to staunch the bleeding, but doing so presents a spate of unpalatable options. Quelling the siege by faculty and students would almost certainly require reinstating Ms. Sullivan; but doing so undermines the Visitors' authority and sours any potential for future cooperation between Ms. Sullivan and the board charged with overseeing her. Standing pat would reinforce the absolute authority of the Visitors to manage the University and its employees, but threatens to tear the campus asunder and instigate a mass exodus of top faculty and administrators.

Ms. Dragas hatched a daring plan -- normatively correct or otherwise -- to oust the University's president. Such is her prerogative. Unfortunately for her, Ms. Dragas seems to have underestimated the passions she would face in doing so. The faculty senate met with the Visitors this morning and demanded Ms. Dragas and her conspirators resign, adding to the chorus of donors and state officials that has drowned out Ms. Dragas's few defenders.

We at Little Green Blog struggle to imagine how she reasonably resists the call. By all accounts, her plot teeters on the precipice of failure, her board's unified front is fissuring, and the din of her opponents grows louder by the day. This riveting chapter will likely be the last one Ms. Dragas contributes to the history of the University of Virginia.

Addendum: One source reports that Ms. Dragas is digging in her heels and hiring a public relations firm to help her survive the storm. The move will likely only increase faculty displeasure as it positions Ms. Dragas not as a steward of the University but as an aggressor to it.

June 17, 2012

Consequences of an Active Board

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post
The Board of Visitors (i.e., the trustees) of the University of Virginia asked President Teresa Sullivan to resign about a week ago. The board hatched the plan over several months, led by the rector Helen Dragas, but apparently did not inform the University's president until June 8. The furor following pushed the faculty to declare no confidence in the board, produced widespread student protest and has hatched some intriguing conspiracy theories.

Every story about the dismissal -- including the latest investigative piece by the Washington Post --  reinforces the truth that we know almost nothing about why the board terminated Ms. Sullivan's presidency only two years after it started.

The kerfuffle unraveling in Charlottesville does, however, show the consequences of an active board of trustees. The rector of the Visitors, and a few of her colleagues, laid plans for dismissing Ms. Sullivan months ago. Intriguingly, the Visitors did not see fit to consult the faculty, or to discuss the degree of their displeasure with Ms. Sullivan until asking for her resignation.

With only the opaque statements of the board in hand, we at Little Green Blog cannot offer any editorial position on Ms. Sullivan or those who crusaded  against her. We find it a dangerous combination, though, for a board to be so reactionary without corresponding levels of transparency. If the board found itself at ideological loggerheads with Ms. Sullivan and her staff, it should have elucidated the nature of the conflict instead of hiding behind closed doors.

Dartmouth alumni should not ignore the story as it unfolds, for it shows plainly the importance of trustees' fiduciary responsibilities. Alumni of the University of Virginia do not enjoy the same privilege as the sons and daughters of Dartmouth to elect a portion of the Board. Placing members on the Board who value transparency, and who will consider alumni, student and faculty concerns before taking such drastic action is paramount.

The Board of Visitors at U.Va. took an active role in the institution's governance, instead of serving as a rubber stamp for Ms. Sullivan's policies. Dartmouth's trustees should show such mettle in dealing with the College's next interim president and her successor. But the College's board should couple that engagement with more deference for the views of those most most vested in the College's fate.

June 12, 2012

Dartmouth's Endowment, Past & Present

Two weeks ago, a Dartmouth administrator was quoted in The D defending the College against criticisms launched by the group styling itself the Friends of Eleazar Wheelock. Responding to claims that mismanagement has led Dartmouth's endowment to underperform compared to peer institutions, the College's spokesman Justin Anderson suggested that the endowment has, in fact,
Overall, Dartmouth’s endowment has performed in the top-quartile for the 10-year period ending June 30, 2011 within three applicable universes of higher education and/or non-profit institutions.

Figure 1: Dartmouth Growth in Comparison (Enlarge)

Joe Asch '77 over at Dartblog rightly questions this assertion. But given Mr. Asch's tendency to question -- and often criticize -- any claim by College officials, we at Little Green Blog wanted to examine Mr. Anderson's words for ourselves.

What we discovered suggests that Mr. Asch has stumbled across a molehill, but not quite a mountain. Mr. Anderson intentionally misleads by asserting that the Dartmouth endowment has not performed worse since 2000 than it did in the decade previous; but taken in sum, the endowment has not performed too poorly.

On it's face, Mr. Anderson's claim may be true -- it is hard to judge, because he does not supply the "universes" of other institutions to which he is comparing the Dartmouth endowment. And, as as they do far too frequently, The D's reporter failed to investigate further. We find utterly clear, however, the preposterousness of comparing the College to a bunch of universities and other nonprofits, regardless of size or function.

June 10, 2012

Congratulations to the Senior Class

We welcome the Class of 2012 into the family of College alumni, and congratulate them on their outstanding achievements. We look forward to continued fellowship with you, and wish that only the best of luck betide you as you wade into the world beyond the Hanover plain. Stay strong, keep the faith, and remain engaged and active participants in Dartmouth solidarity.

June 9, 2012

"Unconventional" Is An Apt Ajective

As I alluded to in yesterday's news roundup, Isaiah Berg '11 has some intriguing ideas on reforming the College's Greek system. Mr. Berg calls his prescriptions "unconventional" but I call them strange. Just downright bizarre.

(Consequently, Mr. Asch seemed to agree -- and in an interesting editorial move, decided to argue against his blogging partner in a rejoinder post.)

I will declare at the outset: I do not intend to asperse Mr. Berg. In fact, I genuinely respect him and his views. He is a high caliber intellectual -- and did I mention he biked from Alaska to Argentina? Seriously, check it out at Bound South.

But the reforms he proffers would do nothing to curb binge drinking in fraternity houses -- and may make it worse. Let's just review his points one-by-one:

1. Replace beer cans with beer kegs. Yes, Mr. Berg is right that reducing can consumption benefits the environment. As far as reducing binge drinking, however, the suggestion has little to offer. Per ounce, keg beer is cheaper than canned; frat brothers would find it equally easy to disperse; and the money saved from purchasing cans could go toward various methods of cooling the beer. (And let's be honest, most Keystone consumed during pong isn't particularly cold anyway.)

2. Cultivate beer connoisseurship. In other words, force fraternities to serve expensive beers. Setting students' "thankful" palates aside, the policy would not work. First, how exactly would the policy be structured? Would it mandate a minimum cost to kegs served? Would it only condone certain brands? Even ironing out those wrinkles, enforcement remains a problem. Fraternity brothers and the beer purveyors supplying their hooch would find workarounds, and at the very least, fraternities would just sequester the cheap beer until clear of S&S officers.

Second, let's allow Mr. Berg's assumption that fraternities only serve classier libations. As the author himself points out, these drinks contain about twice as much alcohol by volume as Keystone Light. Would fraternities serve them more slowly, given their higher cost? Perhaps. But when they don't, the results could be even higher blood alcohol contents than before. 

3. Make fraternities compete for cash prizes. Okay... I suppose building community through College-wide competitions is nice, and it might even produce interesting new ideas toward solving campus problems. But Dartmouth is infamous for the work-hard-party-harder attitude. Even directly providing incentives to reducing alcohol consumption would likely fail. Money in fraternities exists, in large part, to support social functions. Give the fraternities more money and you'll provide them more resources to, surreptitiously if necessary, host ragers. 

June 8, 2012


 More good press for the College: the New Hampshire Attorney General is investigating claims by anonymous whistleblowers that Dartmouth trustees inappropriately favor their own firms in investing College funds. Dartmouth and Brown apparently lead peer institutions in investing with trustees.

 Commencement ceremonies begin Sunday morning as the Class of 2012 joins the ranks of College alumni. Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, will deliver the commencement address. About 40 members of the Class of '12 were invited to join TFA's ranks this year. 
Will outgoing President of the College Jim Kim still deliver the valedictory to the seniors?  We cannot find the answer, but for the sake of the graduates, we hope not. 

 In an interesting breech of general blog etiquette, Dartblog infights over frat reforms. Isaiah Berg '11 suggests some "unconventional" reforms for Greek life, but Mr. Asch remonstrates, arguing that Mr. Berg's prescriptions are small potatoes.
 In fairness, Isaiah's ideas provoke incredulity. Make fraternities serve good beer? What? (More on this to come.)

 Here's an old entry I just stumbled across by Professor Andrew Samwick on the purpose of a college education, and the New York Times piece to which he is responding.

 In actual good news, Dartmouth rugby rocks the national championships for the second consecutive year.

 Kathleen Mayer '11 has a nice piece on commencement over at Dartblog. She has a pleasant writing style -- eloquent, and only occasionally bordering on altiloquent -- and provides nice contrast to Mr. Asch's more bombastic writing style.