Dartmouth Constitution Battle:

Many of you saw the story in the New York Times a few weeks back regarding the proposed Dartmouth alumni constitution (and mentioned by Orin here). The Times story was triggered by a letter objecting to the cancellation of this year's elections for the alumni executive committee and the general debate over the wisdom of the constitution. Those interested in the folow-up to the Times story may want to read some of the recent commentary offered by Joe Malchow, particularly regarding the controversial decision to cancel the annual elections of the alumni executive committee. After doing some research it turns out that "annual" means, well, "annual" after all, not "every 18 months or whenever we decide to set it."

Malchow also notes the early ramping up of the pro-constitution propaganda machine through the use by proponents of college-affiliated listserves and mailings. Peter Robinson, TJ Rodgers, and I have previously criticized the use of ham-handed procedural and other tactics to try to ram through this constitution. More of this can be expected over the summer.

Malchow's commentary and sources on these issues has been collected on a special page on his web site Dartblog. For those seeking to understand what is going on here, Malchow's analysis is very insightful and he is keeping track of all of the ongoing developments.

And if you click over to Dartblog, you should also check out some of the other links there, including the thoughtful recent joint op-ed by the Presidents of the New Hampshire College Democrats and the Dartmouth College Republicans opposing the proposed constitution, which comes on the heels of a similar joint op-ed last month by the editors of the liberal Dartmouth Free Press and the Dartmouth Review as well as this online petition signed by almost 5% of the rank-and-file student body this spring.

I'll have more to say about all this later this summer, but for now I wanted to provide an update on recent developments for those who saw the Times story. The shame of it all is that until recently everyone generally seemed to agree that 100-year old constitution basically worked fine. Moreover, there will be a handful of short amendments that will be on the ballot this fall to update the constitution in light of modern technology.

Also, to ensure that there is no misunderstanding, I want to stress that anything I say about this matter is solely in my capacity as an alumnus of the College, not as a trustee or on behalf of any other trustees.

David M. Nieporent (www):

Princeton has a similar attitude towards alums who actually try to have a say in university affairs. They ban all campaigning for the alumni slots on the board of trustees, and insist we alums make decisions based solely on biographical sketches of the candidates.

But here's the Orwellian defense of such restrictions, from the University's veep (and former general counsel):
In doing so, they provide several guidelines, including the expectation that candidates will not campaign in trustee elections. This guideline arises out of two principal concerns: one for the effective workings of the board and one for the effectiveness of individual trustees.

The board works best if every trustee comes to each issue with an open mind, the ability to consider all evidence and an overarching commitment to arrive at the best decision for the University as a whole, not as an advocate for a particular constituency or point of view. Obviously, each trustee is shaped by his or her own experiences, both at and outside Princeton, which is why the election ballots provide biographies of the candidates. But trustees who arrive on the board having already staked out positions on issues without access to full information can undermine both the workings of the board and their own effectiveness if they are perceived as beholden to a position they took while campaigning or to a particular constituency that is expecting them to hold to that position.
In other words, if you campaign, you might try to live up to your promises to the people who voted for you. And even though we allow people to vote, we don't want the people they vote for to be "beholden" to those people.
7.28.2006 6:44pm
Recent Dartmouth Alum:
Go get 'em Todd. This is precisely why we elected you, T.J. and Pete.
7.28.2006 7:37pm
Steven Jens (mail) (www):
FYI, MIT has alumni slots on its board with campaign restrictions similar to Princeton's. But I think alumni board members only make up about five out of 75 seats, so it's academic anyway.
8.1.2006 12:18am
Tim Dreisbach Dartmouth '71 (mail):
Members of the Dartmouth alumni Nominating Commitee have expressed the same sentiments as those given above at Princeton. They seem to confuse the need for individuals to have some principled vision for their Alma Mater, for other alumni to consider in their election, with making tactical decisions, which can come after being elected based upon new knowledge of details. That is why candidates from internal nominating committees invariably are intelligent and career-accomplished, but impossible to distinguish from one another when it comes to pablum visions for their school.

Joe's Dartblog noted above has excellent links to constitutional events over the past year on the Hanover plain.

If Volokh readers wish to engage directly in the discussion, they should check out

If they want some insight into the incredibly egregious behavior of some working to railroad passage, they can go to the Alumni Association blog site, but be forewarned that one must read past misleading titles on the intial postings to get to the meat in underlying comments.

If any few (very very few) readers want to delve into the detailed nuances of the constitution, beyond the campaign rhetoric of its proponents, they can peruse the details on the site of the committee that drafted the proposal. Be cautioned one must search thru archive links and then some "spun" topical headings to find the mostly-unanswered concerns of the opponents.

Tim Dreisbach Dartmouth '71
8.3.2006 9:45pm