Probable Lying at Dartmouth.--

I'm kind of between Todd and Eugene on the intimidation at Dartmouth issue (though I'm closer to Todd's view). If Nick Stork's account is true, an administrator calling Nick Stork in for a talk and letting him know that they have a dossier on him and saying that "We know who your friends are" seems to be a veiled, but real threat to interfere with his life. In form, it is similar to the classic threats of physical violence indicating that "We know where you live" or indicating that the threatener knows the names and ages of the victim's children. The obvious difference is that everyone would know that the Dartmouth administrator is not threatening violence or kidnapping, but Nick Stork was left to wonder just what sort of damage Vice President Spalding was threatening. (It is, of course, possible either that Stork's account is false or that the administrator made the threat accidentally. But if an administrator disclosed to me that he had a file of information on me, including an email not sent to him, and if the administrator actually said something like "We know who your friends are," I would interpret that as a threat of harm to me or my friends, unless there were some reason for such a bizarre statement.) On the advantage of ambiguity about what one might actually do in threatening, see Daniel Ellsberg and Thomas Schelling.

On the other hand, as far as finding it intimidating to be called in by a college Vice President and harangued over criticisms that Stork posted online, I mostly agree with Eugene. Unless the administration is not supposed to be taking sides (and it isn't, see below), there is nothing wrong with an administrator calling in a student to argue with him about his views regarding a new Dartmouth alumni constitution to make it harder for write-in candidates to win a seat on the governing board of the college. One should expect people committed to the opposite side of a public dispute to be angry with you. Putting aside the implicit threats mentioned in the first paragraph (and other issues), that an administrator would call you in to argue with you suggests good faith and the willingness to take your ideas (and you) seriously, even if the arguments made were somewhat harshly worded and dismissive.

But there are two reasons that Eugene's sound principle may not apply here.

First, for whatever reasons, the administration is officially not taking sides in the dispute over the new Dartmouth constitution. Thus, leaving the issue of intimidation aside, Vice President Spalding may be in direct violation of the administration's policy and its public assurances to the Dartmouth community. This is hardly a hanging offense. Individuals may have strong feelings even when in their official capacity they should not. Perhaps it is worse that Spalding called in Nick Stork for a seemingly official meeting to harangue him in violation of the policy, rather than that a casual campus conversation simply got out of hand, but it is still an understandable offense against university policy, not a serious wrong in itself. And the victim of this wrong seems to be the university in general or its administration, rather than Stork himself, who had no a priori right not to be criticized for his views.

Did Somebody Lie?: But the last issue--one that neither Todd nor Eugene addresses--is serious: someone is very probably lying.

Compare Nick Stork's account of the meeting with Vice President Spalding's account.

Here is Stork's account (in part):

Mr. Morey responded by describing the postings on including my own, as incorrect, spiteful, and "flat-out lies." Mr. Spalding altogether agreed and began a lengthy diatribe advocating the proposed alumni constitution.

Mr. Spalding then pointed to the email I had sent to my fraternity brothers. He began quoting it to me. He became agitated. He criticized the views I expressed and the way in which I expressed them. Next Mr. Spalding began questioning me about my personal life, including my membership in student groups. He had made clear to me that he knew which groups I belonged to, what positions I held, and who my friends were. As I answered his questions, I got the distinct impression that he was checking his notes against my replies, verifying the records in a file he had compiled on me. As the meeting ended, Mr. Spalding once again attacked the "Vox Clamantis in Deserto" website. . . .

I left that room feeling extremely intimidated, as if I'd been operating under Mr. Spalding's microscope for a year and nobody had bothered to tell me that my actions were being recorded and monitored. No students at an institute of higher learning, or anywhere for that matter, should endure intimidation of any kind, especially because of their politics. Mr. Spalding's condemnation of my political views, followed by his inquisition into the personal and private details of my life, affectively threatened those freedoms which ought to be sacred.

Mr. Spalding's actions were clearly not those of an official intent on "remaining neutral on the alumni constitution." In the service of his biases, he used his position as an administrator to attack my ideas, my politics, and my privacy.

Now compare this to what Spalding told the Dartmouth newspaper (I am assuming that the newspaper quoted Spalding correctly, which is not certain):

In an interview with The Dartmouth, Spalding said he possessed no private information that had been sent through BlitzMail.

"I guess I'm cautious around the words 'that he sent privately to his fraternity brothers.' I think that if you go on the Vox Clamantis website, most of that information was there," Spalding said. "I don't remember anything private that was sent."

Later in the interview, Spalding neither confirmed nor denied that he had a copy of a Stork's BlitzMail message that was not sent specifically to him.

"I don't recall having a private e-mail that he sent to his Gamma Delt brothers," Spalding said.

Stork alleges that in the meeting, Spalding advocated for the newly proposed alumni constitution, a reversal of his constant dedication to neutrality on the subject. . . .

Spalding said that the constitution did come up during the meeting, but that he and the administration continue to remain neutral on the issue.

"I may have suggested that commenting that the administration was misleading the alumni about what students think, that that really wasn't true," Spalding said, citing student satisfaction surveys. "I certainly would have taken issue with him on that question, but I don't remember debating the constitution with him."

Now it is highly unlikely that both Nick Stork and Vice President Spalding are telling the truth.

Private Email: Spalding claims:

"I don't recall having a private e-mail that he sent to his Gamma Delt brothers."

But Spalding also says,

"I guess I'm cautious around the words 'that he sent privately to his fraternity brothers.' I think that if you go on the Vox Clamantis website, most of that information was there. . . . I don't remember anything private that was sent."

Wait a minute! How can Spalding know that "most" of what is in the private email is also available on the public website if he doesn't remember having seen the private email? I find it hard to see how Spalding could be telling the truth here.

Further, Stork is quite emphatic that Spalding quoted from the email in their meeting. Someone is probably lying about the email.

Neutrality on the New Constitution: Stork claims that Spalding argued at length in favor of the new constitution and against Stork's opposition to it. Spalding claims that he was neutral in his comments. Either Stork or Spalding is very probably lying.

Evasiveness in Wording: For the most part, as the Dartmouth newspaper points out, Spalding neither confirms nor denies Stork's account. He uses locutions such as "I don't remember" and "I don't recall," phrases commonly used by people who are being less than candid. The differences between what Stork reports and what Spalding recalls are so different that it is highly unlikely that both are telling the truth as they remember it.

Spalding is being internally consistent.

He said that he didn't recall having a "private email." That is not the same as claiming not to have any email.

It is not rational to consider an email you send to many people to be "private" absent a request to the recipients not to forward it further.

This does not conflict with the idea that this non-private email should especially not be considered private since it had no information not already available on a publicly accessible website. Thus, he doesn't recall receiving a "private email" for two reasons. (1) The email was received by many people and reforwarded and (2) the email contained no information that wasn't contained on a publicly accessible website.

Surely someone is lying. But this issue hardly warrants an investigation.
8.18.2006 8:23pm
Ken Arromdee:
Then he'd say "I read an email that you might be referring to, but I don't believe it was private".

There's no reason for him to give a weaselly "I don't recall" unless answering the question would be embarassing to him--for instance, if the email was so clearly private that denying so would make him look stupid, yet denying getting it at all could potentially be exposed as a lie.
8.18.2006 10:45pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
There is absolutely no justification for Spalding to call in Stork in order to dispute with him. It is a misuse (even an abuse) of his position and he should be cunsured for it.
8.19.2006 2:20am
Donald Kahn (mail):
Sorry - censured, not cunsured.
8.19.2006 2:22am
The General:
Question: if the administration is being "neutral" on the proposed Constitution then why did this VP feel the need to correct what he thought were misstatements or lies on the student website?

Answer: a) maybe this VP is not neutral and acting on his own in trying to get Stork to shut up; b) the administration is no neutral and this VP was sent to try to get Stork to shut up.

Either way, the VP was trying to get Stork to shut up about the Constitution.

Also, why did the alumni board cancel the annual meeting to prevent voting on their positions? something screwy is going on at Dartmouth.
8.19.2006 4:30pm
Jens Fiederer (mail) (www):
"How can Spalding know that 'most' of what is in the private email is also available on the public website if he doesn't remember having seen the private email?"

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he might -- without having seen the email -- be conjecturing that the student misinterpreted quotes from the website as quotes from the email. It is quite likely (and I have seen neither website nor email) that similar passages might have occurred in both.
8.21.2006 10:20am