Joseph Asch ’79 For Dartmouth Trustee:

Another Dartmouth Alumni Trustee election is upon us.  Voting starts tomorrow.  And even though the Board of Trustees eliminated parity a few years ago, alumni still elect one-third of the non ex-officio trustees.  This year there are two seats open.  Journalist Morton Kondracke is running unopposed for one seat.  Petition candidate Joe Asch ’79 and John Replogle ’88 are contesting the other seat.  I was pleased to sign Joe’s petition to obtain access to the ballot and I will vote for him tomorrow.  I hope you will too.  Joe will make a superb trustee.  His website is here.

The case for voting for Joe Asch is made well by current trustees T.J. Rodgers, Peter Robinson, and Stephen Smith in this letter.  I heartily associate myself with their comments but would like to add some additional words.

I see three characteristics of Joe that make him ideally suited to be an alumni trustee: independence, knowledge, and judgment.  I was classmates with John Replogle but I don’t really know him so my comparisons are based primarily on what I’ve read on his website.

Independence: Based on my experience on the board one personal attribute stands out above all else in serving as a trustee–independence.  The Dartmouth boardroom is an extraordinarily conformity-inducing environment and it takes a strong sense of independence in order to keep from being assimilated into its group-think.  Joe has shown that he is willing to support the board and administration when it is in the right but equally willing to raise questions and speak up when appropriate.  Let me make this clear: if you want a rubber-stamp cheerleader trustee, then Joe Asch is not your candidate.  If you want a trustee who is going to ask hard questions, reach considered judgment, and collect deep reliable information on the effects of Dartmouth policies on actual students and faculty, then Joe is your guy.

Alumni should not forget that the current budget crisis at Dartmouth is not unique–it is actually the second time in a decade that the Trustees have managed Dartmouth into a major financial hole (the first one led to the swim team debacle).  Dartmouth needs trustees who are going to be willing to stand up, if necessary, to prevent this from happening again.  Joe blogs at Dartblog where he offers commentary and facts on Dartmouth.  As can be readily seen from reading there, Joe knows the ins and outs of the College’s budget better than anyone I know (including all but one trustee (T.J. Rodgers) with whom I served).  He had repeatedly pointed out areas of waste and bloat.  He also offers praise where appropriate and criticism where appropriate, including his outspoken support for President Kim’s efforts to bring the College budget back into balance.  He supported the former Dean of the College Tom Crady’s efforts to reform the student services bureaucracy and to make the Dean’s office more responsive to student needs.  He is a friend and supporter of Dartmouth’s coaches and athletic programs.  He has been entrepreneurial in his philanthropy, including funding a well-regarded student writing program.  Joe is also willing to tackle issues such as alcohol enforcement and class over subscription that are important to students and faculty but which can be controversial.  This is exactly the sort of courage, creativity, and intellect that the board needs.

Knowledge: Joe would bring an incredible depth of knowledge, both qualitative and quantitative to the board.  He lives in Hanover and has formed friendships with many students and alumni over the years.  He has audited over 30 classes over the past several years.  He routinely has students and professors over to his home (I was a frequent guest during my stint as a trustee).  He understands Dartmouth mission and has the kind of on-the-ground intelligence that one can gain only through those sorts of interactions with students, faculty, and administrators.  This sort of information, responsibly used, cannot help but benefit the board’s decision-making.

When I went on the board in 2005 I had a number of pre-existing friendships with faculty members that I had developed through my academic career.  I found the information that I obtained through those relationships to be invaluable in understanding what was really happening at Dartmouth (and which didn’t always match the official story).  For example, the petition trustees were raising questions about the financial health of Dartmouth and budgetary priorities for several years at a time when the other members of the board (and the alumni establishment) were telling us that we were wrong.  Subsequent events, of course, have proven us out–especially President Kim’s acknowledgment that there is a long-term unsustainable structural budget deficit.

Joe’s depth of knowledge of Dartmouth’s inner workings, combined with his independence, would make him an incredible asset.  Mr. Replogle is a CEO of a trendy division of the Chlorox Corporation and, from what I can tell, seems to believe that it is micro-managing for trustees who actually talk to students, faculty, and administrators and make up their own minds about what works and what doesn’t.  It reminds me of the comment of Judge Jose Cabranes, who said of trustees at the universities where he has served on the board, “No one will be surprised to learn that business executives (who make up a large part of all university boards), for example, prefer to be the sort of trustees that they would hope to have on their own boards—namely, they prefer ‘team players’ who do not disturb the peace of the executive, who recognize the limits of their own competence (limits that are especially visible in an academic setting), and who recognize the effective limits of their authority.”  I don’t know whether that is Mr. Replogle’s view, but his statements and endorsements on his website are not encouraging that he will be willing to resist the party line when necessary.

Again, if alumni prefer a trustee who is simply a blank slate who will be content just to fly in four times a year and take as their sole source of information the official line of the administration and the board majority, then Joe Asch is not your man.  If you are looking for someone who is going to collect information from a variety of sources, including personal experience, then Joe is the sort of engaged trustee that I think Dartmouth needs.

Judgment: Finally, Joe has excellent judgment in deciding what is right for Dartmouth’s future.  Again, this flows from independence, intellect, and knowledge.

First, Joe supports the continuation of parity between elected and appointed trustees as provided in the 1891 Agreement.  Mr. Replogle has waffled on this issue and now come up with some sort of scheme of appointing young alumni to the board.  The bottom line here is clear: the traditional balance of parity served Dartmouth exceedingly well for over a century.  There is nothing wrong with traditional parity and I’m afraid that Mr. Replogle’s effort to conjure up an alternative seems to be nothing more than a transparent cheap political ploy to straddle the issue by trying to appear to be in favor of parity while at the same being afraid to endorse traditional parity, which would put him at odds with the incumbent board majority.  That sort of political fence-sitting does not bode well for an ability to resist the pressures of the board majority to toe the party line.  Indeed, this political calculation is exactly the opposite of the transparency and accountability that Dartmouth needs more of from its leadership.

Parity makes use of the full wisdom of the alumni and through the petition process promotes the election of independent trustees.  Joe is right on this crucial issue–and as Dartmouth’s financial catastrophe has pointed out, the need for independent trustees of colleges and universities is more important now than ever.

Second, Joe understands that promoting dual excellence in teaching and research among Dartmouth’s faculty is both crucial and attainable.  Because Joe has actually been taking classes and has befriended students and faculty over the years, he knows who are the excellent teachers and he knows who are the leading scholars.  He has the trust of many students, faculty, and coaches.  He has been a relentless advocate for promoting the excellence of Dartmouth’s faculty and prioritizing the investments necessary to bring that about.  He has been critical at the departure of some of Dartmouth’s star faculty members, such as Mike Gazzaniga or Walter Sinnott-Armstrong.  Most striking to me (as a professional academic) is that Joe actually knows who are the stars on the faculty and their areas of scholarly expertise.  I was always stunned at how little the non-petition trustees actually knew about the Dartmouth faculty, the work they were doing, and what they needed to succeed.

Joe, by contrast, by being in their classes and interacting with faculty on an ongoing basis is exceedingly knowledgeable about the unique challenges and opportunities of being the most undergraduate-oriented institution in the Ivy League and how to promote dual excellence in teaching and research.  He understands which departments realize this and what they have done in order to prosper.  And he realizes that maintaining this requires a razor-sharp focus on Dartmouth’s financial and intellectual priorities.

For those three reasons–independence, knowledge, and judgment–I am voting for Joe Asch for trustee.  Alumni really do have a choice here between an establishment CEO-type candidate who seems to define his mission as being a good “team player” (in Judge Cabranes’s words) or an independent, courageous, well-informed candidate who supports traditional parity for alumni-elected trustees.

Note: Do to a technical error with accessing the blog today an earlier version of this post was inadvertently published earlier.

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