Was the Darmouth 1891 Agreement a Contract?

In a communication with alumni earlier this summer, Chairman of the Board Ed Haldeman expressed his personal opinion that Dartmouth's alumni are "confused" about the 1891 Agreement that gave alumni the right to elect half of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees. He made two basic arguments: first, that there was, in fact, no "agreement," and second, that to the extent that there was an agreement it did not provide for alumni to elect half the Board going forward, but only to elect the next five members of the Board.

In a column published in The Dartmouth entitled "Honoring the 1891 Agreement" I expressed my own opinion: "And, in fact, it is an agreement, it does contain 'the concept of parity,' and it does promise alumni the right to elect half of the Board."

In a recent essay, Trustee Emeritus Kate Stith-Cabranes'73 provides her own commentary. If I read her essay correctly, she does not disagree with my conclusions regarding Chairman Haldeman's second argument—-whether, if there was an agreement, it provided for the alumni to elect half of the non-ex officio members of the Board, or whether it was understood that right extended beyond the election of the first Alumni Trustees to empower the alumni to choose their "successors" as well. I will assume, therefore, that if it is accepted that the Agreement provided for ongoing parity between the number of Charter and Alumni Trustees and that Professor Stith-Cabranes's argument is limited to the question of whether the Board has a legal obligation to honor those promises.

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