Dartmouth's board of trustees recently elected two new alumni trustees, following a process in which alumni voted to nominate two of six candidates. During its last two cycles, the alumni trustee election has caused vigorous debate among alumni and volunteer leaders and generated strong commentary from many observers, including opposing viewpoints from two student-driven newspapers, The Dartmouth and The Dartmouth Review.
The board elected Peter Robinson '79, a Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and Todd J. Zywicki '88, a professor of law and Senior Research Fellow at George Mason University, as alumni trustees. The two were nominated and elected to the board as petition candidates a year after another candidate, T.J. Rodgers '70, became the first successful petitioner in twenty-four years.
Candidates nominated by the Alumni Council included Sheila C. Cheston '80, senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary of BAE Systems North America; Gregg L. Engles '79, chairman and CEO of Dean Foods Company; Richard W. Lewis '84, chief executive of Curzon Global Partners and senior managing director of IXIS AEW Europe, Curzon's parent company; and Curtis R. Welling '71, Tu'77, president and CEO of AmeriCares, a nonprofit disaster-relief and humanitarian-aid organization.
A total of 15,334 individuals-some 24.3 percent of Dartmouth's alumni body-cast 35,107 votes under the multiple-voting procedure of the nomination process. Robinson received 7,376 votes, and Zywicki received 6,844.
The petition candidates raised questions about the status of the Dartmouth undergraduate education, questions that stirred alumni sentiment and sparked spirited debate over the positions of all the candidates. They publicly expressed concern about the administration's academic priorities for teaching and research and said free speech on campus has been restricted. They questioned the College's commitment to athletics and charged that the administration was attacking fraternities and sororities.
One basis for the concern about free speech had been Dartmouth's categorization by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) as having a speech code. On May 9, after a series of communications between the College and FIRE clarifying Dartmouth's support of free speech, FIRE announced a change in the College's rating, placing it in the ranks of institutions exercising leadership roles.
The experience of the last two alumni-trustee nomination processes has led to some conversations among alumni groups about the procedures that govern the nomination and election processes, particularly the rules and regulations about campaigning and the level of alumni participation.
The Alumni Council, meeting on campus May 19-21, passed a resolution seeking information on the class and graduate school voting percentages in trustee elections, asserting that having such information will help in finding ways to improve participation in trustee elections.
The council also had a progress report from a joint Alumni Association/Alumni Council task force that has been working on a proposal to merge the two organizations, a move that could bring some changes to the alumni trustee nomination process, and councilors spent a large part of their time discussing issues of communication, alumni enfranchisement, and the implications of the outcome of the alumni trustee election.
The Dartmouth Review, which had supported the petition candidates, summarized the outcome after the results were in, terming the election of Robinson and Zywicki "perhaps the most significant event in the institution's recent history." The editorial continued: "As heartening as Robinson and Zywicki's victory may be, nothing has been accomplished yet. Indeed, the most pressing issue at the College has barely been addressed: improving the quality of education and restoring some semblance of a core curriculum."
The Dartmouth, which had previously endorsed two of the candidates on the Alumni Council slate, published an editorial saying that "the tenor of debate in the election greatly concerns us," and that many allegations made during the nomination process reveal an ignorance of the situation on campus. "In short," the editorial continued, "the College is not falling apart. There is no speech code at Dartmouth. The Greek system has not ended as we know it. While there are still issues worthy of great concern-oversubscription [of classes], for example-the general state of the College is strong."
As the election results were announced, the newly chosen trustees, the chair of the board, and the president all expressed the desire to work toward Dartmouth's progress. Robinson and Zywicki both expressed enthusiasm about working with Board Chair William H. Neukom '64 and President James Wright and about contributing to the College's future. Neukom said that the board values a range of perspectives in its deliberations and that he is pleased to have the two working toward Dartmouth's preeminence in higher education. Wright noted Robinson's and Zywicki's deep affection for Dartmouth and said he looks forward to working with them to strengthen the College.
"I am personally very grateful to all six of these distinguished candidates for their desire to serve Dartmouth, and to all the alumni who voted in the election," Wright added. "Alumni interest in, and engagement with, the institution are critical to Dartmouth's ability to offer the best educational experience in the country."
An analysis of the trustee nomination and election process will be published in the next issue of Dartmouth Life. More information on the trustees-elect and the other candidates is available at the Dartmouth News website.
By WILLIAM WALKER '71A
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Last Updated: 5/30/08