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A Letter from Ed Haldeman, Chair of the Board of Trustees, to the Dartmouth Community

Sept. 8, 2007

Dear Members of the Dartmouth Community,

Earlier today, the Dartmouth Board of Trustees took several steps to strengthen the College's governance. Given the intense debate about this issue in recent months, I wanted to write to you as soon as possible to tell you what we've done and why. 

Let me start by saying Dartmouth has never been stronger than it is today. It's one of the most selective institutions in the country. Our commitment to teaching has never been stronger and student satisfaction is at record highs. The student-to-faculty ratio now stands at 8:1. We have expanded the faculty by 15 percent since 2000 and maintained competitive faculty compensation, reflecting the College's sharp focus on its academic programs. Once current building plans are completed, we will have invested $1.1 billion in new and renovated state-of-the-art facilities since 1998.

Like its peers, however, the College confronts new challenges. We are facing increasing competition for the finest students and the best faculty as well as for the financial resources needed to support the College. And, we operate in an increasingly complex and highly regulated environment. Having the strongest possible governance is a critical factor to ensuring Dartmouth's continued success in the years ahead.

The changes we are making preserve alumni democracy at Dartmouth by keeping eight alumni-nominated trustees. They expand the Board with eight additional charter trustees, adding alumni to meet the needs of the College. And, they address the destructive politicization of trustee campaigns that have hurt Dartmouth. These changes represent a balancing of competing interests. They are true to Dartmouth's founding principles. And, they will ensure that, moving forward, the College has a strong, effective, and independent governing body. 

Over the past three months, the Board's Governance Committee conducted a thorough review of this issue. We carefully considered input from many alumni, current and former trustees, faculty, parents, students, and other members of the Dartmouth community. We consulted with experts in college and non-profit governance and carefully evaluated practices among 30 leading colleges and universities. And, we developed a report to the full Board, which I encourage you to read for yourself at www.dartmouth.edu/governancereport

After reviewing the Governance Committee's recommendations - and after much thought and deliberation - the Board of Trustees concluded that Dartmouth should strengthen its governance by taking steps to:

  • Expand the Board by Adding More Alumni to Better Meet the Needs of the College: We are expanding the Board from 18 to 26 to ensure it has the broad range of backgrounds, skills, expertise, and fundraising capabilities needed to steward an institution of Dartmouth's scope and complexity. Dartmouth has been at a competitive disadvantage to its peers, with one of the smallest Boards of any comparable institution. We have had 18 members on our Board, versus an average of 42 trustees at peer schools and an average of 34 at other liberal arts colleges. We also are giving the Board more flexibility to select trustees who offer the specific talents and experiences that the College needs, which elections don't ensure. We will accomplish both of these goals by adding eight new charter trustee seats to the Board.
  • Preserve Alumni Democracy by Retaining Alumni Trustee Elections: We are maintaining alumni trustee elections at their current level and preserving the ability of alumni to petition onto the ballot. Dartmouth currently has the highest proportion of alumni-nominated trustees of any peer institution and is one of the few schools that allows alumni to petition directly onto the ballot. The Board believes that this gives Dartmouth's alumni an important direct voice in our governance and fosters greater alumni involvement in the College. Dartmouth will continue to have one of the most democratic trustee election processes of any college in the country.
  • Simplify the Alumni Nomination Process: Dartmouth's trustee elections have become increasingly politicized, costly, and divisive. It's not the results of these elections that are the problem, but the process itself. So we are charging the Alumni Council and the Association of Alumni to develop and implement a process for selecting alumni trustee nominees that preserves elections, maintains petition access to the ballot, and adopts a one-vote, majority-rule election process.
  • Improve Direct Board Engagement with Alumni and Other Stakeholders: A larger group of trustees representing even more diverse backgrounds will help us enhance Board engagement with key areas of the College including academic affairs, student life, and alumni relations. We are therefore creating new Board committees focused on each of these three critical areas.  This will facilitate greater interaction and communication with individuals in each of these three areas.

While we will continue to have eight trustees nominated directly by alumni, a significant number of seats on the Board, I know some will ask why we didn't simply expand the Board through an equal number of charter and alumni trustee seats. Given the divisiveness of recent elections we did not believe that having more elections would be good for Dartmouth. We also believe that the Board needs more trustees selected for the specific talents and experiences they can offer the College - which elections can't guarantee. We will still have more alumni-nominated trustees than most other schools and the opportunity for regular contested elections. But we think this is the best balancing of Dartmouth's interests.

I know there are strongly held views on all sides of this issue. And I respect that many of those views are driven above all by a desire to do what is best for Dartmouth and its students. But some of the recent rhetoric in this debate has become so harsh and divisive it is now doing harm to Dartmouth. I want to urge everyone who cares about Dartmouth to debate this issue in a reasonable and respectful way. As President Wright has said, there is far more that unites us - as friends, faculty, students, and loyal alumni of the College on the Hill -  than divides us.  Above all, we have a shared love of and dedication to Dartmouth.

One thing that has made Dartmouth an enduring and successful institution is that its history has always been one of adapting to meet new challenges and needs, while still preserving what is unique and special about Dartmouth. That is why a board originally composed of twelve New England men, half of them members of the clergy, today consists of eighteen men and women from many parts of the country and walks of life. That is why Trustees who once served for life now serve four-year terms. And, that is why elections once open only to "graduates... of at least five years standing" are now open to all alumni. 

In these and many other respects, Dartmouth's Board has made fundamental changes to its governance structure and procedures throughout the College's history. The changes we're making today are no different. They are driven by what is best for Dartmouth and its students, and what is necessary to ensure the College continues to meet the new challenges it faces in the 21st century.

I love Dartmouth.  I honestly believe there is nowhere else in the world quite like this great College. We need to protect Dartmouth and ensure it continues to prosper for future generations of students. I, and the entire Board, are intensely focused on helping Dartmouth to continue building its world-class academic program. That is what drives us forward.  And, I look forward to continuing to work with all of you - alumni, faculty, students and parents - to build on Dartmouth's unique and pre-eminent place in American higher education.

Sincerely,

Ed Haldeman
Chair, Dartmouth College Board of Trustees

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