Sunday, December 30, 2007

Samwick Discusses Financial Aid

Professor Andrew Samwick, the director of the Rockefeller Center, has an interesting discussion about the potential effects of Harvard's financial aid changes on his Vox Baby blog.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"A New Paradigm"

In an article in tomorrow's New York Times about the ramifications of Harvard's decision to expand its financial aid for middle class students, New York State Senator Kenneth LaValle says that, "They [Harvard] created a new paradigm. People will pay attention to it."

LaValle is right. Harvard's move should, and already has, changed the conversation about financial aid at Dartmouth. As the article discusses, many colleges are concerned that Harvard's decision will force them, because of limited resources, to focus on middle class students at the expense of lower income students. After all, most colleges have far smaller endowments than Harvard does. Dartmouth's endowment per student is 42% as large as Harvard's, certainly a limitation on the flexibility and potential growth of our financial aid offerings.

But the real question at hand is our priorities. Compared with the construction of new buildings and increases in administration and faculty size, how much emphasis is Dartmouth placing on prioritizing financial aid? A key word that gets used around Parkhurst is "competitiveness" - that when considering financial decisions, the ultimate goal should be maintaining and improving our standing relative to our peers. It seems to me that this has been the impetus for the construction of the new dorms and academic buildings. And they are nice - I live in one of them. But if we don't keep Dartmouth affordable, none of that is going to matter. If prospective students simply cannot afford to attend, or if they have a better offer from one of our peers, the nicest buildings aren't going to get them to attend. I certainly think that financial aid is definitely a top priority for the college - we are definitely in a small group when it comes to our need-blind admission policy - but I wonder if it is as much of a priority as it can be, as it should be. Financial aid shouldn't be the top priority only because it is the right thing to do, or because it is what students, families, and alumni want, it is also where the battle for "competitiveness" has gone.

Mental Health at Cornell

Today's Wall Street Journal has a front page article about Cornell's efforts to improve the way they handle mental health problems among their students. Timothy Marchell, Cornell's associate director of health services and director of mental-health initiatives, has been looking for innovative approaches, such as enlisting dorm custodians to report warning signs, having no-appointment consulting hours by therapists, and putting together an "alert team" of administrators, counselors, and police that meets weekly to discuss students' problems. In doing so, Cornell has been moving into territory that many other colleges avoid for privacy concerns. For example, Cornell has been informing parents about concerns, utilizing a financial dependency exemption to student-privacy laws.

While I think that Cornell may be overstepping student privacy in an undesirable manner, I think that the article does a great job of raising the importance of mental health on college campuses - something that is certainly an issue here at Dartmouth. There has been a lot of concern among students recently about the availability of mental health counseling and resources. From what I hear, students are often given appointments weeks away, when they need assistance sooner. In the Student Assembly, last year's Student Life committee set improving mental health services as their top priority, and despite devoting considerable time and energy, made little progress. This year's Assembly has been continuing that work behind the scenes.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wikipedia Celebrates Dartmouth

The anniversary of Dartmouth's founding is being featured today on the front page of Wikipedia as part of their "On This Day..." section. Thanks to Kevin for the tip.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cue the Imperial March

In the new issue of The Dartmouth Review, Jeffrey Hart discusses the entanglements between Freedman and the Review. I wasn't around, I don't know what really happened, so I can't judge. But it seems to me that any Dartmouth president who covets the Harvard job must be doing something wrong.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Zywicki Responds

Joe Malchow at Dartlog received a statement from Todd Zywicki regarding his controversial speech at the Pope Center for High Education. It's an interesting read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Bigger Picture

As a follow-up to my comments in the previous post, I would like to share some thoughts about the broader perspective regarding the petition trustees...

1. I believe that the presence of the petition trustees is ultimately beneficial to Dartmouth. I like Dartmouth's administration and I think they do a very good job. I've worked with some of the top administrators and they always seem on top of their game and the sort of people we want leading Dartmouth. But even the best administrators need good oversight, because people are human and they make decisions that are not always the best. And the stakes here are very high - one of the most prestigious academic institutions. I don't have great confidence in the oversight capabilities of the Board of Trustees because I believe they are overly willing to follow the administration's lead. By comparison, the election of the petition trustees put increased pressure on the administration, and their presence on the Board has led and will continue to lead to increased oversight. I think this is a good thing and will benefit Dartmouth in the long run.

2. The petition trustees should be given free rein to do their jobs as they see fit. They are a minority on the Board and always will be. They are not really a threat and shouldn't be treated like one. There should be less concern about what they may say and more interest in the issues they raise. Controversy is artificial, and debating loyalty and responsibility to the Board is ultimately a distraction. Constantly putting the petition trustees on the defensive is unwise. When people feel threatened, they act more aggressively and they act in unpredictable ways. From one trustee controversy to the next, Dartmouth has been under a state of emergency. We need to get back to normalcy. It is in everybody's interest to reduce the level of conflict. An outsider at the "Ask the Trustees Anything" forum two weeks ago would have found it difficult to distinguish the petition from the non-petition trustees. Everyone was very collegial and they revealed broader agreement than one might gather from newspaper headlines. That's exactly what we need moving forward, and I think that will comes from an environment where the petition trustees are treated as accepted members of the Board.

3. Zywicki's comments were undeniably blunt, but were fundamentally aggressive articulations of his well-known beliefs. He shouldn't have said it. But there is no need to go nuts over it. Everybody knew that Zywicki thought Freedman was a bad president; whether he called Freedman a "truly evil man" or a "bad leader" or a "mediocre president" is besides the point. It's all the same really. When we create an environment where trustees need to be hesitant about expressing their opinions, we reduce accountability and transparency. As elected leaders running on an opposition platform, it is absurd to expect the petition trustees to remain silent about the issues they care about. As a student, I want, and furthermore I expect, trustees to be open about the issues and concerns facing Dartmouth. When problems are shoved behind closed doors, things rarely turn out well - we end up with Enrons. Finally, concerns about PR problems are overstated. Only a few years away from the college tour circuit, I strongly doubt that any prospective student was turned off by the trustee struggle. That's simply not what students care about when picking a college. Secondly, I doubt the petition trustees have caused Dartmouth giving to decrease. If anything the increased attention should be good for alumni giving.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Loyalty to Whom?

A big controversy swirling around Dartmouth are Todd Zywicki's comments to the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy about Dartmouth, its trustees, and its administration. Perhaps the most infamous moment of the speech comes when Zywicki attacks academic administration: "What I think you have to understand is, those who control the University today, they don't believe in God and they don't believe in country. University is their cathedrals."

In today's The Dartmouth, along with a news story describing the controversy, Bill Montgomery '52 contributes an opinion article criticizing Zywicki's remarks. Montgomery focused on Zywicki's attack on former Dartmouth president James Freedman, who Zywicki called a "truly evil man." While I emphatically disagree with Zywicki's statements, I also take issue with Montgomery's notion that Zywicki violated his responsibilities as a trustee.

After considering the limits of free speech and Zywicki's responsibility to the Dartmouth board, Montgomery concludes that Zywicki violated his responsibilities as a trustee:
However, and this is the most serious part, when he became a member of the Dartmouth board, Zywicki accepted the obligation to follow board guidelines for conduct as clearly spelled out in the Statement on Governance and Trustee Responsibilities... [It] is very clear that Trustee Zywicki, by speaking in a derogatory manner with specific examples, is in violation of his Dartmouth trustee responsibility and the board must hold him accountable or abandon their mission statement. At a very minimum, he owes an apology to the Freedman family and the Dartmouth community, or he should resign his position as a trustee. This is not about free speech; this is about responsible behavior.
How could Zywicki have agreed to the Statement on Governance and Trustee Responsibilities upon his election, when it was only adopted last June, clearly as an ex post facto attempt to silence the petition trustees? The Statement itself was introduced with Orwellian tones as it lay out its goal to "strengthen Board members' performance as stewards of the College."

But more importantly, Montgomery insinuates that by criticizing Freedman, Zywicki somehow violated his obligation as a trustee. Montgomery suggests that speaking ill of Freedman is, by extension, speaking ill of Dartmouth. This is an absurd notion. First, it suggests that Dartmouth is no more than its leaders, a traitorous notion by my standards. Second, Montgomery seems to think this idea should apply to past presidents. Obviously, this makes absolutely no sense. Would a trustee be violating their duty by criticizing Daniel Dana, Asa Smith, or Nathan Lord? Montgomery says that the issue at stake is "responsible behavior," that Zywicki shouldn't criticize Freedman because, well, it isn't nice. But if Zywicki genuinely believes that Freedman was a "truly evil man" - a view, I'm sure, not uncommon among some alumni - doesn't he have a right to express that view, given Freedman's lasting influence on the college's direction?

Ultimately, Montgomery seems to confuse a loyalty to Dartmouth with a loyalty to James Wright or James Freedman. They are not the same and everyone knows the difference. Taking a personal example, last year I was on the Student Assembly executive board, serving under Tim Andreadis, who was student body president. At the end of fall term, Tim had a dispute with another board member, which ended with the other board member being placed on probation with the college. As a result, I stepped down from my position and wrote a resignation letter criticizing Tim. So, since Tim was student body president, was I somehow being traitorous to the student body by criticizing him. Of course not. I was merely doing what I thought was right; what I thought was in the best interest of Dartmouth students.

The same goes for Zywicki. When Zywicki criticizes James Wright, he is not criticizing Dartmouth. He is merely doing what he thinks is in the best interest of the college. Although I disagree with him, alumni elected him because they wanted an independent voice and that is exactly what he should be allowed to share. That's how democracy works.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Remembrance at Dartmouth

Last Thursday, Justin Zalkin '07, a friend of mine, wrote an article remembering Ben Lolies '09, who died in a motorcycle crash while on medical leave. Justin was Ben's trip leader and in his opening sentence he sums up a wider frustration among students at the way undergraduate deaths are commemorated: "It seems to have passed nearly unnoticed around Hanover that several weeks ago Ben Lolies ‘09 died in a motorcycle accident." Over the past several months, three Dartmouth students have died, and particularly for the last two - because the first was a case that elicited national attention - the lack of any formal way to remember them has been notable. I'm not exactly sure what would be ideal, perhaps a plaque with the names of students who have died over the years while studying at Dartmouth, and I'm not sure whether it should fall to the administration to organize it, but I've heard a lot of students express their feelings that something more should be done to remember those who died, and I agree.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuition Keeps Growing

Steven Pearlstein, a Washington Post business columnist, has some interesting observations about the rising cost of college tuition, which is outpacing inflation.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Student Q&A with Trustees

This is happening tomorrow, which should be pretty interesting...

************************************************************

"ASK THE TRUSTEES ANYTHING"

FILENE AUDITORIUM in MOORE, 4:30 FRIDAY

with FREE RAMUNTO'S

For the first time ever, all Dartmouth students can pose questions directly
to members of the Board of Trustees.
Meet Jim Wright's bosses. Only students and trustees - face to face.

Questions will not be screened - no topic is off limits.

All trustees have been invited. At least two have confirmed attendance.

Possible questions include:
"What's the deal with the lawsuit?"
"Is Dartmouth in good financial shape?"
"What's going on with COS reform?"
"What do the Trustees think of the Greek system?"
"How should free speech be addressed at Dartmouth?"
and anything else you want to know....

Sponsored by: Inter-Fraternity Council, Panhellenic Council,
Inter-Community Council, College Democrats,
College Republicans, Phi Tau, Tri-Kap, Chi Gam,
and AGORA.

************************************************************

Blackboard Privacy in the D

The Dartmouth published an article about Blackboard privacy in today's paper. Despite getting some facts wrong - I'm the Assembly's vice president of Academic Affairs, not the Student Affairs Committee, and we're definitely not forming another committee just to talk about this - the good news is that it seems like the computing administrators agree that some warning should be given.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Free Food, Everywhere

Nina Bergmar '11 wrote an interesting opinion article in The Dartmouth today about the proliferation of free food at Dartmouth, which I actually think is a bit of a problem. Coming from an underfunded public school, I was absolutely shocked by the number of organizations that offer free food at their events or meetings, something that never would have happened at my high school. So what's the problem? Well, getting people to come because of food undermines the meaning of real commitment, as well as creating the gastronomical equivalent of a "race to the bottom". Many organizations feel it's necessary to provide free food in order to compete with other groups.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Stewart vs. Matthews

I have always been struck by the interviewing dominance of Jon Stewart, but rarely have I seen it more evident than on this Daily Show interview with Chris Matthews, MSNBC's Hardball's host. Stewart completely destroys Matthews, calling his new advice book "a recipe for sadness," making him look like a television novice rather than the longtime anchor he is. Stewart is also famous for his legendary critique of CNN's Crossfire, which was so scathingly on target that it apparently played a major role in the show getting canceled. In both interviews Stewart ultimately has the same message, that the United States has become overly politicized and that this is unnecessarily promoted by the media.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Financial Aid and International Students

The Dartmouth has an interesting article today the college (along with nine other schools) adopting a new method of accessing financial aid needs for international students. It turns out that the new method ultimately reduces the overall amount of financial aid given. The article also brings up the important issue of extending need-blind admission to international students. Although Dartmouth needs the demonstrated need of any admitted students, for foreign students they still take financial need into account when making admission students. This clear goes against part of Dartmouth's mission statement, which says "Dartmouth recruits and admits outstanding students from all backgrounds, regardless of their financial means." The administration is working towards making this a reality, however I heard that the money simply doesn't exist for it now.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Blackboard & Dartmouth's Privacy Policy

In regards to the concerns about professors tracking student usage that I discussed in the previous post, I think that the Blackboard tracking feature might violate Dartmouth's computing privacy policy.

The policy states that users have "reasonable expectations of privacy in their use of information resources" and that "the provider of any program or service that gathers information about those who use it must either install a privacy warning or request Computing Services to place the program or service on the list of exempted programs." Blackboard certainly does gather information about student usage, and although Blackboard is mentioned in the list of exempted programs, the exemption only covers simulating Dartmouth ID numbers for testing purposes. On the Blackboard website, there is absolutely no warning about this feature (or a privacy policy of any other sort), and the only way to find out about its existence (as a student) is to dig down deep into its help features for faculty and course administrators.

Student Privacy in the Digital Age

I learned something tonight that truly horrified me. Nearly every course at Dartmouth uses Blackboard, an online software service that lets professors post materials and give online exams for their courses, along with an array of other features. Well, it turns out that professors can track student usage - when each individual students logs in or out of the course website, and when they looked at specific course readings. I'm sure that almost every Dartmouth student has no idea that this features exists. There is no privacy warning on the Blackboard website and no professor I have had has ever mentioned it. For student usage to be tracked without warning is a major invasion of privacy. In comparison to all the hubbub about the Patriot Act, this is a million times worse on a personal level for students at Dartmouth. Students should be free to read or not to read course materials without being spied upon. It might not seem that bad, but consider the equivalent in a non-digital era - surveillance cameras in Baker-Berry library or in study lounges. The importance of online privacy is paramount in this panopticonic age, and allowing professors to track student reading habits without their knowledge is certainly a serious violation.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Absent Student Voice

Brian McMillan '08 wrote an interesting article in The Dartmouth last Friday, representing the views of Palaeopitus. McMillan is concerned about the lack of student voice in the debate over trustee governance and he urges students to get involved. Dan Belkin brought up the same issues in an op-ed several weeks ago, where he said students were disenfranchised and their opinions ignored. But I think the real issue is that students don't seem to care, which is unfortunate but makes a lot of sense. Because our time here is limited to four years, students are naturally going to be focused on short term issues, things that will affect them during their time at Dartmouth. The effects of the trustee governance struggle are unlikely to affect students in the immediate future, which creates an disincentive to care. So while the trustee changes are undoubtedly important, to the average Dartmouth student Da$h in vending machines is probably more important.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Review Reveals Alcohol Documents

In their latest issue, which arrived outside my door a few minutes ago, The Dartmouth Review shares leaked administration documents about alcohol at Dartmouth. The most interesting item was a Powerpoint presentation on Pong. The presentation consisted of 65 slides (17 of which are reproduced in the print edition) which gave such insightful statistics as the number of students who prefer Tree (30.7%) and the typical length of 5 games of pong (3 hours and 45 minutes). It also includes quotes such as "Most Dartmouth students despise Beirut as a derivative form of the game". It must have been a tedious presentation, with one slide studying the correlation between "Pong Excellence and Winning".

The other set of documents is an in depth look at alcohol statistics, comparing Dartmouth to other colleges, and looking at Dartmouth over time. The takeaway is that Dartmouth students get arrested far more often than students at other schools. For example, in 2003, 106 Dartmouth students got arrested for alcohol violations. By comparison, there were no arrests whatsoever at Yale, Harvard, and Brown. Princeton had 39 arrests, but only one happened on university property, while 53 Dartmouth students got arrested on-campus that year. Penn had 4 arrests and Cornell had 16, not even coming close to Dartmouth. Comparing Dartmouth to a peer group of liberal arts colleges, none came within 25% of Dartmouth arrest total.

If these statistics are accurate, then it would clearly suggest that the Hanover Police is arresting students with a vigor that none of their peers do.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Wright at the General Faculty

The Dartmouth has an article today about President Wright's address yesterday at the general faculty meeting. The article focused largely on Wright's suggestion that the college experiment with sophomore summer to utilize the unique opportunity to focus learning towards one class of students at the midpoint of their time at Dartmouth. Here's how The Dartmouth described the suggested changes:
Wright suggested four changes that he said would increase depth and breadth of study: scheduling classes in intensive blocks of three weeks rather than nine or 10, making courses worth three credits rather than one, having professional school professors teach some undergraduate classes and better integrating the Hopkins Center, Tucker Foundation and other campus centers in thematic learning programs.
I just finished sophomore summer, and thought I had a good time, what really struck me was how similar it was to a typical term. There's so much hype about it, but at the end of the day, it's just normal classes. President Wright's suggestion that the college think outside the box with the summer makes a lot of sense.

I'm particularly excited about the professional school suggestion, and I heard from a friend in attendance that Wright mentioned integrating Tuck courses or professors in particularly. I have long believed that it's a real shame that the college does not offer undergraduates anyway to take advantage of Tuck, except for the summer Bridge program which is open to non-Dartmouth undergrads. Ideally, I see Tuck professors teaching two or three introductory level business courses for undergraduates. While I am a strong supporter of a liberal arts education, the criticism about it is that it fails to provide undergrads with direct real world skills. Allowing undergraduates to take several business courses would strengthen their educations without undermining the overall liberal arts emphasis. Furthermore, it would probably make Dartmouth undergrads more attractive to the corporate world by allowing them to gain Tuck experience. After all, it's often said that Penn only does so well in the U.S. News rankings because of the aftereffects of Wharton. While I don't advocate a Tuck undergraduate program, why not share some of the benefits of a great business school?

Update: Here's a link to President Wright's speech

Sunday, October 7, 2007

NYT Debate Analyzer

On their website, The New York Times has a cool interactive feature from last month's Democratic debate at Dartmouth. It lets you search through the debate for specific topics and words, and lets you track responses by candidate.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Wright's Op-Ed in the Globe

James Wright, the president of the college, wrote an op-ed in today's Boston Globe about veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the way they are being treated when they return home. President Wright feels that soldiers are less visible than they were in previous conflicts:
I fear, in the midst of the debate over troop levels, exit strategies, and assessment of the war's progress, we have lost sight of the men and women who are fighting this war. To be sure, there is deference to them, but too often they are seen as abstractions, as numbers and not individuals, as heroes or helpless pawns. Those who gave their lives are remembered for but a moment, except in their hometowns. Those who have been seriously injured seldom even have the moment.
President Wright then calls for "a new GI Bill" to significantly enhance education and rehabilitation programs.

I completely agree with the president. Compared with the Vietnam War, and certainly wars of previous generations, this war has had zero impact on college campuses. Around Dartmouth, you would never know that we had troops fighting overseas. For the Ivy League twenty-year-old, this has been a completely anonymous war, and the same is certainly true for the average New Yorker. In the past, war affected a much wider range of people, which served as a deterrent against going to war. People were afraid of the draft, people had to converse, people were afraid of relatives and friends dying. But nothing about my life has changed because of Iraq or Afghanistan. Similarly, I had been disheartened by the lack of anger about the war at Dartmouth. College students drove the consciousness of the nation during Vietnam, but have been largely silent during the Iraq war, which is similarly unjust and misguided.

The answer, of course, is a draft. I certainly do not want a draft, because I do not want to be forced to go to war, but I think without question that a draft is necessary during a time of war. It is only fair that the costs of war should be shared by everyone. The concept of a "volunteer army" is a misnomer. Many of the soldiers fighting today joined the reserves during peace time because they figured they would never see a full-scale war again. Many others only signed up because they had no better options. Imagine if the army was truly volunteer, if anybody could drop out any time if they wanted to. Only that would be a true volunteer army. The absence of a draft has made war politically less costly, and that is a horrible thing. The result, as Wright described, is that this war feels distant and abstract.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Alumni Association's Motion

Here's a pdf copy of the motion filed by the Association of Alumni.

Power's Out

The power is suddenly out throughout campus. No storm in sight. Thank god for laptop batteries. Since I've been at Dartmouth, it's happened only once or twice before, but normally it occurred after lightening and the like. These things don't happen in New York.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Super Long Letter from Alumni Assoc.

The Association of Alumni sent a very long letter to Dartmouth students tonight via blitz:
Dear Dartmouth Students,

We are the executives of the Dartmouth Association of Alumni who are seeking to prevent the Trustees from implementing their highly controversial reorganization of the governance of the College. We owe you an explanation, as we recognize how this affects you today and in the future. At the moment, you are the most important people at Dartmouth. In four years, all of you will be alumni and there will be 4,000 new undergraduates. Our goal in all of this is to protect the core of the Dartmouth experience -- and even the '11s already know exactly what we mean by this -- from administrative overreach and from co-optation by a small (but, we readily admit, very wealthy) group of alumni.

A brief bit of background. Dartmouth's Board of Trustees hires, fires, evaluates, and sets the salary of the president. Of course, they don't decide, for example, which courses are offered in a given term -- faculty decides that -- but they are charged with overseeing the entire College and setting its strategic direction. Their decisions determine what Dartmouth will become. For over a century, half of the Board has been elected by former students of Dartmouth. The moment one's class graduated, one earned the right to vote.

Over the last four years, a remarkable series of events happened at Dartmouth. T.J Rodgers '70, the self-made CEO of Cypress Semiconductor Corporation, ran for a Trusteeship and won. Why was that remarkable? Because Dr. Rodgers did not have the administration's sanction. He used a petition process long embedded, and usual ignored, in the election rules. Dr. Rodgers's campaign explained all the good that ha been done at the College -- and all the hard work still required. By contrast his opponents did not offer substantive opinions. Dr. Rodgers won an astounding victory.

The next year, two seats were open. Two more petition candidates -- law professor Todd Zywicki '88 and author Peter Robinson '79 -- ran and won. They focused on issues of free speech (Dartmouth still had a red-light speech code at the time, limiting freedom of speech), and support of athletics (ask senior friends about the attempted cutting of the swim team). Again, these petition candidates won.

As a matter of course, each of these three petition candidates found themselves becoming even better informed in the details of the College and sobered by what they learned. Their concerns have centered on ensuring absolutely the best student experience, by eliminating bureaucracy, increasing the numbers of the full-time faculty available to students, and making sure that traditional out-of-class experiences are not diminished. This made those in power uncomfortable. Instead of addressing these issues head on, the administration became defensive, as you can now see on the infamous Ask.Dartmouth.Edu website. There was, and remains today, a sense that dissent is disloyal. You can still hear some people claim that talking about where Dartmouth needs to improve is akin to harming Dartmouth!

Needless to say, this sort of argumentation -- which echoes what we've heard in Washington over the past few years -- failed to convince many people. The year after Messrs. Robinson and Zywicki were elected, a brand new alumni governance constitution was proposed. Under the guise of changes to the structure of alumni organizations, a few people who feared having more petition trustees tried to change the rules to make it much more difficult for future petition candidates to be elected. The College spent a lot of money attempting to get the document ratified -- even hiring a public relations firm -- and some wealthy alumni hired a pollster to do telephone push polling. But it failed. It needed 67% approval to pass, and it only got 49%.

The next year -- and now we are talking about last Spring -- another petition candidate ran for a Trusteeship under the traditional rules.He is Stephen Smith '88, a legal scholar. (You can still see his website here: http://www.stephensmithtrustee.com/page/1/) He won by a clear majority took his seat as the only African-American man on Dartmouth's Board. His campaign centered on bureaucratic bloat at our College. He noted that the number of assistant deans and vice presidents had ballooned in recent years, that Dartmouth was spending a smaller and smaller fraction of its massive resources on the actual classroom experience. Clearly, Mr. Smith said, there was an entrenched bureaucracy problem. A separate College-commissioned report by the McKinsey consulting firm said the same thing.

Probably you have already noticed this in dealing with the registrar, ORL, the parking people, and a Safety & Security force that is now bigger than the Hanover police department itself. But whether you have noticed it or not, the bottom line is that a fat administration means a lean faculty. Talk candidly with your professors -- particularly those in the government and economics departments -- and they will tell you that Dartmouth just plain needs more profs.

Mr. Smith's victory -- and we apologize for the long blitz; it is almost over -- was the last straw. Asked by The D to comment on his win, then-chairman Bill Neukom '64 said: "We have a new Trustee." His unwillingness to say any more, or anything positive, was just as strong a condemnation of Mr. Smith as if he had said something negative. And implicitly this was also a slap in the face to the Dartmouth community which elected him.

Quickly after Stephen Smith took his seat, the Board announced that it would conduct a "study" to see whether it should reorganize itself. Not surprisingly, the Board decided that indeed it should reorganize itself. This was after hearing from thousands of current and former Dartmouth students -- young, old, men, women, liberal, conservative -- who told the Trustees that they shouldn't try to change the rules for elections just because they aren't winning them.

But, in the midst of this serious debate about the direction of our College, the Board did indeed change the rules -- shutting down the debate in violation of all the academic principles Dartmouth holds dear.

Acting on the advice of its Governance Committee, the Board doubled the size of the unelected part of the Board and kept the duly elected half at the same size. Further the Board delivered a dictum that effective immediately the College will take over the Trustee election process. In effect, the College is now in the hands of a powerful few, and more divorced from the desires of the community than ever.

This is just a short synopsis of what has been a years-long saga at our small, well-loved College. It is the story of tens of thousands of voices coming together yearly to ask for innovation, evolution, and improvement; it is the story of personal politics getting in the way of progress. More than anything, though, it is the story of Dartmouth struggling to keep its special place in academia. You came to Dartmouth, not Williams. And you came to Dartmouth, not Harvard. Some are not so sure Dartmouth should stay Dartmouth. And some are eager to use Harvard's mediocrities as excuses for their own.

In the end, that is what this present squabble is all about. The Association of Alumni, the official organization whose members are all 68,000 living graduates, is not meddling in how to run Dartmouth; instead we are asking for help (an injunction) to prevent the Board from making these harmful and regressive changes.

So that you know exactly what the Association of Alumni is asking of our legal system, here we quote from the official request for a judicial opinion:

"The Association of Alumni of Dartmouth College respectfully prays for:

(a) a declaration of the Association's right to choose one-half of Dartmouth's non-ex officio trustees through the Association's chosen selection process;
(b) an injunction (i) barring the College from adding charter trustees to its board, unless it seats an equal number of alumni trustees chosen by the Association, and (ii) requiring the College to continue seating alumni trustees chosen by the Association;
(c) an order that the College specifically perform its contractual obligations and promises by seating equal numbers of charter and alumni trustees chosen by the Association; and
(d) such other and further relief as the Court deems just."

Please ask yourself if these requests seem reasonable. You will be a Dartmouth student for a very short while, and then a graduate for a lifetime. The Association response, a last resort done with considerable reluctance and deliberation, is intended to secure for you, and for all alumni, the right to participate in defining what you collectively think is best for our beloved Dartmouth.

Please do not hesitate to email us if you have any questions at all.
Well, that's probably the longest email or blitz I've ever received. Obviously, they've seem to forgotten that people tend to stop reading blitzes that are longer than two paragraphs.

The Association of Alumni did a good job of presenting their case. They were smart to emphasize the trade off between administration size and the number of professors. Most students have faced problems with class size or getting into classes, and I think that many students are perplexed about the administration's size. I'm not sure, however, that the average Dartmouth students really cares that much. I don't think students in general are paying that much attention to the alumni hubbub. It's not that students doubt the importance of the debate, it's just that there is a very high cost of becoming informed. For example, I'm not sure that I fully understood every angle of the proposed alumni constitution debate, because it was just so complex (I wasn't blogging back then). Students also have a very different perspective than alumni. Because they are here at Dartmouth now, students are focused on the short-term rather than the long-term. From a long-term perspective, the governance debate is extremely important to Dartmouth, but the chances of it directly effecting students within their time as undergrads is relatively low. For students, issues such as DDS changes might matter more to them, even if they would seem banal to alumni.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Letter from President Wright

James Wright sent out a letter via blitz to the Dartmouth community this morning regarding the Association of Alumni's decision to take legal action:
You may have read in the The Dartmouth this morning that the Executive Committee of the Association of Alumni, by a divided vote, decided last night to have the Association file a lawsuit against the College concerning the governance changes adopted by the Board of Trustees earlier this month and to seek an injunction to prevent the Board from filling any of the new charter trustee seats authorized by the Board.

I am deeply disappointed that some members of the Association Executive Committee have decided to take this action, which can only harm the College. Although the Association's formal legal complaint has not yet been served on the College, the College has been advised by its attorneys that the Board has full authority to enlarge the Board as it did and make the other governance changes that it authorized, and that there is no merit to the legal claims asserted by the Executive Committee members who voted to bring the suit. The College is well-prepared to respond to this legal action.

Ed Haldeman, Chair of the Board, has asked me to share the following statement with all members of the College community:

"While I respect the many different views held by Dartmouth's alumni on governance issues, I think it's regrettable that a small group of individuals would cause the Alumni Association to file a lawsuit against the College, particularly when there is no legal basis for the suit. It's certainly not in the best interest of the College or its students for Dartmouth to be tied up with costly and counterproductive litigation. I would hope instead that thoughtful alumni and friends of Dartmouth would come together in support of our common goal of continuing to build on Dartmouth's world-class academic programs."

While the action by some members of the Executive Committee to sue the College is ill-advised, I hope that it will not prove a distraction to the good work of the faculty, students, and staff. Dartmouth is in great shape and we need to continue to focus on continuing to provide the best experience possible for our students.

I agree with President Wright that the lawsuit is ill-advised. Obviously I am not a lawyer, but it is difficult to see what legal grounds the Association could successful sue on. I doubt that a court would see the 1891 agreement as contractual, to the extent that it calls for a divided board beyond the original 5 alumni trustees.

Professor Kohn Speaks Out Against Board Changes

Meir Kohn, a professor of economics at the college, wrote an editorial in today's The Dartmouth, criticizing the changes the Board of Trustees made to their composition. Kohn, who is both loved and feared for his notoriously hard but rewarding Econ 26 classes, frames governance as the ability to prevent the powerful from excess:
All large organizations — business corporations and government agencies as well as nonprofits like Dartmouth — are run by managers or administrators. Human nature being what it is, these managers or administrators tend to use the power delegated to them for their own advantage. Instead of simply performing the functions with which they are charged, they divert their efforts and the organization’s resources to furthering their own interests. This is not because they are bad people; it is because they are perfectly normal people and so have difficulty resisting temptation. The problem of governance is the problem of limiting such undesirable behavior.
Kohn hones in on the underlying question: what's the point of a Board of Trustees if it is artificially engineered to be docile? What's the purpose of oversight if it's designed to acquiesce? I'm not saying Wright is wrong, or that I agree with the petition candidates (on most points, I don't), but there are larger issues at stake, for the future. How well insulated should Dartmouth's administration be? Shouldn't an alumni feedback mechanism be protected when the future is unknown, when nobody can predict what issues will be at stake twenty, fifty, and one hundred years down the road? Well, I'm going to sleep on that one, but at least it's good to see a professor demonstrate a little academic freedom.

Stumbling in Public

I made the front cover photo of The Dartmouth today... in a moose costume. The good news is that the moose looks great, the bad news is that for the inexperienced mascot (me) getting up and down those Haldeman classroom stairs took quite an effort. The moose mascot is brand new and made its debut during freshmen orientation. As a point of clarification, Student Assembly, of which I'm an officer, does not want Dartmouth to be "the Moose." Instead, we want to remain the "Big Green" while using the moose as a mascot. It's just like North Carolina - they are the "Tar Heels" but they use a ram as their mascot. Also, like every Dartmouth student I know, I love Keggy and he's definitely here to stay. Instead, the moose is meant to serve as a much more politically correct sidekick. Because Keggy is, well, a keg, his potential to represent Dartmouth officially is non-existent. The Moose has the potential of being a visual symbol that can fill an absence created by the end of the Indian mascot. After all, what exactly is "Big Green" supposed to look like?

The article also discusses Student Assembly's proposed new constitution. Perhaps the most significant change is the proposed increase of presidential and executive discretionary spending limits from $300 and $500, respectively, to $500 and $1000. The money can also be used for programming purposes under the new constitution while previously it was only allowed for "administrative expenditures." Normally, a project gets funded by passing legislation in SA's General Assembly, which contains all Assembly members.

So why is this increase important? To some, it might seem like an unwarranted power-grab. But it is definitely necessary. Getting legislation passed is extremely time consuming and often takes 3 or 4 weeks. In a 10 week term, that's a long time. It slows down the ability of the Assembly to get projects done, particularly if many things are going on at once. For example, I'm the chair of the Academic Affairs committee, along with Corey Chu '08, and we currently have 27 projects in the works. If we needed to pass legislation for even half of them, our efficacy would be slashed. Typically, there's only enough time to debate two pieces of legislation per General Assembly. That leaves 18 open slots per term (given that we won't meet during finals), which means that each of SA's four committees will only have four or five opportunities to propose legislation each term. But that assumes that our need for passing legislation is evenly divided throughout the term, which is never the case. So basically, everything gets bogged down in an endless back flow of legislation.

Students want their leaders to get things done, not to endlessly debate small amounts of money in public. Student Assembly has an annual budget of $70,000, so $500 or $1000 is not a very significant amount, given that the General Assembly meets only about 25 times each year. Empowering the Assembly's executive board to make these allocations would ensure that we can move quickly and efficiently on small projects, and spend the needed time in General Assembly to discuss legislation that is important, not secondary not-controversial programs. I just want to get my projects done. Let me do my job.

The Next Round

According to The Dartmouth, the Association of Alumni is planning to file a lawsuit that would stop the Board of Trustees to fill the eight new seats on the board.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

NYT Talks with Professor Farid

The New York Times published an interview today with Hany Farid, Dartmouth's excellent Computer Science professor. I took Computer Science 4, Concepts in Computing (a basic course for non-majors), this past summer, and it was one of the best classes that I've had at Dartmouth. The SA Course Guide confirms his popularity - he's one of the highest ranked professors. But his research is also incredibly fascinating, and the two days of class he spent talking about his own work were among the best. This isn't Professor Farid's first mention in The Times. His work with photographic forgery was listed as one of the Times Magazine's ideas of the year in 2004. For all the students out there, definitely take a class with him.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Merkel Leaves the College

Jim Merkel, the somewhat controversial head of sustainability, left the college in early August, The Dartmouth reports, complaining that he did not have time to pick raspberries and that he didn't need a job. The Review celebrates.

College Issue of NYT Mag

This weekend's edition of The New York Times Magazine, one of my favorite publications, is "The College Issue." Check it out.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What Were the Odds?

Dave Glovsky '08 wrote a very interesting opinion article about the availability of debate tickets to students in today's The Dartmouth. The tickets were allocated via a lottery, but like Dave, I know almost nobody who won tickets despite widespread participation. As the cameras span along the audience last night, you could see almost no students except College Dems leaders and Travis Green, the student body president, who were of course specially invited. So where did all the tickets go? How many tickets went to local residents, Dartmouth staff, and faculty, and how much tuition do they pay?

The Debates

I didn't get tickets for the debate itself, so I went to the watch party in Leede Arena. Afterwards, all the candidates except Hillary Clinton and John Edwards came to Leede to talk to us. Obama made the crowd go insane. I have a lot to say about the debates, but I'm tired and I have a 10a tomorrow, so I'll write more tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

We Have Work to Do, You and I

Convocation took place at 11:00 this morning. Compared to the previous two convocations, each of the respective speeches (student body president, guest speaker, and President Wright) was the best yet.

Travis Green, Dartmouth's new but already outstanding student body president, led the way with a speech that struck a very different tone than that of Noah Riner '06 and Tim Andreadis '07. The previous speeches were both prescriptive. Noah spoke about the need for character among Dartmouth students (infamously arguing for the importance of Jesus) and Tim discussed the need for action and awareness about sexual assault. Both speeches left a bitter taste in the minds of many. I remember listening to Noah's speech as a freshman and witnessing the sense of shock, both personal and all around the audience, as Noah said this line:
He gave His life for our sin so that we wouldn't have to bear the penalty of the law; so we could see love. The problem is me; the solution is God's love: Jesus on the cross, for us.
Tim's speech, on the other hand, wasn't offense or controversial in content at all, but seemed starkly out of place for convocation. Convocation is about the renewal of the academic year and the welcome of the new class, but Tim simply listed a series of statistics.

Travis, instead, gave a call-to-arms for freshmen to challenge their assumptions about themselves and to change and mold Dartmouth into the place they want it to be:
Class of 2011, it might not seem like it, but today, each of you has the same opportunity, along with a few advantages. Unlike those novices, you have a lot of people here to help. You also have two hundred forty attempts’ worth of experience to draw from. Unlike those white, male, preaching New Englanders and their founding Native American counterparts, you have potential friends from all walks of life, from all ranges of experience, and from all over the world.

Here, you’re freed from your past. Your roots are gone. You can choose which to grasp back on to, and what new ones to lay down. You don’t have to conform to what you were in high school. Jocks, nerds, goths, those segregations can disappear. You can make new friends, find new interests, reveal inner passions. Be who you want to be, while you make this College what you want it to be...

As [your Dartmouth spirit] grows, you will begin to answer questions integral to Dartmouth’s soul: Should there be a typical “Dartmouth man” and “Dartmouth woman”? Why do we have the cluster system? Does cutting-edge research enhance liberal arts teaching? Should Dartmouth value the Greek system? Does diversity matter to us? Is the D-Plan effective? Do athletics enhance the Dartmouth experience? What defines this Dartmouth? What defines your Dartmouth?
It was a very solid address and was warmly received. Rather than telling students what they should think or how they should act, he encouraged them to find the answers for questions about Dartmouth through personal exploration.

Bruce Duthu '80, a Vermont Law professor, a visiting professor at Dartmouth, and a former administrator of the college, spoke about the importance of humility and its connection to a liberal arts education. Though it sounds like a strange topic, it was a really great speech.

James Wright spoke eloquently about the role of affirmation action at Dartmouth. He began by discussing Dartmouth's historical commitment to diversity. The president then said that he agreed with the principle of race neutrality - that is, ideally people should not be considered or judged for better or worse on account of their race or heritage - but that Dartmouth and other colleges do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, affirmative action must exist to counteract fundamental differences in opportunity.

Wright then spoke about Robert Putnum's concept of social capital and its relation to diverse communities. He discussed a study which found that diverse communities actually have less social capital than homogeneous communities. But Wright refuted the study on the basis that a diverse communities is absolutely essential for the intellectual exploration that Dartmouth seeks to provide:

So, it is essential that we ask ourselves on this September morning whether all of this-the legal, constitutional, political, and cultural challenges of our time; the pessimism suggested by the Putnam research-whether all of this means that Dartmouth should back away from its historic principles and assumptions?

Having raised the question, I shall take the opportunity to provide an answer: No, to me it surely does not. This College's legacy and responsibility are richer than the cycles of politics. Our commitment to the nature of this learning community is older than the formation of this Republic.

The fundamental principle underlying this College and the liberal arts in general is to examine assumptions, to respond to new ideas, not stubbornly to hold to what we once thought to be true. The Putnam research makes more, rather than less, urgent our historic purpose. The appropriate response to these new findings cannot be to strive for homogeneous communities, which may, in the short term, have more social capital, but will surely not, in the long term, provide the intellectual excitement, the general stimulation, and the preparation for a lifetime of learning that Dartmouth seeks-as it has always sought to engender.

Wright ended his address with his usual closing phrase:

As has been my yearly custom, I would close this ceremony by reminding you, and myself, that now we turn enthusiastically to our task. We have work to do, you and I - and it is time to begin! Welcome to Dartmouth.

Monday, September 24, 2007

New York Times Gets Fooled

This is old news, but I just saw the correction now (though I saw it in the original article):

An article last Saturday about Dartmouth College's governance structure incorrectly described a Web site congratulating Todd J. Zywicki, a trustee, for meeting with members of the Phrygians, a secret society, and discussing possible actions against the college administration. It was a hoax site, not an official Phrygian site. Mr. Zywicki says he met several times with the Phrygians, but did not discuss actions against the administration.

I can't believe that the Times a) fell for it, b) didn't check to make sure it was legit. What sort of secret society would not only have a website but put a photo of their members on it? I've heard that this is the work of the Jacko, but I don't think its been confirmed.

Gearing Up for the Debates

Dartmouth is getting ready for its Democratic presidential debate, which will take place from 9-11 pm on Wednesday, and will be broadcast on MSNBC. Until the "candidate forums," which have been frequent in this election season, this is one of only six debates officially sponsored by the Democratic Party. Students (as well as faculty, staff, and local residents) were eligible to win tickets via a lottery. Apparently, there was an overwhelming response, and I've barely know anyone who has won tickets. To deal with the overflow, there is a watch party taking place in Leede Arean. In order to prepare for the debates, Dartmouth has formed an army of student volunteers - approximately 200 students.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A new friend for the Etats-Unis

When I first read about Nicolas Sarkozy, several years ago, I was interested. He struck me as an innovator and an ascendant leader. But as the French presidential election approached last April, I became extremely disillusioned. I saw him a right-wing demagogue, a radical and more dangerous version of Rudy Giuliani. I was also working in a legislative office with two Columbia grad students from France who thought that Sarkozy's election was apocalyptic.

But in the past few months, I have really been shocked and stunned by Sarkozy's performance - pleasantly surprised. Rather than being Mussolini incarnate, he's been the cool new kid on the block, the next Tony Blair.

Sarkozy has radically changed Franco-American relations overnight. France has suddenly changed from being one of our biggest critics to being one of our closest allies, particularly on the highly difficult subject of Iran. Surely some fellow liberals would accuse Sarkozy of being fundamentally pro-Bush rather than pro-American. But Sarkozy's overtures have gone far beyond Bush. Rather, he believes in America, the way immigrants often do, the way we are taught to in elementary school. And that is a radical change. I have no doubt that Chirac thought America sucked. Although I disagree with Bush's foreign policy goals (read: Iraq), the United States will always be more effective with the support of our allies. If the French government being pro-American means that they are simultaneously pro-Bush, well, I could care less.

In a new interview with The New York Times, Sarkozy spoke vividly about what he sees as the shared common values between the United States and France:
You know from the way we celebrate the [Normandy] landings that the French people are with the Americans, and the American flag is popular in France. I have said, moreover, that relations between France and the United States go well beyond the personality of Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Bush. There are people who will come after me, and who will come after Mr. Bush. And I see myself in the historic tradition of [French military leaders during the U.S. Revolution] [the count of] Rochambeau and [the Marquis of] Lafayette. At the time, there were 20 million Frenchmen and four million Americans. And it was the genius of Louis XVI to understand that this young, American democracy had to be helped. France was there. With Lafayette and Rochambeau. Rochambeau refused to receive the sword from the British — he gave it to [George] Washington in a magnificent gesture. Lafayette is a great figure in French history because he was the godfather of relations between the United States and France. We have never been at war. We have always helped each other. We have always helped each other. I don’t see why we should see ourselves as enemy nations. It makes no sense.

So maybe the problems we’ve had stem from the fact that we are both countries which believe — and not all countries believe this — that our values are universal. For my part, I think that the French and the United States are much more alike than they think. Much more. It is rare to find countries in the world that think their ideas are universal. The Germans don’t, nor do the Spanish and the Italians. Nor do the Chinese. They think themselves to be universal for themselves, I mean within their empire. In the United States and France, we think our ideas are destined to illuminate the world. And perhaps that is the source of the competition between us. It’s perhaps the fact that we are alike.

Sarkozy frames himself as a pragmatist and he has acted as such as president. He appointed Bernard Kouchner, long time Socialist politician and founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, as foreign minister, a very bold and surprising move. He also nominated Dominique Strauss-Kahn, runner up in the Socialist Party presidential primaries, as head of the International Monetary Fund. Sarkozy wasn't forced to appoint Socialists because of some power arrangement deal or the like. He apparently did it because he felt they were most qualified, something that is truly remarkable.

Although I don't know much about France's domestic situation, he seems to be doing good work. Though my natural inclination is to support the labor or socialist candidate in foreign elections, France is so far to the left of the United States in terms of socialization. Does their economy work? Doubtful. So what Sarkozy wants to do domestically is extremely sensible.

In the end, Sarkozy is fundamentally a Clintonite or a Blairite, a believer that he can dramaticly rewrite France's political environment. What I truly admired about Bill Clinton, Gordon Brown, and Tony Blair (in the early days) was their ability to free people from their assumptions about government and politics. It is this quality that I also see in Barack Obama and Mike Bloomberg. They all bring a revolutionary spirit. I'm from New York City, and I have been constantly impressed by the Bloomberg administration. Even when Bloomberg makes mistakes, he shows a verve that Giuliani only had for locking up homeless people. He has completely changed the way New Yorkers think about the potential for city governance.

And so that is what I see in Nicolas Sarkozy, a man set out to change France and the world. Once again, I might have misread this complex character, but I certainly hope not. As he said in the above quote, Sarkozy believes that our countries' ideas are "destined to illuminate the world." That is a powerful thought.

McLaughlin Suites

I just moved in my new room in Thomas, which is one of the new dorms in the McLaughlin Cluster. It's a suite, one of the best rooms on campus. Although I'm a junior, I got "pulled in" by a rising senior who had, I think, the 13th best number in the housing lottery. We have 5 single bedrooms, a pretty large common area with space for 2 sofas and a couple chairs (including a nice bean bag chair that came with the room) and one and a half bathrooms. The individual rooms actually aren't huge (100 sq. ft.) but they're nothing to complain about.

I lived in the Senior Apartments last year (don't ask how I get so lucky) which was actually a bit bigger and had a kitchen. But the Thomas suite is a million times nicer, because it's brand new and lacks the horrid sixties-era feel that plagues the Senior Apartments. They did a really nice job in terms of design and decor (except for the bedrooms, which are shaped awkwardly for the bed and desk).

The rest of the building is amazing. Thomas is connected directly to Goldstein and Byrne II, and it's basically one big building. There's an elevator, a giant common space (Occum Commons) with a baby grand piano, and other little things that make it really nice. And they finally learned from the East Wheelock Cluster that putting the bathroom sinks in the hallways was a bad idea (if you haven't seen it, it's quite a sight). I lived in one of the super-tiny L-shaped doubles in Wheeler during my freshman year, where there was a basically no room to walk once you put all the furniture in, so I guess I feel unrepentant about my current luck.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Crady in the Times

Tom Crady, the incoming Dean of the College, was quoted in The New York Times today in an article about parents redoing their children's rooms once they leave for college:
But Tom Crady, vice president for student services at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, is sympathetic about the anxieties of homesick freshmen, particularly those who "come home Thanksgiving and realize their room is gone." Parents, he said, "should probably include their son or daughter in a decision like that."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tuck Retakes #1 Spot in the Wall Street Journal Rankings

The Wall Street Journal today published its annual ranking of business schools, with Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business ranked number 1. Last year, Tuck came in second to Michigan, which fell to the seventh spot in the new rankings. The Journal had this to say about Tuck:
Tuck received its highest ratings this year for its "well-rounded" students, their personal integrity, interpersonal and communications skills, and teamwork abilities.
The rankings are based on a survey of MBA recruiters. In order, the rest of the top ten were Berkeley, Columbia, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, UNC-Chapel Hill, Michigan, Yale, Chicago, and Virginia.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Association of Alumni Statememt

The leaders of the Association of Alumni posted a statement on their blog opposing the changes to trustee composition.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Coverage in the Times

In tomorrow's The New York Times, there will be an article about the changes in the composition of the Board of Trustees.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Die is Cast

The Board of Trustees voted tonight to increase the number of trustees from 18 to 26, with all eight of the additional seats being charter trustees - selected by the board. Here is a link to the report.

Several minutes ago, a letter from Ed Haldeman was sent out over blitz to (presumably) everybody at Dartmouth:

A LETTER FROM ED HALDEMAN, CHAIR OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES, TO THE DARTMOUTH COMMUNITY

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
The Dartmouth has also put an article about it up on their website. Yesterday, The Dartmouth's board wrote an editorial supporting changes to the Board of Trustees' structure.

This morning, The New York Times published an article about the governance review on the front page of its National Report section.


Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Wall Street Journal Chimes In, Talks with Rodgers

The Wall Street Journal published two articles about the Board of Trustees' governance review today, an editorial in support of the 1891 agreement and a profile of trustee T.J. Rodgers by Joseph Rago '05.

Rago's interview with Rodgers is a quite illuminating glimpse into the trustee's mind. Rago describes Rodgers as being ultimately independent-minded, not the conservative that he is often depicted to be. Rodgers recasts the trustee struggle away from the typical partisan model: "This is not a conservative-liberal conflict. This is a libertarian-totalitarian conflict." Rodgers reflects on accusations that the current process is divisive: "If 'divisive' means there are issues and we debate the issues and move forward according to a consensus, then divisive equals democracy, and democracy is good. The alternative, which I fear is what the administration and [Board of Trustees Chairman] Ed Haldeman are after right now, is a politburo - one-party rule."

Rodgers gets to the heart of the debate. Divisiveness is often necessary in politics and governance, because debate and conflict is often necessary in the search for solutions and consensus. The Board of Trustees is not around to merely rubber-stamp the administration's goals and select a new president every decade. The Board should be actively thinking about the college - and making decisions, and the alumni should be thinking about the Board - and electing some of its members. Divisiveness is exactly what Tim Andreadis '07 was accused of when he was elected Student Body President last year. Although I have issues with his administration - I resigned from it - divisiveness was never the problem. Instead, he changed the way students think about Dartmouth, made them consider new issues, and we are ultimately for the better. And the same is true about the petition trustees. They have challenged the views of students, alumni, and administrators, pushing us to think harder about the issues at hand, and we are also better for it. This is what democracy is all about. So let the elections continue.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Trustees on Wikipedia

An article on Dartmouth's Board of Trustees was featured tonight on the front page of Wikipedia under the "Did you know... From Wikipedia's newest articles" section. It was written primarily by Dylan Kane '09, and contains a well-footnoted history of the board, as well as a list of notable trustees.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Crady's Dissertation

After learning that Thomas Crady, the incoming Dean of the College, had recently written his Ph.D. dissertation about the use of alcohol in fraternities, I was interested in obtaining a copy. I was somewhat pessimistic about the chances of getting a hold of it, but it was surprisingly easy. Crady received his Ph.D. from Iowa State University this year, and his dissertation is entitled Written and unwritten rules: the use of alcohol by fraternities: a study of one college.

When I first heard about the dissertation, I was afraid that it was going to be staunchly anti-Greek and would be indicator of the future tightening of Dartmouth's alcohol and Greek policies. As a member of a fraternity, I think that Dartmouth's policies towards alcohol use are far too restrictive, as they create a bureaucratic nightmare for sorority and fraternity leaders. After reading his study and recommendations, I was somewhat reassured. Crady takes a pragmatic view towards the subject, and is focused on alcohol abuse, not alcohol use:
My philosophy may be characterized in the following manner: I do not believe that colleges and universities should ban alcohol from their campuses, and alcohol education programming should focus on responsible drinking rather than abstinence.
The study mainly used focus groups and questionnaires to learn about alcohol use on campus and the connection to fraternities. Crady compared the views and responses of Greek and not-Greek students.

At the end of his dissertation, Crady has a list of recommendations for college administrators:

a. Develop and implement strategies to evaluate the student and Greek letter culture to better understand the dynamics between the two groups relative to the campus culture. Since evidence exists that Greek culture may supersede institutional culture, it is important to examine this phenomenon on a regular basis to ensure that independent students are not isolated on their campus.

b. Examine, monitor, and compare the use of alcohol and drugs by Greeks and independent students both on and off campus. Given the evidence that alcohol plays a significant role in Greek systems, campus administrators should have an ongoing mechanism to determine the level of alcohol used by all students on their campus.

c. Assist Greek Letter organizations in emphasizing the positive aspects of Greek life. Many Greek letter organizations are developing and implementing impressive social justice and/or community service programs. These should be highlighted and reinforced on campus. Standards should exist for Greek letter organizations outlining activities they are expected to offer to the campus.

d. Provide Greek letter organizations with the resources and tools to accomplish their goals both on and off campus. Greek letter organizations should be fully supported by campus officials to ensure that resources are available to assist these organizations.

e. Develop positive and constructive interpersonal relationships with the leaders of Greek letter organizations on campus. Campus administrators should establish positive working relationships with Greek leaders before problems occur.

f. If Greek letter organizations are affiliated with national organizations, develop clear communication lines with the national organizations. These national groups are often excellent resources for local chapters particularly in the areas of liability.

g. Examine the pledging process to ensure that it does not conflict with the academic performance of students engaged in the pledging process. Emphasis should be placed on academics and no activities should conflict with the academic mission of the institution.

h. Resist the temptation to view Greek letter organizations as negative elements of student life and the campus culture. Resolve problems that arise quickly and efficiently while maintaining positive interpersonal relationships with students in Greek letter organizations.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dartmouth falls in U.S. News rankings

Another story in a busy news day, IvyGate has published an embargoed press release from U.S. News & World Report about its 2008 university. The rankings, which were supposed to be released tomorrow, has Dartmouth falling from the 9th spot to the 11th. Last year, Dartmouth was in a tie with Chicago and Columbia, who remain in a tie for the 9th spot in the new rankings. Dartmouth is the only Ivy League school to fall in the rankings, with Penn moving up two positions to the 5th spot, and Brown moving up from 15 to 14, and the other universities remaining the same.

Comments on IvyGate have blamed the recent trustee election and the constitution debate for the fall in the rankings. I do not understand the details of how the ranking are determined, so I have no idea if it had any influence, but in a larger sense, I strongly disagree that the fight over trustees has hurt Dartmouth. Instead, questions about the direction of the school should demonstrate that it is a strong college. First, placing an institution under critical scrutiny ensures that decisions made are well thought through and that weaknesses are fully probed. Second, the fury of the debates demonstrates the passion that alumni have for the college. Historically, Dartmouth has been no stranger to controversy, but that has always strengthened the college - precisely why Boaz Allen Hamilton named us one of the most enduring institutions.

New Dean of the College

According to a Dartmouth press release, Thomas Crady, the vice president of student services at Grinnell College, has been appointed as the new dean of the college, and will start the position in January. Crady was one of the candidates named in a leak to The Dartmouth in February.

Wow

On the front page of The New York Times website, there was an ad tonight for SaveDartmouth.org:


I've never heard of the group or website until now, but it's paid for by "The Committee to Save Dartmouth" which it says it is led by Andres Morton Zimmerman. The site says that it "will be running soon in major national newspapers." The website, which of course opposes the review of trustee election procedures, urges alumni to contact the trustees through its website and provides an optional form letter, quoted below:

Dear Dartmouth Trustees:

I′m writing to encourage you to abandon any future plans that will dilute the voices of Dartmouth alumni.

For over 100 years, Dartmouth alumni and alumnae have enjoyed the assurance of direct input into the selection of one-half of the Trustees. This is part of what we expect as members of the Dartmouth family. We deserve nothing less.

As Trustees, you represent all of the Dartmouth family. You hold the legacy of Daniel Webster, Salmon Chase, Ernest Martin Hopkins, John Sloan Dickey, and John Kemeny in your hands. Please do not take this responsibility lightly.

Over sixty thousand of us are depending on you to “set a watch, lest the old traditions fail.”

SaveDartmouth's "Lone oPine" page also quotes P. Diddy ("Vote or Die!"), which I think is pretty hilarious. As one of their terms of conditions, they also make people promise not to "root for Harvard." In the midst of epic alumni struggle, episode III (since I've been here), it's good to see that at least somebody is approaching it with the proper sense of humor.

Update: I was a bit slow on the uptake, but I realize now (twenty minutes later) that "Mr. Andres Morton Zimmerman," the supposed leader of the movement, is not a real person, but rather the names of three dorms in the East Wheelock Cluster.

The Dartmouth has also published an article about the advertisements via its website, and reports that the estimated cost of the ad campaign will be $300,000.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

American Council of Trustees & Alumni criticizes governance review

Dartlog, the Dartmouth Review's blog, has a story about a very interesting letter from Anne D. Neal, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, criticizing the governance review process at Dartmouth. While Neal's opposition to the review process is not surprising, she unexpectedly focused on the role of the college president, which is believes constitutes a potential conflict of interest.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Student Leaders Meet Trustee

Tonight, I attended the 2007 Dartmouth Advanced Leadership Summit at the Hanover Inn. It sounds prestigious, and I got a very nice invitation in my Hinman Box, but for the large part it ended up being quite bizarre. It turns out the entire event was about Dartmouth finances, as it was sponsored by the Dartmouth College Fund. There was absolutely no discussion about student leadership or anything along those lines - instead it ended up being a very PR-friendly presentation about the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience. There was a cute little video where the Dartmouth high-rollers spoke in loving terms about why they decided to donate money for new dorms. Not that I don't appreciate their philanthropy - because I very much admire alumni giving - but I expected something with more substance, as did everybody else in the room, who frequently looked like they were going to die. About 40 students attended, and they seemed to represent a wide range of student leadership across campus.

The video was surrounded by presentations by Carolyn Pelzel, the VP of Development, Adam Keller, the Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, and Brad Evans '64, a trustee. It was the latter's talk where things got interesting. Evans explained the role of the Board of Trustee and how they approached their positions. He described the trustees as the "proprietors" of the college, and said that their sole constituency was current and future students. As soon as there was a lull in his discussion, he was confronted with an aggressive set of questions from the student leaders in the audience. Most questions were focused on the interaction between the Board of Trustees and the student body. One student asked why there was not a young alum or student on the Board of Trustees, noting that many of our peer institutions have student or young alumni representation. Evans responded that a position on the Board of Trustees was too valuable from a financial standpoint to give to a student or a young alumnus/a - that spots on the Board should be reserved for alumni who can donate large amounts of money to the college. He also noted that one of the major problems of petition candidate success was that they took spots away from large donors.

Evans was also asked whether the Board of Trustees to interact with students when they meet on campus, and whether they solicit student opinion. Evans seemed to stumble with his answer, saying that the Board did reach out to students but that he wasn't sure how they did. The crowd did warm up when he mentioned going back to Phi Delt, his fraternity, with other trustees and buying them a keg. Overall, the general atmosphere of the students seemed to be skeptical of the trustees' ability to ascertain what was really going on at Dartmouth, from the student perspective. Another student asked Evans about whether the success of petition candidates have had a tangible effect on the Board. He discussed T.J. Rodgers '70 as an example, and attributed FIRE's upgrading of Dartmouth's free speech rating to Rodgers' passion for the issue and willingness to push James Wright to take stronger stances in support of free speech. When asked if the Board of Trustees concerned themselves with developing issues facing students at Dartmouth, Rodgers responded that the Board was not interested in micromanaging the college and that if they disappointed with what was going on, they would simply fire the president.

Overall, it was very interesting to see a very direct interaction between student leaders and a trustee. Throughout the question and answer session, Evans was constantly on the defensive and there seemed to be a poignant dissatisfaction with the trustees that cut across partisan ideology.

Edit: Joe Malchow at Dartblog also covered the event.

Monday, July 30, 2007

In Defense of Democracy

For a while now, I've been ignoring the brewing controversy over the Board of Trustees' decision to review the trustee election process. Since 1891, the Board of Trustees has been split between trustees nominated by alumni, and trustees elected by the board ("charter trustees"). The review process is seeking to determine whether this balance should be continued. The board's Governance Committee has undertaken this review, seeking to determine "what is in the best interests of the college." My decision to ignore this issue so far comes from my unease. I'm a liberal guy, so I'm reluctant to take generally conservative stances when it comes to Dartmouth politics, but I find the maneuvering by the board to be worrisome. It seems clear that this is Alumni Constitution plan B - another way to stop the threat of conservative alumni. But in truth, the proposal to change the composition of the board is wholly undemocratic.

The governance committee noted that trustees elections were "increasingly contentious," but isn't that the point of democracy? Contentious elections bring increased scrutiny on trustee candidates and hold them accountable to the public. Consider the contrast with the so-called charter trustee elections: charter trustee are selected quietly by the board and remain largely anonymous. Nobody knows who they are, what they stand for, how they're going to lead Dartmouth. But I can tell you all about Stephen Smith, and that's good. By exploring issues and candidates with a critical eye, democratic trustee elections bring transparency.

The Board of Trustees is placing present concerns over long term pragmatism. Over time, Dartmouth's alumni will be increasingly liberal, and many of today's concerns will become irrelevant. The 1891 agreement to split the board between alumni-elected trustees and board-elected trustees ensures that the board ultimately follows the will of the alumni. Some would say that the views of the alumni don't really matter, but that certainly cannot be the case. Without alumni control, Dartmouth would be running in a vacuum of its own self-perpetuating leadership. It would be like a Supreme Court that could choose its own successors. Who knows what direction its would take over many generations. An even split of trustees creates a system where the board remains firmly grounded to alumni control, but also more stable through its ability to counterbalance alumni decisions through its own choices. Without a large number of alumni trustees, Dartmouth would be like a corporate board operating without shareholders. The 1891 agreement ensures that we are the shareholders.

Edit: Several comments have raised concerns about my use of the word "shareholder." Of course, I do not think that alumni literally own Dartmouth, but I think it is an apt metaphor given the current power of alumni to nominate half of the board. One comment suggested that "stakeholder" would be more appropriate, but of course alumni are stakeholders - this is their alma mater.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Guide to Internship Survival

In this great season of summer recruiting, it's very timely that the Dartmouth Independent would publish a guide to surviving (or not surviving) internships, written by Tatyana Liskovich '08. Helpful tips include "leave that sandwich in the trash, where it belongs.