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.