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...





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.