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.


Anonymous said...

David, Zywicki agreed to the Trustee Oath when he was bound by the Statement on Governance and Trustee Responsibilities when his board passed it. He made his comments after that Statement was enacted as a bylaw of the board (and it is not an attempt to silence anyone, it just makes clear what the trustees, at least the good ones, already understood).

"Strengthening performance" is not Orwellian, it is management-speak and something Zywicki should be able to understand as a professor of law & economics.

Montgomery does mention Zywicki's comment about Friedman, but it is to show what a poor person Zywicki is. There is plenty of other evidence that Zywicki violated his duties to the board, whether they are duties in corporate law, the Oath, or the Statement.

Montgomery's and your comments about free speech are not necessary. Zywicki will be as free to speak ill of Dartmouth whether or not he is a trustee. The question is whether he is breaking any of the promises he made simply by being a trustee.

If you read Zywicki's address, you will see that he lays out a clear plan for the enhancement of partisan interest groups or institutions and encourages his audience to support this goal. He suggests that audience members raise funds and donate to his employer instead of to Dartmouth. This is disloyal to Dartmouth no matter who is president. It also supports Zywicki's purely personal interests in seeing his employer enriched and in seeing schools that share his particular religious beliefs be created. None of this is acceptable behavior for someone in Zywicki's position.

When you were in your student government, you were not part of a New Hampshire nonprofit corporation, and you were not bound by the Trustees' Oath or the Statement they adopted into their bylaws. That's why it's okay for you to do things Zywicki is not.

[Please note: "democracy" is irrelevant and off-topic.]

Anonymous said...

"That's why it's okay for you to do things Zywicki is not" allowed to do.

John Bruce said...

On the other hand, calling Freedman "evil" is over the top, and he's already retracted one remark about the Board. I voted for the guy, with reservations, but would not do so now. He isn't acting like an adult -- how did a bunch of crackers in North Carolina turn his head and get him blathering that way?

Over The Top said...

I understand the "evil" characterization is not original with Mr. Zywicki, but has its origins in the writings of Prof. Jeffrey Hart.

Hart was not alluding to Pres. Freedman as an individual, but rather to his impact on Dartmouth College and his attacks on the Review and its black and Jewish staffers. If "good" people can do "evil" things, then the statement, while not formulated in the proper context, is OK. As stated, it is indeed "over the top". So what do we believe was Zywicki's intent... Freedman the man or Freedman's policies?

Anonymous said...

Over the Top, what "attacks on the Review and its black and Jewish staffers" are you talking about?