Answering Questions about the Alumni Council's Statement Opposing
the Lawsuit Filed by the Association of Alumni
Rick Silverman '81
Alumni Council, 2007–2008
Rick Silverman '81
Who wrote the Alumni Council statement opposing the Alumni Association lawsuit against the College, and why is it unsigned? Who voted for it?
Members of the executive committee of the Alumni Council wrote the statement. The executive committee includes a president, president-elect, past president, and 12 committee chairs. It was not written by the trustees or by the administration. The executive committee includes a variety of professional people, but none of us is a politician, and none of us works for Dartmouth. The statement was unsigned because it was issued by the Alumni Council, the membership of which can be viewed at www.alumni.dartmouth.edu/councilrep. It was discussed and voted upon by the Alumni Council Executive Committee after many of us were contacted by alumni insisting that we respond to the lawsuit brought by members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee. We had an emergency meeting of our executive committee, and after the statement was edited, it was circulated to the entire council before it was distributed. At no point has any councilor come forward against the statement, despite my personal request that any councilor who favored the idea of the lawsuit contact me privately.
What is the Alumni Council? What is the Alumni Association?
The Association of Alumni of Dartmouth College includes all 68,800 living alumni who have matriculated at Dartmouth and its professional schools. The association has an executive committee, made up of a president, first vice-president, second vice-president, secretary-treasurer, and seven committee members. These individuals are elected annually by all alumni through all-media voting in the spring (this type of election took place for the first time in 2007). Petition candidates make up a majority of this committee, including the second vice-president and six of seven members of the executive committee. Six of these petition members voted in favor of bringing the lawsuit against the College, three non-petition members voted against doing so, and two were not present for that vote.
In 1913, the Alumni Association created the Alumni Council “to serve as the primary forum for the discussion of issues and concerns relative to the alumni body and Dartmouth College,” and “to serve as a representative organization of Dartmouth alumni acting in the best interest of Dartmouth College.” Since 1913, the only activity of the association has been to run the alumni-nominated trustee balloting and to conduct an annual meeting.
The Alumni Council is essentially the “communications arm” of the association, and up until the late 1980s, these two organizations existed under the same umbrella. A separation occurred in 1989 to simplify “housekeeping” issues in the council, and an attempt to reunite them within a single constitution was initiated in 2000 but failed in 2003, and again in 2006. The council is working to institute changes that would improve alumni representation, as well as create a more “democratic” council, with more representatives being directly elected by their constituents going forward. Prior to this time, representatives have been elected or selected by their constituents without specific guidelines or directives. Detailed history can be found on the Web pages for the Alumni Council and the Alumni Association .
Is the Alumni Council representative?
The 101 members of the Alumni Council provide broad representation of alumni groups, including classes, clubs, regions, affiliated groups, organizations, graduate schools, faculty, and students. Representatives are volunteers who are asked or have offered to serve, and in many cases, they have not been elected, other than perhaps by being part of a slate of officers elected by these groups.In the future, guidelines for election of representatives will be put forward and their use encouraged, in response to the claim that “selected” representatives are not providing adequate representation, and elections would do more to encourage that. By the same token, representatives are only able to represent views that are presented to them by their constituents, and a two-way street must be established and maintained in order to make this effective.
Who represents the “voice” of the alumni?
There is no one “voice” of the alumni. As should be obvious from the responses we received, alumni hold many views and opinions. From what I can tell, one of the problems that has plagued the processes of alumni leadership results from consistent thinking within given alumni circles. All parties are guilty of this. Those of us on the Alumni Council are presented with information from the College, we visit the campus frequently, we talk to students, and we see the Dartmouth Experience as a very positive one, challenging our ability to put much belief in the anti-administrative rhetoric. As a result, we may neglect some concerns expressed by alumni, which, based on our experience, have little support. Other groups holding alternative views may circulate information and anecdotes to support their individual views, without looking beyond those perspectives, or at least not looking for credible information that might alter their opinion.
Do you think we're stupid? Are alumni adequately informed?
No, no one thinks that alumni are stupid.Alumni may not be fully informed, and in particular, in the past two years, I've seen a great deal of confusion among alumni, stirred up by multiple parties trying to win alumni over to their side. Most alumni are sick of the politicization that currently afflicts alumni leadership; they're no longer interested in reading multiple lengthy emails. Additionally, they don't know whom to believe any more. And in spite of all of the information that is going out to alumni, I am repeatedly impressed by the number of alumni who are unfamiliar with the issues currently on our plates. The information is available, but it takes time and effort to digest it and understand the meaning—time and effort that many busy alumni don't have.
Why do you say the lawsuit is meritless?
I'm not a lawyer, but there are many lawyers on the Alumni Council. Several rather smart ones have suggested a number of reasons why the lawsuit does not have merit, having to do with the absence of a contract, the nature of the parties involved, and other factors. I can't address that. What I do know is that a lawsuit will utilize time and resources that could be better invested in activities to enhance the experience for Dartmouth students.I found replies from alumni lawyers quite interesting, with some favoring dropping the suit, while others feeling that it would put the matter to rest once and for all. Knowing the history of the alumni organizations and the individuals involved, I don't think anything will put this to rest, including a reversal of the trustee action or the retirement of President Wright.
Why do you say the lawsuit is against the will of the majority?
Our statement indicated that we believe that a lawsuit is against the will of the majority. This says nothing of alumni desire for “parity,” but rather, acknowledges that more alumni have expressed concern over the lawsuit than have supported it. This is based on personal contacts, and on surveys by councilors. The latter are still ongoing.
Why not take a vote?
Thirty-eight percent of alumni participated in the vote on the proposed new alumni constitution. Twenty-eight percent voted in the last trustee election. These numbers are remarkably high among colleges, but in both cases, the majority of alumni remain unheard. Consistently, petition candidates and issues garner 15 to 18 percent of votes in various elections. Half of alumni contribute to the College in some way. Somewhere, there is a disconnection between giving and voting. This is one drawback of a vote. The other is that alumni are fatigued from all of this. If you don't believe me, I can share those responses with you as well.
Does the Alumni Council support the dilution of the alumni voice on the Board of Trustees? What about parity?
This is a very difficult issue for many of us. There are representatives on the council, who would have preferred maintenance of parity. There are others who would have preferred the elimination of elections altogether. The report of the Governance Committee of the Trustees cited similar sentiment during the course of their study. Knowing the details that have led up to the trustee action, and recognizing the many differing views incorporated into their decision-making, most councilors believe that the Trustees' recommendations represent a true compromise solution to the issues they are dealing with.In any event, based on the charter of the College, the trustees believed that this was their decision to make, and not an Alumni Council or Alumni Association decision. The only “decision” made by the Alumni Council was to try and work with the recommendations made by the Board of Trustees. As the board's decision is final, we believe that the best course is for the Alumni Council to move on and accept the trustees' invitation to work closely with them going forward in the best interests of Dartmouth.
What do you mean when you talk about making the nomination process more democratic?
While there will be fewer alumni-nominated trustees relative to the charter trustees, the eight that remain need to be effective voices, bringing forward ideas and concerns of alumni, while working with the entire board in a constructive manner. Members of the Alumni Council Nominating Committee have been working with members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee to resolve issues with the nomination (election) process, which will result in a nominee who is brought forward as a majority winner in the election. This is what is meant by “making nomination to the board by alumni more democratic.” The process which is currently in place has only been used since 1990, and it has been plagued by problems since its inception. Attempts to change the process preceded election of the past four trustees, who were brought forward by petition, but these attempts were packaged with the constitutional changes in 2003 and 2006, and failed with the failure of those amendments. It is inaccurate to say that these changes were proposed because of the recent election outcomes. This has been a problem since long before these petition candidates considered running to be trustees.
Can't the Board of Trustees just change their action to eliminate the suit?
I don't know that this alone would solve the problem. While parity is the primary issue of the suit, there remain the board's recommendations on altering the nomination process. This was attempted in both prior proposed constitutions (2003 and 2006) since flaws in the nomination process have been present since it was changed in 1990. This has repeatedly met with resistance. The board wants this process changed, and members of the Alumni Council Nominating Committee have initiated efforts with members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee to carry out these changes. We're still very early in this process, but unless the recommended changes are accepted by association leaders in the petition camp, they will not pass a vote by alumni, at least based on previous experience. Supposing parity was restored, but the changes to the nomination process were unilaterally instituted by the board, would this then lead to another lawsuit?
Is there a connection between the individuals who voted to file the lawsuit and the trustees nominated through the petition process?
I don't know.
You don't represent my views. I didn't vote for you.
And I didn't vote for the Alumni Association Executive Committee members who have filed the lawsuit. In the future, you will have the opportunity to vote for your Alumni Council representative. Indeed, you'll have the opportunity to run for that position. I won't be fighting you for it.
What should I do about making donations to the College?
A few people asked this, obviously because they are unhappy with what is happening. Personally, I donate to Dartmouth so that students today can have the sort of amazing experiences that I had 25 years ago. I don't expect that the College will listen to my complaints more or less because I donate, and I don't have children to try to get accepted either. Everyone supports a charitable cause for a different reason, and if the current events compel you to withhold your support of the College, that's your decision. I will point out that quite a few alumni who have written in support of the trustee action and against the lawsuit have suggested that they will increase their support. If you're unhappy with the administration, but still want to support students or specific activities at the College, you can make your donations and direct where they go—toward financial aid, toward specific programs, toward endowment of a chair or construction of a building. The menu is long and varied, and I'm sure that the Development Office would be pleased to work with you.
If I'm not in favor of the lawsuit, what can I do?
An amicus brief has been filed asking New Hampshire's Grafton County Superior Court to dismiss the lawsuit (of the 96 members of the council who are eligible to vote, 69 voted to “approve” of the brief and none voted to “disapprove.” Two members abstained and 25 did not respond.). You can contact those members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee who have brought the lawsuit forward by emailing them at email@example.com . Additionally, you can visit the association blog to give your feedback and ask your questions. On the blog, you'll find a number of different threads, and you may find some of the reading quite interesting. The other thing you can do is to speak with others in your Dartmouth circles to encourage them to speak up against the lawsuit. Whether you are in favor of the trustee action or not, if you oppose the suit, help others to understand why you think the way you think.