COUNCIL PRESIDENT'S PAGE:
Why I'm Optimistic about Alumni Relations at Dartmouth
The following is the opening address of the 197th session of the Alumni Council,
December 4–6, 2008.
John Daukas '84
Alumni Council, 2008–2009
Good evening. I’m J.B. Daukas, class of 1984, and I want to welcome all of you to the 197th meeting of Dartmouth College’s Alumni Council.Thank you all for being here this weekend.
I want to talk to you tonight about optimism.I am optimistic about alumni relations at Dartmouth, and with good reason.
The last few years demonstrate that Dartmouth is experiencing and poised to capitalize on a new, golden age of alumni relations with the College.Recent events show that working constructively within the Dartmouth family for the betterment of the College is productive while acting destructively outside of Dartmouth is counterproductive.I say this as one who had been a dissident for many years – a former petition candidate for Association, one who worked to save fraternities, and who has pushed for an increased voice for alumni.
There were problems in the past.
I believe there was a time in the 1980s and 1990s where the College took its alumni for granted.Too many alumni felt ignored by the College, and the percentage of alumni who gave to the Alumni Fund plunged from a high of 70% in 1980, to a low of 42% in the early 1990s.(I know some will contend that the way the numbers are calculated has changed, and that’s true, but it’s clear that alumni giving dropped considerably.)The College seemed to have a circle-the-wagons reaction to criticism from alumni.Some in Hanover seemed embarrassed about Dartmouth’s differences from, say, Harvard.And rather than recognizing that our differences made us better, they seemed intent on stomping out Dartmouth’s unique character.Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that the College should always do what the alumni want, but I firmly believe that the College should demonstrate a willingness to listen to and respect alumni opinions even if it does not always follow that advice.
Even today, on occasion, someone employed by the College will do something that makes some alumni cringe, and shake their heads.To put this in terms of “text” speak – something that makes alumni say “WTF”?And that’s too bad because the 80s and 90s conditioned many alumni to be suspicious about what goes on in Hanover.
That said, anyone who is at all involved with Dartmouth today knows that the College is actively working with her alumni, and that the College is thriving.
Recent years have witnessed a tremendous improvement in the College’s desire to reach out and embrace its alumni.Dartmouth has demonstrated that it is willing to listen to its alumni, and that it values them as a priceless asset.It is well past time for those who wanted more alumni involvement with the College to declare victory, and get on with helping Dartmouth continue to be the great place it surely is.And the goal must always be to do what is best for the College and particularly its students, not to do what some alumni may think is best for some alumni.
Here, then, is the good news – the great news.The administration and trustees appreciate that alumni wish to be more involved and welcome our participation.The trustees have created a permanent committee charged with listening to alumni sentiment and better communicating with alumni – the Alumni Relations Committee.Over the past year the Alumni Relations Committee repeatedly met with many alumni organizations including the Alumni Council to discuss and consider issues important to graduates.
As many of you know, after six years of effort including some false starts, the Alumni Council has radically amended its constitution better to represent alumni views to the College and to communicate the current state of the institution and future plans to alumni.We’ve dramatically increased representation.
For example, the Alumni Council has doubled its class representation for graduates from the most recent 55 classes, and tripled representatives for the oldest classes.The Council has also increased representatives for Affiliated Groups and graduate schools, and improved representation for geographic clubs.
The last 4 years have witnessed tremendous improvement in the manner and frequency with which Councilors communicate with our constituents.I have a confession to make to the newer councilors.For the last three years as part of orientation we have tricked you by convincing you that we on the Council always communicate with our constituents – which may not have been 100%, entirely, totally, absolutely true in the past.And you know what?It worked.It is now the norm for representatives to send emails to alumni before and after each biannual Council meeting, and to communicate throughout the year.You are doing a great job.
Most excitingly, last fall the Alumni Council created the Alumni Liaison Committee – a working group composed of members from the Council, Association Executive Committee, and alumni body.The ALC’s mission is to ascertain alumni sentiment and engage in two-way dialogue with the Trustees and the Administration.The ALC is the bottom of a funnel, with the 120 members of the Alumni Council at the top, funneling alumni sentiment to the ALC for discussion with the College.
This summer the ALC provided to the Board an annual report concerning alumni sentiment and the work of the Council.The Board has committed to work with the ALC on an ongoing basis, and the two groups have already met several times.For example, during the September Board meeting the full ALC and Alumni Relations Committee plus several additional trustees and College officers met to discuss our report about alumni sentiment and about how we can work together going forward.Earlier that same day, we met with members of the Board’s Governance Committee to discuss issues surrounding trustee elections and alumni responses to the Board’s creation of additional charter trustee seats.
Let’s talk about substance and the state of the College.
The College is in remarkable shape.Applications are way up.Alumni giving has been on the upswing for a number of years despite the recent controversies.You can’t pick up the paper without seeing a Dartmouth alumnus helping to run the country.Walk around campus and see the extraordinary building boom that has taken place here.Our international programs lead all other colleges and universities.The devotion of Dartmouth’s professors to teaching, and to teaching undergraduates is second to none.It is startling to hear the stories of direct faculty/student involvement.And if you meet with the students, you’ll quickly see how outstanding and happy they are.The students are thrilled to be here, and there may be no better measure of the College’s health than that.
Beyond question, the College has heard alumni concerns.For example, no one in the Administration is seriously talking about eliminating fraternities and sororities.Indeed, the College has let back on campus three fraternities that had been thrown off campus in the past.The College has lifted its moratorium on new organizations, and is encouraging new and existing sororities to prosper.It has made available $8,000,000 in low-interest loans to houses for much needed capital improvements.And the College recently acquired two Hanover buildings on East Wheelock Street, just down the road from where we are meeting tonight, as new homes for two additional sororities.No doubt much to the joy of their neighbors – the brothers of Heorot and AD fraternities.Those two new sorority houses will directly benefit the 250+ members of those sororities and will indirectly benefit the college community as a whole.Finally, the College is supporting a new Alumni Council committee created to enhance fraternities and sororities:the “Committee to Support Greek Letter Organizations” or CSG.In part this came out of a presentation to the Alumni Council from last spring.
The committee consists of a number of Alumni Councilors, Dean of the College Tom Crady and several other deans responsible for student life and Greek Letter Organizations, House advisors, and a student representative.I hope that we alumni can help fraternities and sororities flourish by helping them fix and maintain their physical plants, assist in increasing the number of sororities on campus so that all women who wish to join a sorority can, and perhaps assist in improving a variety of cultural issues as well.If this works well, perhaps we can work with other student organizations in the future.
I have high hopes that the CSG will be a way for the Alumni Council to do great substantive good for the College.You know, these last years, we’ve spent so much time addressing governance issues, and responding to lawsuits and legislation intended to have outsiders determine Dartmouth’s future.It is great for us now to be doing something substantive and proactive to help students.
The last few years have disproven a number of fears that some alumni harbored.For example, no one now talks about turning Dartmouth into a research university at the expense of its undergraduate soul.
A new Dean of Admissions, Maria Laskaris – a Dartmouth graduate – is at work.The traditional, well-rounded Dartmouth Man and Woman is back in vogue – not creative loners who lock themselves away to play the cello and translate Catullus.But people who share their gifts with their classmates.No hiding one’s light under a bushel at Dartmouth.
Free speech is no longer a problem on campus.Indeed, long-time Dartmouth Review advisor Professor Jeffrey Hart, ’51, recently wrote an article taking certain alumni to task for falsely claiming that speech issues persist on campus, and for being ignorant of the current state of the College – which Hart described as extremely strong.And Hart gave much of the credit for Dartmouth’s continued well-being where it belongs – to President Wright.
Athletics are well-supported by the Administration and cherished.Dartmouth has enjoyed many very impressive athletic victories in the past several years including national championships.Sure, it will be great to have a winning football team again – and I am certain that will happen in the next several years.And it’s great to have Buddy Teevens coaching the team.Buddy is a Dartmouth alumnus who gets it, who understands what is great about Dartmouth.For example, Buddy encourages his freshman players to participate in Freshman Trips – something that other coaches had not done.Buddy led the team to an undefeated season in the past, and I have no doubt that he knows how to win and will win.
Finally, new Dean of the College, Tom Crady, is rationalizing the College’s alcohol, disciplinary, and social policies and appears to be wildly popular among students.If you can believe this, the Dartmouth Review recently carried a headline over a story about one of Tom’s initiatives which read:“Another Reason To Love Tom Crady.”
That’s the good news.One would think it is time for the alumni to jump for joy and get on with working with the College to capitalize on all the great things that are happening in Hanover.
But instead, some alumni have taken the wrong path.
Unfortunately, in recent years others have taken a destructive, often hysterical approach to alumni concerns about the College.They have broadcast our disagreements outside the Dartmouth family and besmirched the College’s reputation.For example, some alumni – perhaps backed by non-Dartmouth ideological groups that do not have Dartmouth’s best interests at heart – took out advertisements in “The New York Times” and other national media claiming that Dartmouth needed to be “saved” – as though this 240-year-old institution was on the verge of collapse.They have falsely asserted that Dartmouth has repressive speech codes, its education is becoming second rate, and its professors are Godless and unpatriotic.Some of their leaders have discouraged alumni from donating to Dartmouth.Washington-style politics and a shadow nominating system competing with the Alumni Council’s alumni-wide nominating system have come to Dartmouth.
Last year, these folks asked the New Hampshire Legislature to pass legislation to give the state control over Dartmouth’s Charter – Daniel Webster ’01 must be rolling in his grave.They brought a lawsuit which was a costly and time-consuming distraction for the College over an issue that the critics largely brought on themselves– changes in the composition of the Board of Trustees and the method for electing trustees.They brought this on themselves by refusing to work with the alumni to reform the complex and unfair trustee election system.By gaming the system and being more concerned about advancing political views and winning at any cost, than about who is best qualified to serve as a trustee.
Fortunately the Unity Slate lead by John Mathias won the Association election last spring, running on a platform promising to dismiss the suit if they were elected.As you know, the Unity Slate won a decisive victory and – as they promised – promptly dismissed the lawsuit.As you also know, unfortunately last month the Hanover Institute essentially refiled the same lawsuit and the College is again forced to defend itself.
This sort of conduct is counterproductive.We don’t need outsiders telling us how we members of the Dartmouth family should relate to each other.And we do not need people who lose elections to attempt to undo their losses in the courts.
John Mathias and I and others have had discussions with members of the Board of Trustees about the prospect of adding additional alumni-nominated trustees to the Board.Those we have spoken to have expressed a willingness to consider the issue.But we alumni need to get our house in order first by reforming the election system.The renewed lawsuit undermines these discussions.
As I said, the first step to getting more alumni-nominated trustees on the Board, is that we need to reform the election system and show that we can run fair elections in which alumni care enough to vote.Personally, I find it shocking and indefensible that seven out of ten alumni do not care enough about Dartmouth to vote in trustee elections.But that is the fact.In the last trustee election only 28% of alumni voted – despite all the attention caused by that election.And that 28% is not an aberration; it is consistent with other trustee elections which tended to have even lower voter turnout.After all Dartmouth did for each of us, it is not asking too much, I think, to expect alumni to stay reasonably informed about Dartmouth and to vote in its trustee elections.
If we alumni do not care enough to vote for trustee, we do not deserve the right to vote for trustee.It’s use it or lose it.And the next few years may show which way we go on that.
And while I would like to see more alumni-elected trustees and to return to the balance we had in the past, I am sympathetic to the Board’s decision to add more charter trustees rather than have the fate of the College decided by as few as 15% of alumni.Clearly that’s no way to run a railroad or a college.
I’d like to conclude by asking all of us not lose sight of the good news about Dartmouth’s present and the reasons to have great hopes for Dartmouth’s future.There is indeed great reason to be optimistic about Dartmouth.
Despite the occasional squabble, the good news is that Dartmouth is as strong as ever.And that special feeling that unites all of us to Dartmouth is surely stronger than any differences we may have.
As anyone who has kept in touch with Dartmouth well knows, Dartmouth continues to thrive.Dartmouth not only endures, but Dartmouth prevails.Under the outstanding stewardship of President Jim Wright, Dartmouth today is in terrific shape.It remains the best place on the globe to go to college -- a tight-knit community, proud of its traditions and embracing the future.
Historically we alumni have been one of Dartmouth’s greatest assets.We need to move beyond public bickering and lawsuits and work together to promote Dartmouth’s mission – helping Dartmouth’s students.The trustees and administration are listening and willing to work with alumni.It is time for all of us to work cooperatively to maintain Dartmouth as the best college in the world.I hope you are willing to help.