A panel from the Alumni Governance Task Force (AGTF) answered questions about the proposed new Association of Alumni (AOA) constitution, released by the task force earlier this month, in a public forum held at the Sheraton Boston on March 27. Since it began five years ago, the process of constitutional change in the AOA, like constitutional changein any organization, has provoked vigorous debate at meetings, in Dartmouth media, and on alumni blogs, but cooler heads prevailed at the forum, even regarding the most contentious issues.
More than 80 alumni and students attended, joined by almost 50 others around the country via a live Webcast that enabled them to watch the event and email questions from their computers at home. About a dozen attendeesvoiced questions and comments, and those of Webcast participants wereread to the panel by Kaja Schuppert '95, a member of the AOA Executive Committee.
The AGTF members on the panel were J.B. Daukas '84, Jim Adler '60, Trevor Burgess '94, Martha Hennessey '76,and Bill Hutchinson '76. The panel also included Merle Adelman '80, first vice president of the AOA, who outlined the timeline for the forthcoming votes on the proposed constitution by the Alumni Counciland AOA. Rick Routhier '73, Tu'76, president of the council, moderated the discussion.
'The Association of Alumni could do lots of different things, but it's not set up to, and in fact it hasn't. It's done very little,' said Daukas, who was among those who rejected a proposed constitution that was narrowly defeated in 2003. For decades, he noted, the only thing the AOA has done is run the mechanics of trustee elections through its balloting committee.
In contrast, the Alumni Council engages in many activities, including nominating candidates for vacancies on the Board of Trustees.
Yet 'it's difficult for alumni to directly engage with the council,' said Daukas. 'Alumni at large don't elect council members, unless their class is set up in a certain way to allow them to elect certain representatives; alumni don't elect at-large representatives to the council; and alumni don't elect council leadership.'
The proposed new constitution aims for more democracy. It combines the roles of the current Alumni Council and AOA into one Alumni Association with four components custom-built for alumni engagement: an Alumni Assembly; an Alumni Liaison Board (ALB), whose sole purpose is to communicate alumni views to the Board of Trustees; and Nominating and Balloting Committees. Assembly leaders, for whom previous service would not be required, would be elected by alumni at large; all alumni would elect half the members of the ALB and committees, and the Assembly would elect the other half.
'One of the things we've heard over and over from alumni,' said Hutchinson, 'is that what's missing is a sense of partnership with the College, specifically, connection with the trustees and the administration.We've tried very hard to figure out structures to encourage greater engagement, not only in support, but in advice and discussion. We hopethese structures will really flower and be a new day for Dartmouth alumni.'
Although a few questions addressed other provisions of the proposed constitution, such as the assembly president's four-year term and affiliated groups' representation to the assembly by two members, forum participants were concerned mainly on the process of electing association leaders, particularly alumni trustees.
Under the proposed constitution, the Nominating Committee would put up a slate of one or two candidates, and petition candidates would need 250 signatures (instead of the 500 currently required) to get on the ballot. Rather than submitting their petitions within 60 days after the Nominating Committee announces its slate, they'd submit them just before it does so.
Though Daukas called this a 'safety valve,' Phil Mone '02 said it sounded more like a batter's asking the pitcher what pitch he's going to throw at the bottom of the ninth inning.
'The efforts of the task force have been quite constructive and are moving in the right direction,' said Doug Keare '56, 'but I don't think we should be designing a system that assumes we're going to have petition candidates all the time. We want to design a system where the Nominating Committee has every chance to succeed, rather than operating under a presumption of failure.'
In an emailed comment, David Gale '00 noted that requiring petition candidates to submit their signatures before the Nominating Committee announces its slate suggests an assumption that the committee isn't putting out candidates who are good choices.
In recent years, however, petition candidates have submitted their petitions long before the committee has named its slate, anyway, Hennessey pointed out.
The proposed constitution is meant to ensure head-to-head races, the panel emphasized. If there's a two-person race, alumni vote for one candidate, so the winner gets a majority, rather than plurality, of votes. If there are more than two candidates, alumni vote for any and all they deem qualified.
'Recently, candidates have won with only a plurality,' said Daukas. 'And people say they really don't have the support of most of alumni. We're trying to encourage races where it's easier for candidates who are the most popular to get a majority of the vote. We want to have contested elections where alumni have a choice.'
The AGTF invites comments and questions about the proposed constitution until April 10. Email the task force at email@example.com or visit http://dartagtf.blogspot.com, or call Patsy Fisher, director of alumni leadership, at (603) 646-3929. To see the forum in its entirety, watch the archived Webcast. The forum was covered by The Dartmouth, and lively discussion is continuing at the AGTF blog. A comparison of the September 25, 2005, and March 10, 2006, versions ofthe AGTF's proposed new constitution is available here.