Smith ‘88 wins trustee election
By William Schpero, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 18, 2007
Petition candidate Stephen Smith '88 was elected to the Dartmouth Board of Trustees after one and a half months of voting. Smith, who won with over 54 percent of the vote, marks the fourth consecutive petition candidate to be appointed as a trustee. About 28 percent of alumni voted in the election.
Smith will replace Nancy Jeton '76, who is retiring from the Board.
"We have a new trustee," said Chair of the Board of Trustees Bill Neukom '64 when asked for his reaction.
"I think that the discernible implication is that we have a new trustee whose accomplishments speak for themselves," Neukom continued.
Smith was elected to the position over three candidates nominated by a sub-committee of the Alumni Council, one of Dartmouth's two alumni governance entities. The nominated candidates include Sandy Alderson '69, Sherri Oberg '82 Tu'86 and John Wolf '70. None of the three could be reached for comment as of press time. A second petitioner, Janos Marton '04, did not collect the threshold number of signatures that would allow him to enter the race as an official candidate.
The election comes in the wake the failure of the proposed Association of Alumni constitution in the fall. The constitution represented an attempt to reform alumni governance at the College, but was met with passionate debate from several alumni and alumni organizations.
Both the constitution and the trustee election, which at times elicited criticism of the College, received wide-spread coverage in national media. This led some officials at the College and alumni to question whether the College's image was damaged as a result.
"Part of the rhetoric in this election from a variety of sources did not depict the College accurately or well, and I can't tell what the impact of that will be," College President James Wright said.
Smith has differentiated himself from the other three candidates through the extent to which he criticizes the current College administration.
On his website and in other media, Smith lambasted what he perceives as a shift of the College towards the status of a university from one of a college.
To counter this shift, Smith said he believes that more faculty should be hired to reduce the size of classes, and that teaching should be promoted above research.
"I think that is very important, as is trying to guarantee students that they won't be shut out of classes they need for majors," Smith said in an interview shortly after winning.
As his first priority, Smith said that he plans to focus on reform of the Committee on Standards, the body responsible for adjudicating disciplinary and academic action against students.
In the past, Smith has also been critical of alleged growth in the number of administrators at the College.
"I believe it is time to stop bureaucratic bloat and to invest in excellence," Smith's website declares.
Wright, in what appeared to be an allusion to Smith's assertions about the College, said in a Feb. 28 letter to the community that he would "correct the record" if trustee candidates were inaccurate in their characterization of Dartmouth. This was followed in March by the launch of "Ask Dartmouth," a website that countered several of the assertions Smith has made.
"There are a lot of statements about what Dartmouth is doing that I do not think are all that accurate," Wright said in an April interview with The Dartmouth. "Classes are getting smaller, not larger, the faculty is getting larger, not smaller -- these are simply statements of fact and surely, as president, I have a responsibility to make certain that the facts about Dartmouth are correctly stated."
Wright, interviewed after the announcement of Smith's election, welcomed him as a member of the Board and said that his election would not immediately have any implications on student life. He also commented on Smith's campaign.
"[Smith] certainly was not always positive about a number of aspects of what it is we are doing," Wright said. "I am not going to get into an analysis of his campaign, but what he is talking about is not fundamentally variant from the way the College is today."
Several of the traditional supporters of the petition slate said they believed Smith's win may be representative of the alumni body's perception of Wright.
"It certainly is not a resounding recommendation [for Wright] from a sizeable block of alumni," said John MacGovern '80, the founder of the Hanover Institute, a non-profit organization often critical of the administration. "[The administration] set up Ask Dartmouth, which was basically the administration criticizing Smith."
Neukom cautioned against making such conclusions.
"We do not know what reason or combination of reasons cause people to vote for any of the candidates. I think it is jumping to an unjustified conclusion," he said. "We have always known from valid survey data that there is a relatively small percentage of alums who are dissatisfied with some of the programs at Dartmouth, and what we know is that students are highly satisfied with the experience they have at the College."
Echoing this sentiment, Wright affirmed the good standing of the College.
"I am staying the course, I am comfortable with what I am doing, and I am comfortable with the satisfaction students and faculty have with the Dartmouth of today," Wright said. "I welcome Stephen Smith to join and help in the process."
Money and the Election
Smith's appointment to the Board of Trustees follows the first election in which candidates were allowed to campaign freely.
As a result, money played an unprecedented role in the race.
While Oberg and Wolf have said they objected to heavy campaign spending, Alderson said in a previous interview he paid $14,000 for his professionally designed campaign website.
Prior to his nomination through petition, Smith sent a mailing to approximately 60,000 alumni at an estimated cost of $50,000 to $90,000. He would not disclose from where he obtained the mailing list, saying only that he supported his campaign with donations from individual alumni.
The Hanover Institute, along with the three sitting petition candidates, has openly supported Smith. The petitioners include Peter Robinson '79, T.J. Rodgers '70 and Todd Zywicki '88, all of whom signed Smith's petition to run.
Smith said that while none of these entities financed his campaign, he consulted several for advice.
"We, [the Hanover Institute], have alumni that we communicate with, and after getting to know Stephen Smith, we strongly recommended that alumni vote for him," MacGovern said. "We are happy to have played a small part."
In joining the Board of Trustees, Smith becomes a member of an organization that has the final authority in the affairs of the College, including all academic, administrative and financial decisions. He will be the second black alumnus to currently serve the Board.
Smith is a law professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., not too far away from inner-city Washington, D.C., where he grew up. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1988 with a double major in philosophy and history. He was a member of Sigma Nu fraternity and played basketball and football. After Dartmouth, he went on to UVA School of Law.
Smith said that he has been "active from a distance" with Dartmouth since graduation, mentoring Dartmouth graduates at UVA, although he admitted that he has never donated monetarily to the College.
After graduation from UVA, Smith clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge David B. Sentelle and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Smith then entered private practice for six years as an associate attorney at the law firm Sidley and Austin in Washington, D.C. Afterwards, he began teaching criminal law, criminal procedure and appellate advocacy at UVA. He served from 2000 to 2004 as chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Reviewing Authority and twice as a community representative on the Police Citizens Advisory and on the Executive Committee of the Charlottesville/Albemarle United Way. He was awarded tenure at UVA in 2005.
"[Being elected] is an honor beyond words," Smith said. "Dartmouth has meant so much to me. I am looking forward to serving the College and making it a better institution than it already is."
For the record: Due to a reporting error, a story on Friday ("Smith '88 wins trustee election," May 18) incorrectly stated that this trustee election was the first in which alumni could send in their ballots through the mail or electronically. Voters have been able to vote using these methods in previous trustee elections. This year was the first in which voters could vote electronically or through the mail for Association of Alumni elections.