Something We Can Agree On
By Michael Kreicher, Staff Columnist
Published on Monday, October 29, 2007
When I read this past Tuesday that New Hampshire State Rep. Maureen Mooney planned to introduce a bill that would effectively seek to overturn the famous 1819 Supreme Court decision and jeopardize the sovereignty of Dartmouth, I was absolutely astonished ("N.H. House proposal eyes College charter," Oct. 23). I cannot imagine a more misguided reaction to the recent controversy created by the reorganization of the Board of Trustees. If Rep. Mooney genuinely believes that forcing state involvement in College governance is the correct course of action, she is sadly mistaken. Ironically enough, I believe that this issue is one that has the potential to unite the entirety of Dartmouth's alumni body, and that is exactly what I hope will happen.
I have done my best to avoid writing about the bickering between the two groups of alumni. One group consists of the majority of the Board of Trustees and other, general supporters of the Wright administration. The other appears to be composed of the recent petition candidates and their more radical alumni backers. I do not necessarily agree with the committee's unilateral decision to increase the number of charter trustees on the board, but I agree even less with the alumni faction led by the petition candidates, who have drawn only negative attention to the College through advertisements in the New York Times, among other things. The recent announcement that this group of alumni is suing the College has only added insult to injury. Lost amidst the infighting has been the interest of the current undergraduate students.
The one redeeming fact about this debate is that it has centered on two private groups of Dartmouth graduates, albeit with very different views, who have argued against each other. The fate of Dartmouth, a private institution, should not be influenced by the state government supporting one side or the other. That is in no one's best interest. If, as Mooney states, "[she]wants to be sure that the alumni of Dartmouth College feel that its history is being adequately observed and maintained," there can be no more hypocritical of an action than to challenge the sovereignty of Dartmouth's charter. I would argue that as far as Dartmouth's history goes, the decision in the Daniel Webster case is paramount. It is not her job to solve the problems of the alumni; I would like to think that the esteemed alumni of a prestigious college like Dartmouth can figure things out for themselves.
Any alumnus who believes that it is a good idea to allow the state to repeal the 1819 decision must not be considering the lasting consequences of such a move. The state's involvement in the governance of the College would not end with this one issue. For the foreseeable future, the state legislature would have a say in all College matters. Before we knew it, politicians would be helping to allocate our budget, making decisions on academic matters and even reviewing the alcohol policy. Moreover, if the alumni are upset that the current trustees have changed the structure of the Board of Trustees, imagine the uproar when the state government is placing its own candidates on the board. After all, the Dartmouth College v. Woodward case was originally motivated when the state attempted to handpick the president of the College.
Now I understand that Mooney is well-intentioned in her proposal and believes she is simply responding to the wishes of the alumni she has spoken with. Moreover, I do not believe that this bill has any shot at making any headway whatsoever through the legislative process. Any rational person will be able to see that this is not the answer to the ongoing debate between the alumni. I also hope that all alumni, whether they support the reorganization of the Board of Trustees or not, will unite against Mooney's bill. It allows us to take a step back for a minute and recognize that the public infighting has done little to help the situation and has instead started to attract the type of attention that none of us want, namely the eager politicians looking to get involved.
I would hope that any alumnus of Dartmouth would follow the famous speech of Black Dan, as Daniel Webster was called for his five o'clock shadow, in saying, "when I see my alma mater surrounded like Caesar in the senate house, by those who are reiterating stab upon stab, I would not for this right hand have her say to me, 'et tu quoque mi filii.'"