Bill questions N.H.’s control over charter
By William Schpero, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, January 18, 2008
CONCORD, N.H. -- A former governor, state senators and Dartmouth alumni governance converged in the Legislative Office Building to debate the extent to which the state should have control over the College on Thursday afternoon. At issue was HB 1292, a bill introduced by Rep. Maureen Mooney, R-Hillsborough, that would repeal a 2003 law that gave the College complete control over its charter.
The hearing took place before the House commerce committee, several members of which are alumni of the College or are related to alumni. More than 35 people attended Thursday's hearing.
The legal effort is a result of the current governance controversy at the College being played out in the courts since the Association of Alumni filed suit against the College on Oct. 3. The suit followed a September Board of Trustees resolution calling for eight additional Board-selected seats, ending more than a century of parity between alumni-elected and Board-selected trustees.
In 2003 the College was granted the right to amend its charter without the state's involvement, as long as the governor served as an ex-officio member on the College's Board of Trustees.
In repealing the 2003 law, Mooney's legislation would allow the state to prevent the College from making changes to its charter.
Mooney, who was the first to testify in Thursday's hearing, said she was introducing the bill in order to "bring back a long-standing and historic relationship between Dartmouth College and the state of New Hampshire."
Mooney has said in past interviews with The Dartmouth that several alumni upset over the recent governance changes prompted her to introduce the bill, although she would not reveal the identities of those alumni.
Former New Hampshire Gov. Walter Peterson '47 spoke first against the bill, arguing that "the democratic process and the health and well-being of the College" would be ensured without intervention by the state.
"We handled this in 2003 and we got it right," said Sen. Peter Burling, D-Cornish, who was involved in the introduction of the 2003 bill.
Most of the supporters of Mooney's legislation who offered testimony have publicly taken a stand in support of the Association of Alumni's lawsuit against the Board. The bill's supporters included Maryland state Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick and Washington, who said that adding eight trustees to the Board was "blowing up the process" of trustee selection. This statement led some members of the audience, including vice-president for Alumni Relations David Spalding '76, to roll their eyes.
Mooney, a member of the Association executive committee, voted in favor of bringing the current lawsuit against the Board of Trustees. He has said he is not related to Maureen Mooney.
Joe Malchow '08, founder of dartblog.com, a website often critical of current College policies, also offered testimony in support of the bill, as did Jeff Newman '82, president of the Gamma Delta Chi Corporation.
John MacGovern '80, president and founder of The Hanover Institute, a not-for-profit organization critical of some College policies, spoke in support of the bill. The Hanover Institute has backed the election of petition candidates to the Board of Trustees in recent years.
Referring to the Board's September decision, MacGovern said, "This anti-democratic measure could only have taken place as a result of the law passed in 2003."
MacGovern argued that before the 2003 law, the College would have been forced to seek state permission before its recent changes and that, as a result, the changes would not have been made. He suggested that the alumni did not voice their opinions regarding the 2003 bill that passed unanimously.
Robert Donin, Dartmouth's general counsel was among those who argued that the 2003 law would not preclude the Board from going forward with its planned addition of eight so-called "charter" trustees. Donin said that while the 2003 law required the College to seek state approval for an increase in Board size, it did not call for the state to approve any change to how trustee seats are allocated, the central issue in the ongoing controversy and the Association's lawsuit. He also discounted any possibility that the 2003 law was not debated, citing public hearings in which he testified.
John Daukas '84, president-elect of the College's Alumni Council, and Rick Silverman '81, president of the Council, also testified on behalf of the College in opposition to the bill.
"As I will explain, if HB 1292 is passed, any change to Dartmouth's charter would once again require approval by the state legislature, and Dartmouth once again would be out of line with other private, non-profit organizations in New Hampshire," Daukas said in the statement he submitted to the committee.
Representatives from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the New Hampshire College and University Council agreed with Daukas' sentiment in their testimony.
The bill will now move to a sub-committee of the commerce committee, which may hold an additional public hearing. If it leaves committee, the bill could be introduced to the full state House of Representatives in February.
A decision on the motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Association against the Board has not yet been released.
The proposed bill is the sixth piece of legislation regarding the state's relationship with Dartmouth since the case of Dartmouth v. Woodward in 1819, which determined that the state could not alter Dartmouth's charter without the College's consent. In that historic case, Daniel Webster, Dartmouth class of 1801, successfully argued that the state's attempt to change the College into a state university was unconstitutional, citing the contract clause of the U.S. Constitution.