AoA members differ on dealings with Board
By William Schpero, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 9, 2008
In the race for the executive committee of the Association of Alumni, supporters of the Association's lawsuit against the College have claimed that the Board of Trustees ignored or denied several of the Association's requests to meet prior to the Board's September announcement of changes to Dartmouth's governance structure. Board Chairman Ed Haldeman '70, however, said in his Sept. 8, 2007 letter announcing the proposed governance changes that, "We carefully considered input from many alumni, current and former trustees, faculty, parents, students, and other members of the Dartmouth community."
The groups' disagreement over the Board's responsiveness to the Association's requests has been prominent in alumni debate for several months.
Association President Bill Hutchinson '76, who opposes the suit, has maintained, along with College officials, that the executive committee made "one and only one" attempt to meet with the Board, and the Board complied. Other members of the Association have argued that the Board ignored several other requests to schedule a meeting or enter mediation.
"One thing I'm frustrated about is some people on our committee have said they have done everything they possibly could do to engage the trustees before they brought the suit," Hutchinson said. "I have always thought that was extremely disingenuous."
Communication between the Board and the Association on governance issues began in May 2007, after an address by then Board Chairman Bill Neukom '64 to the Alumni Council. In the address, Neukom said a trustee sub-committee would explore changes to the Board's structure that summer. When questioned by a member of the audience, Neukom refused to guarantee that the changes would preserve "parity" between the number of alumni-elected and Board-selected trustees.
Later that month, the Association's executive committee voted to send a letter to the Board that "expressed our wanting to be involved in discussions," Frank Gado '58, a member of the executive committee who supports the suit, said.
Gado said there was no response to the letter or acknowledgement of its receipt.
Hutchinson, however, said the letter's language did not directly call for a response.
"It does not specifically ask for a meeting," he said. "It expresses a hope the trustees will work together with the Association executive committee -- it did not say, 'Can we please talk about this?'"
This letter was one of two "official" documents the executive committee voted to send to the Board before the September decision, according to Hutchinson. The second communication was sent in August, when the committee explicitly asked the Board for a meeting. Committee members subsequently took part in a teleconference with Haldeman and trustee Christine Bucklin '84, who headed the governance committee the following Monday.
The Board announced its decision to add eight trustees to the Board less than 10 days later as part of its governance report. The short period of time between the teleconference and the announcement has led some alumni to question whether the Board had finalized its report prior to the call.
"It was not even a discussion," Gado said.
College officials, in past interviews with The Dartmouth, have disputed the allegation that the report was completed before the call, pointing to the inclusion of the results of an Association survey, communicated to the Board during the call, as evidence that the document was still being edited.
Individual members of the executive committee also contacted Board members at least two times about the possibility of entering into a mediation process. The committee never passed an official resolution calling for mediation, though, and mediation never occurred, Hutchinson said.
Gado said it is not necessary to have an official vote on every action of the executive committee.
The Association's executive committee members also made several individual attempts to arrange meetings with the Board. Gado said he sent a letter to Bucklin, asking for a meeting. He said he received a response from Cheryl Reynolds, the secretary to the Board, who told him to submit his suggestions "like all other alumni."
Reynolds did not return requests for comment by press time.
Hutchinson met with Haldeman twice during the summer. In an interview, Hutchinson said he went to the meetings as an alumnus and not as an emissary of the Association.
"Those meetings very much upset some of the majority members of the executive committee," Hutchinson said. "They felt perhaps I would be discussing things in an official capacity, and they made it clear [that] under no circumstances should my meetings be official."
Gado said that the executive committee majority had explicitly instructed Hutchinson to arrange a meeting between the entire Association leadership and the trustees when Hutchinson met with Haldeman. Hutchinson, who made no such arrangement, did not recall receiving those instructions, he said.
After the Board's September announcement, a second teleconference call between members of the executive committee and Haldeman took place. Several members of the committee did not participate in the teleconference because Bob Donin, the College's general counsel, was on the line and they felt they should have separate counsel for the Association present, according to Gado.
"We tried every possible means to have a discussion," Gado said.
Haldeman could not be reached for comment by press time.
Voting in the Association elections continues through June 5. As of May 8, 11 percent of eligible alumni had voted online, according to the College's Vox the Vote web site.