‘Unity’ slate sweeps all executive committee seats in record AoA vote
By William Schpero, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Web Update, last updated on Jun 10 | 9:25 pm
In what may spell the end of the Association of Alumniâ€™s lawsuit against the College, candidates critical of the suit swept all 11 of the Associationâ€™s executive committee seats in the organizationâ€™s annual election, according to results released today.
The election has become a contentious referendum on the lawsuit, which seeks to block changes to the structure of the Collegeâ€™s Board of Trustees. Approximately 60 percent of the votes were cast for the anti-lawsuit â€œUnityâ€ slate.
â€œDartmouth alumni have expressed their support for ending the lawsuit against the College and pursuing a more collaborative and productive approach to governance,â€ said David Spalding â€™76, vice president for Alumni Relations and a reelected member of the Association executive committee, in a statement.
A record 38 percent of alumni voted in the elections, which began April 28. In comparison, 28 percent of alumni voted last spring to choose a new trustee.
The new Association leadership will take office immediately.
In its first meeting Tuesday night, the new executive committee voted to remove Frank Gado â€™58, a former member of the committee who supported the lawsuit, as the organizationâ€™s liaison to its counsel at Williams and Connolly, the Washington, D.C. law firm. The committee designated incoming Association President John Mathias â€™69 as the new legal liaison and delegated to him â€œthe full power and authority to direct the work of outside counsel and to take any and all actions to obtain the prompt dismissal of the lawsuit,â€ Mathias said in an interview.
Mathias said he would work to end the lawsuit â€œwith all deliberate speedâ€ and to initiate a dialogue with the Board on issues important to alumni who participated in the election.
â€œNow more than ever Dartmouth alumni should be united in our support of the finest undergraduate college anywhere,â€ Mathias said. â€œAs we move forward, our Association will practice collaboration and persuasion and, as promised, we will take prompt action to ensure the dismissal of the lawsuit against Dartmouth.â€
Gado, in an interview with The Dartmouth, conceded that the anti-lawsuit slate had â€œwon a resounding victory.â€ Still, he criticized his opponents for engaging in â€œsmear tactics.â€
â€œThey kept painting us as right-wing fanatics who were against coeducation,â€ Gado said.
â€œIt created a climate of fear and depicted us as deeply reactionary, which is unfair and untrue. They won, I canâ€™t say they won fair and square, but they won and the reins are in their hands.â€
Spalding said the election results gain an added significance in light of the Collegeâ€™s current search for its next president.
â€œMy hope at this point is that the signal alumni have sent is that they do want Dartmouth alumni to come together and recommit ourselves to the very important missions of the College, especially at the time when we have an historic event underway,â€ he said.
Despite rumors that Williams and Connolly would continue the lawsuit against the wishes of a new executive committee and according to the direction of an outside influence, Robert Cary â€™86, a partner at the law firm who represented the Association, confirmed in an interview that â€œthe Association is the client.â€
An inquiry in April by The Dartmouth found that while no outside organization directly supports the suit, several organizations appear to be facilitating it. The Center for Excellence in Higher Education, a conservative organization based in Indiana, has solicited donations from alumni. DonorsTrust, a Washington, D.C. think tank with conservative ties, was also involved.
Six members of the executive committee originally voted to bring suit on Oct. 3 following a vote less than one month earlier by the Collegeâ€™s Board of Trustees to increase its size by adding eight members not elected by alumni. This decision ended a century-old tradition of parity between the number of alumni-elected and Board-selected, or charter, trustees, and provided the impetus for a contentious debate within the alumni body that eventually spilled onto the pages of national news publications, such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The Boardâ€™s decision came after a series of trustee elections in which candidates elected by petition, rather than nomination by the Collegeâ€™s Alumni Council, had won. These candidates, including T.J. Rodgers â€™70, Peter Robinson â€™79, Todd Zywicki â€™88 and Stephen Smith â€™88, campaigned on similar platforms of change. These trustees opposed the September changes to the Boardâ€™s structure, and filed an amicus brief in support of the Associationâ€™s suit against the College on Dec. 7. Calls to Robinson and Smith were not returned by press time. Board Chairman Ed Haldeman â€™70 refused to comment for this article.
â€œThe alumni trustee nomination process has recently taken on the characteristics of a partisan political campaign, becoming increasingly contentious, divisive, and costly for the participants,â€ the governance committee, a sub-committee of the Board, said in a statement last June. â€œAlumni have also raised questions about the fairness of the multiple-candidate, approval-voting, and plurality-winner features of the process. We believe these issues must be addressed, lest many highly qualified alumni be dissuaded from seeking nomination.â€
In bringing suit, the Association executive committee argued that the trustees were contractually obligated to maintain parity as the result of an 1891 Board resolution. The Grafton County Superior Court rejected the Collegeâ€™s motion to dismiss the case in February and the case was scheduled for trial in November.
Now, the suit will likely be withdrawn within the next few weeks.
The 40-day voting period in the Association executive committee elections were defined by active campaigning by interest groups founded to support each slate of candidates. Dartmouth Undying and Dartmouth Parity, the two organizations involved, mailed, phoned and e-mailed alumni to build support for their respective candidates. This campaigning led to accusations of push polling against both organizations and allegations of misleading political advertisements placed by Dartmouth Undying. Several Dartmouth alumni affinity groups, including the Dartmouth Asian Pacific American Alumni Organization and the Dartmouth Association of Latino Alumni, also campaigned on behalf of the anti-lawsuit candidates.
The Association elections marked the first time students played an active role in alumni political affairs. Students circulated petitions supporting candidates on both sides of the lawsuit and several students received payment for making calls on behalf of Dartmouth Undying.
While it is unclear which of these factors may have played a role in the final result of the election, alumni were decisive in voicing their disdain for legal action against their College.
Debate on the future of the Collegeâ€™s system of governance, however, may continue.