By Jacob Batchelor, Contributing Columnist
Published on Monday, February 2, 2009
As I stood amidst a crowd numbering in the millions, I felt the collective joy and hope of a nation participating in the greatest democracy of our world. I let my tears stream unabashedly and held hands with strangers, finally allowing myself to believe in something bigger, truer and more powerful than any individual or group could ever be. We were one, not an aggregation, but a unified whole, capable of surmounting any odds and accomplishing any goals. For the first time, we all felt that our participation made a difference -- once again it was the people, not just a select few, that held ownership over our grand nation.
A couple weeks after the inauguration, I am still caught up in this idea of democracy. What a wonderful thing it is, to be heard and counted in an institution you love. It gives you ownership and pride, whether it is in a nation, a frat house or a group of friends figuring out what to do on a Saturday. We simply take better care of those things in which we have a voice.
The same idea of democratic participation applies, I realized last Tuesday night, to a college -- our college. I was sitting in the swivel chairs at Green Corps, getting some solid doodling in while the endless calls to alumni cycled through. In case you don't already know, Green Corps is the group that will be hounding you for donations every fiscal year from the moment you graduate until the day you die. Though fundraising is never a pleasant job, it is a necessary one. The College needs money from alumni -- lots of it -- to keep the institution running and the students happy. So that's where I come in, sitting in a chair doodling, about to have a very interesting conversation.
Ms. Alumna, class of '84, picked up the phone last Tuesday to my "Good Mr./Mrs. , my name is _________." Though the usual response is typically terse, this particular graduate sounded genuinely happy to hear from Dear Old Dartmouth. As we exchanged insider Dartmouth pleasantries (How's all that snow? I remember being a freshman, heh, heh), it became apparent that there was something more she wanted to get off her chest.
"I have to tell you, Jake," she said. "This will be the first year since I've graduated that I will not send my donation in."
She was upset, she said, and what ensued was the most practical and worrisome account of our famous alumni controversy I've ever heard. In short, she did not feel like she had any voice in what the College was, or where it was going.
"The College took away my voice," she said. "And withholding donations is the only way I can let them know I still care."
She cited the 1891 resolution as a binding promise from the College that would protect alumni rights with parity on the Board of Trustees. I do not profess to know anything about the legality of this agreement, but one does get the feeling that the College went behind the collective back of alumni in upsetting this balance. For Ms. Alumna, it was about trust, about democracy. Without an equal voice in the College's operation, she no longer felt a part of the institution.
Refusing to donate may at first sound petty or selfish. But, to Ms. Alumna, it was the only way to show that she still loved Dartmouth. She came from generations of loyal and generous Dartmouth alumni, and it broke her heart to withhold her donation. Last Friday's Verbum Ultimum ("A Breath of Fresh Air," Jan. 30) argued that in this time of financial crisis, alumni should put aside their frustrations and continue to come out in support of the College. As a student, I have to support such contentions -- I don't want tuition to go up, or opportunities to go down. But as a detached observer, I believe Ms. Alumna, and those like her, have a point. Hitting the College where it hurts most right now is a way for alumni to express loyalty to the democratic standards that the Board held for so long.
I'm just a freshman, and I still don't understand the entirety of the issue. But I know that when I graduate, I'll want to maintain the same feelings atbout Dartmouth that I have about my country now -- to know that I have an equal voice in an institution I love. As we learned in this year's election, democracy is a powerful tool for uniting people. If we want to bring the Dartmouth community together, and persevere through these tough times, perhaps we should bring democracy back.