A proposed amendment to the Association of Alumni constitution has unified many alumni and former College officials who have traditionally taken opposing positions on alumni governance issues. Voting on the amendment, which began on March 25, will continue through May 6. In the election, alumni will also vote to elect officers to the Association’s executive committee, although all of the current committee members are running unopposed.
The proposed amendment to the Association constitution calls for a one-person, one-vote system for trustee elections, ending the use of an approval voting process in which alumni could vote for an unlimited number of candidates. If passed, the amendment will allow the Alumni Council, the College’s second alumni representative body, to nominate only one or two candidates for the Board of Trustees, as opposed to the three required in the past.
The Board first called for these changes in its September 2007 governance report.
Historically, three Council-nominated candidates have campaigned against one petition candidate in alumni trustee elections. Assuming alumni typically did not take advantage of the approval voting process and only voted for one candidate, the Council candidates were put at a disadvantage because they split the vote. By allowing fewer Council candidates, the proposed amendment could theoretically make it easier for those candidates to win.
Many alumni and former College officials have publicly stated their support for the amendment, including Ralph Manuel ’58, former Dean of the College; professor John Rassias, former chair of the French and Italian department and president of the Rassias Foundation; and Mike Murphy ’61, who ran for president of the Association’s executive committee in Spring 2008 on the so-called “parity slate,” which supported the alumni lawsuit against the College.
Association President John Mathias ’69 said he does not believe there is any large-scale disapproval of the amendment.
“We are trying to show that there is widespread support for this,” Mathias said. “We have not seen any opposition to this.”
Murphy said he has asked David Spalding, vice president for Alumni Relations and treasurer-secretary of the Association’s executive committee, to “spread the word [that he is supporting the amendment] as much as resources allow.”
“If this doesn’t pass, then we will have a mess with more potential for divisiveness and turmoil,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he believes that a failure to pass the amendment will allow the Board to assume control over alumni trustee elections.
Manuel, a member of Dartmouth Undying, an organization that opposed the 2007 alumni suit against the College, also expressed concern that alumni may lose their right to oversee their own elections without the changes.
“[If the amendment doesn’t pass], the opportunity for the election of alumni trustees by alumni would be lost,” Manuel said. “We don’t want that to happen.”
Frank Gado ’58, a former member of the Association executive committee who supported the lawsuit, said he opposes the amendment.
Gado and fellow former committee member Tim Dreisbach ’71 proposed a similar amendment in 2007 to address the Board’s dissatisfaction with the alumni trustee election methods, Gado said.
Gado said that he is not supporting the amendment because he believes that the Board has coerced alumni leaders into supporting it.
“The reason I am voting no is not because I think the amendment is bad,” Gado said, explaining that his earlier proposal was similar. “It is my way of saying I will not bow to coercion.”
Gado said he will not campaign against the amendment and that he will encourage alumni to make their own decisions.
The amendment’s supporters are not bowing to pressure from the Board, Mathias said.
“I don’t feel coerced for a second by this Board,” Mathias said. “I can’t say strongly enough that this is not caused by coercion. If this happened two years ago [with Gado’s proposal] and that wasn’t coercion, I don’t know how this is.”
Murphy said that the coercion issue is a “moot point” and that the Alumni Council could have made a similar proposal without the Board’s request for election reform.
The Council, which voted to recommend the amendment in December 2008, is working to generate support among alumni, Council President John Daukas ’84 said.
“We’ve asked the councilors to send out e-mails to their constituents asking them to vote for [the amendment] and providing a list of frequently asked questions,” Daukas said.
Daukas expressed concern that alumni will not make the effort to vote.
“It seems that everyone is in favor of this, and believe it or not, that actually makes it harder to get people to vote,” he said.
Manuel said he is also concerned that alumni who are disconnected with the College and Hanover will not fully appreciate the importance of the election.
“The message has not gotten across to the thousands and thousands of alumni that this is the issue,” he said.
Rassias did not return requests for comment by press time.