Zywicki ‘88 criticizes Board in open letter
By Susan Matthews, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Trustee Todd Zywicki '88 questioned the College's Board of Trustees' dedication to freedom of speech in an open letter to the Dartmouth community released on Tuesday, one week after the announcement that the Board had moved not to reelect him for a second term. Zywicki, one of four petition trustees currently serving on the Board, argues in his letter that a 1990 change to trustee election procedures limits alumni influence over the Board.
"A majority of Dartmouth's trustees insist on turning inward to consolidate power in a small coterie of insiders," Zywicki wrote in the letter.
The Board ruled to move the power of reelecting Trustees from an alumni vote to a vote of the Board itself in 1990, the same year that the first petition trustee, John Steel '54, was reelected.
Steel served his full two-term tenure.
"The new regime was adopted precisely so that any future petition trustee could be removed after one term," Zywicki's letter reads.
The decision not to reelect Zywicki is not a "free speech issue," Board Chairman Ed Haldeman '70 said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Zywicki, who will end his tenure in June, is the first trustee in recent history to be refused reelection to a second term.
The changes have forced trustees to "toe the party line or risk expulsion at the end of their first term," Zywicki wrote.
The other two petition trustees up for reelection at the April Board meeting, Peter Robinson '79 and T.J. Rodgers '70, both retained their positions.
"I don't think this process had anything to do with alumni-elected trustees or petition candidate trustees because two-thirds of the petition candidate trustees got reelected," Haldeman said.
Zywicki's tenure on the Board has been marked by controversy. Zywicki, along with the other three alumni-elected trustees who were nominated by petition, were signatories on an amicus brief filed in support of the 2007 Association of Alumni lawsuit against the College.
Zywicki was also reprimanded by the Board in January 2008, following an Oct. 27, 2007 speech at the John William Pope Center, a higher education think tank, in which he called former College President James Freedman "truly evil" and made other "pointedly anti-Dartmouth" comments, Association President John Mathias '69 said in a previous interview with The Dartmouth.
Zywicki's comments at the Pope Center "might have been" one of the reasons behind the Board's decision, Zywicki said in his letter, adding that he apologized publicly for his comments and charging that the Board was "unwilling to stand up for the right of free speech in an academic forum."
Zywicki said in his letter that he "can only guess at" the reason behind the Board's refusal to reelect him.
"The Board provided no explanation for the decision," Zywicki said in the letter.
Haldeman disagreed with Zywicki's characterization, and described the reelection process as "extensive" and "transparent."
All trustees submit evaluation forms of those up for reelection, from which Haldeman and Christine Bucklin '84, chair of the Board's Governance Committee, compile a "comprehensive view of the evaluations," Haldeman said.
"Christine and I have an extensive three-way conversation on the phone with the trustee, telling him or her what the feedback has been," Haldeman said.
Haldeman declined to comment on the substance of the evaluations because they are confidential.
Zywicki said that his speech at the Pope Center was the only "concrete concern" raised during the telephone conversation, which he said occurred prior to the Board's decision not to reelect him.
"I was excluded from deliberations and was not given an opportunity to address any charges that may have been made or to even know what those might be," Zywicki said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth.
Zywicki said he has not been told what, if any, other concerns were raised about him during the voting process.
"If new changes arose during the deliberations, I was given no chance to respond to them," he said.
Zywicki said that he had no personal complaint with Haldeman, adding that he personally admires the Board chairman.
In the letter, Zywicki appealed to Dartmouth professors, students and parents to "question whether the Board truly appreciates the importance of the free exchange of ideas in the academic arena."
Numerous students, faculty and professors have contacted Zywicki in the past few days to encourage him to run for a position on the Board again in the future, Zywicki said, adding that he is unsure whether he will pursue reelection.
"I have not focused on how I can be of use to Dartmouth," he said in the e-mail.
Staff reporter Katie Paxton contributed to the reporting of this article.