VERBUM ULTIMUM: Wrongful Termination
By The Dartmouth Editorial Board
Published on Friday, April 17, 2009
We were dismayed to learn of the Board of Trustees' decision not to reelect Trustee Todd Zywicki '88 for a second term ("Board votes not to reelect Zywicki '88," April 7). Even in the wake of Zywicki's open letter to the Dartmouth community on Tuesday ("Zywicki '88 criticizes Board in open letter," April 15), the Board has yet to provide the Dartmouth community with a sufficient explanation for the removal.
Since 1990, when the power to reelect alumni trustees was transferred from alumni to the Board itself, reappointment to the Board for a second term has generally been routine; Zywicki is the first trustee in recent history to be denied reelection.
Unless Zywicki, a petition trustee elected by alumni to the Board in 2005, committed an as yet undisclosed but egregious act, we believe that he deserves to retain the seat that the College's alumni elected him to fill.
Zywicki said in his letter that comments he made during an address at the John William Pope Center in October 2007 "might have been" one of the reasons behind the Board's decision. In the address, Zywicki made a series of controversial and inflammatory statements, including calling former College President James Freedman "truly evil."
While we certainly believe that Zywicki's comments at the Pope Center were in violation of the conduct expected of our trustees, we do not view them as grounds for unilateral removal. Neither did the Board, it seems, in January 2008, when it voted to publicly reprimand Zywicki for his conduct, charging that he "had exercised poor judgment and had violated his responsibilities as a trustee of Dartmouth College" ("Board votes to reprimand Zywicki," Jan. 7, 2008).
There appears to be no precedent for the removal of a trustee, and according to College spokesman Roland Adams, the Board does not have bylaws. It therefore seems likely that it is well within the Board's power to expel, mid-term, a trustee who is guilty of extreme misconduct. Why the Board waited as long as it did to remove Zywicki, if that removal is in response to the Pope Center comments, therefore remains a mystery.
Assuming that no egregious act remains undisclosed (and there has been no indication that this is the case), Zywicki's removal disregards the will of the alumni who put him on the Board, and contradicts the democratic manner in which alumni elect trustees.
Dissenting opinions are essential to the operation of any governing body. While Zywicki may have behaved unprofessionally, the public reprimand issued by the Board was sufficient punishment. It is one thing to reprimand a trustee for making statements against the College in a public forum, but to remove dissenting opinions from the boardroom is to undermine the will of the alumni who voted in support of those very views.