Rodgers ’70 refuses to evaluate trustees
By Susan Matthews, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 29, 2009
Dartmouth Trustee T.J. Rodgers ’70 will no longer participate in evaluations of sitting trustees up for reelection — a protest of the manner in which he says the Board of Trustees’ made its April decision not to reelect Trustee Todd Zywicki ’88. Rodgers, in an interview with The Dartmouth, described the proceedings leading up to Board’s decision — the first time in recent history a trustee has not been reelected for a second term — as a “kangaroo court.”
“This meeting was a stain on the Dartmouth Board,” Rodgers said. “I’m embarrassed to be a part of it, and I will never be a part of [these evaluations] again. I will get up and walk out.”
Board Chairman Ed Haldeman ’70 was unavailable to comment on the matter, according to College spokesman Roland Adams. Association of Alumni President John Mathias ’69 did not return requests for comment by press time.
Alumni Council President John Daukas ’84 said Rodgers, in deciding not to participate in the reelection proceedings, is neglecting his duties as a trustee.
“I think that that would be irresponsible, and that wouldn’t be consistent with what he was elected to do,” Daukas said in an interview.
Zywicki, who was elected by alumni as a petition candidate in 2005, has sparked controversy throughout his tenure.
Along with the other petition candidates on the Board — Rodgers, Peter Robinson ’70 and Stephen Smith ’88 — Zywicki was a signatory on an amicus brief filed in support of the Association of Alumni’s 2007 lawsuit against the College.
The Board reprimanded Zywicki in January 2008 after he called former College President James Freedman “truly evil” and made other controversial statements in an Oct. 27, 2007 address at the John William Pope Center, a higher education think tank. Board Chairman Ed Haldeman ’70, in an April 17, 2009 statement, said Zywicki’s actions were “inconsistent with his duties as a member of the Dartmouth Board.”
Zwyicki was not allowed to be present during deliberations about his reelection, but concerns about his performance on the Board were raised with him in a separate meeting, Haldeman said in a previous interview with The Dartmouth. The trustee being evaluated is generally excluded from the discussion, according to Haldeman.
Some of the concerns mentioned in the deliberations were inaccurate, Rodgers said, although he added that he could not be more specific about that issue, citing the confidentiality of Board meetings. Rodgers said he did not know many of these claims were inaccurate at the time, or how to correct the claims he knew were false.
“When I tracked down those issues after the Board meeting, they were factually inaccurate,” he said.
Daukas questioned why Rodgers and the other petition candidates did not defend Zywicki during the discussion.
“[Rodgers] is speaking out really forcefully now, so it surprises me,” he said. “I’m skeptical that he didn’t speak out when the Board was deliberating.”
Rodgers’ opinion is dominating the discussion of the issue because other members of the Board have worked to maintain the Board’s commitment to confidentiality, Daukas said. Because of this commitment, other Board members have not discussed the matter publicly, he said.
“The other members of the Board’s hands are kind of tied,” he said.
The term “kangaroo court” is appropriate, Rodgers said, because Zywicki was not allowed to defend himself, contrary to standard U.S. legal procedure.
“In the [United States], you have the right to make statements on your own behalf,” he said.
Daukas said the Board’s discussions about a candidate up for reelection cannot be compared to a trial.
“I think it would be difficult to talk about someone when they’re sitting in the room to have an open discussion about them,” he said.
Rodgers attributed the Board’s decision not to reelect Zywicki to the controversy surrounding the Pope Center speech, which he said has been misinterpreted by Zywicki’s critics.
Without the speech, Zywicki’s position as a trustee “would never have been challenged,” Rodgers said. He said other trustees used the speech as a “rationalization for ejecting him off the Board.”
“They strong-armed it,” he said. “I don’t think his statements on one side of the issue were any worse or more provocative than on the other side of the issue.”
Zywicki’s comments should have been protected by the College’s commitment to free speech, Rodgers said.
Because Zywicki was invited to the Pope Center as a Dartmouth trustee, his comments were inappropriate and offensive to many alumni who have worked hard to support the College financially, Daukas said.
Zywicki was commenting on both his role on the Board and the current state of academia, Rodgers said. Critics of the speech have failed to recognize the distinction, he said.