1891 2010 Agreement
By The Dartmouth Editorial Board
Published on Friday, January 22, 2010
The Grafton County Superior Court’s decision to dismiss the second alumni lawsuit against the Board of Trustees on Tuesday (“Second alumni suit dismissed by court,” Jan. 21) likely ended the prospect of a judicial resolution to the debate on preserving parity between alumni-elected and Board-selected trustees. Judge Timothy Vaughan’s dismissal was predicated on specific procedural grounds, however, and did not offer much analysis of the parity issue that was central to the case.
Twenty-seven months have passed since the first lawsuit was filed with the court, and yet no judge has ruled on the validity of the 1891 agreement as a legally binding contract.
While the legal case may be coming to a close — pending a motion for reconsideration or a possible appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court — the issue of parity will continue to divide the alumni body. The passionate alumni who felt compelled to engage in or support legal action against their alma mater remain committed to defining the 1891 agreement as a binding contract. Meanwhile, the bodies of College alumni governance are firmly set against reversing the Board’s recent expansion.
Regardless of one’s stance on parity, all alumni and students can agree that letting the debate fester only hurts the College. This Dartmouth family feud has diverted manpower and financial resources from other important issues — most prominently, Dartmouth’s budget crisis. And until the matter is resolved, it will continue to dominate both the Association of Alumni Executive Board and Board of Trustee elections that should instead consider pressing practical concerns — like the direction the College pursues under President Jim Yong Kim’s leadership.
Now that the legal path to settlement has all but ended, there remains no formal mechanism to definitively resolve the claims of both parties. Furthermore, as the debate extends beyond the reach of the law, we believe there remains no reason to keep the 1891 agreement as a central part of the discussion. While the document may continue to serve as context, the question now facing the College and its alumni is whether parity should be reinstated on the Board in 2010 and henceforth — not whether parity was a necessity over a century ago.
The College should not see the court decision as a victory, but rather an opportunity to adjudicate this conflict outside of the courtroom and draft a new agreement appropriate for the Dartmouth of today.
Only through proceedings in which all opinions can be presented and an objective decision rendered will the parity and unity camps agree to terms both can live with, despite lingering disagreement on the substantive issue. This may require the College’s governing bodies to swallow their pride and reach across the courtroom to disgruntled alumni. Although difficult, reconciliation is necessary. Dartmouth will be better off when the issue of parity no longer graces our front page.