By Richard Vedder
In what may have been the greatest argument ever before the Supreme Court, Daniel Webster, on March 10, 1818, said, his voice quivering with emotion and his eyes filled with tears, "It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it." Webster was speaking of Dartmouth College, and in The Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward was successful in preventing a politicized take over of the school by the Governor of New Hampshire. Dartmouth had a skirmish over governance and ownership, and the school won. It was a landmark decision in American constitutional law.
I read today of the result of a second epic battle over governance at Dartmouth. The alumni of Dartmouth narrowly rejected a move to amend the constitution that would have made it more difficult for dissident individuals to becoming elected as an alumni trustee of the institution.
In the last several years, some alums that were fed up with the ways things were going on campus successfully won election to the trustees under Dartmouth's novel, and in my mind excellent, election procedure. The College in the past had promoted wacky left-wing ideas dear to the hearts of overprotected and underworked faculty, while turning a more or less deaf ear to protests about the harassments of conservative kids, including those with the conservative newspaper (amongst them, Dinesh D'Souza). The alumni were expected to not "interfere", but, of course, to keep contributing mega tax deductible bucks (see Wick Sloane and Jonathan Leirer's November Perspective column on the CCAP Web site) to the Dartmouth coffers. When too many alums got too uppity too long, the Establishment rebelled, and formulated new rules to make it much more difficult to get elected through a grass roots campaign (under the defeated proposed rules, candidates would have to file for election before the official slate of nominees was announced). The alums said no to this.
I hope this sparks a revolution in university governance. Alumni of other schools need to push for an electoral procedure for board selection. Private college boards are self-appointed groups that have become far too often butt-kissing sycophants for university presidents. It is time for a policy denying federal financial assistance to any college or university that does not have democratic procedures in the election of persons to the board of trustees. In a public school that is accomplished in a very imperfect fashion by gubernatorial and/or legislative appointment of trustees, but even there elections for alumni trustee slots would seem appropriate. The question of "Who Owns the University?" returns.