The Corner

Re the Fracas, a Clarification

This past Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by yours truly, “The Dartmouth Fracas.”

Whereas the graduates of American colleges and universities used to rely on  alumni magazines for information about their alma maters, I argued, technology has now made it possible for them to obtain a wealth of direct, unfiltered information on their own.  Perform a Google search on “Dartmouth,” for example, and you’ll discover that all the student newspapers appear online; that dozens of undergraduates maintain blogs; and that there are sites dedicated to every aspect of Dartmouth life (one site follows Dartmouth football in such detail that a new post appears after nearly every practice).

Thus fortified with unfiltered information, alumni will soon begin to ask for a larger voice in the governance of institutions of higher learning—at many of which, after all, alumni very substantially foot the bill—and this will have a salutary effect, reconnecting colleges and universities with the mainstream of American life.  (What this means to Dartmouth in particular, I added, is that alumni ought to vote against the proposed constitution—voting will continue until the end of this month—because the new document is profoundly undemocratic.)

I’ve received dozens of emails, all but two of them in agreement with the argument.  But I take the two dissenters seriously, not least because they’re old friends.  Both interpreted my column as an attack on alumni volunteers—the people who serve as class officers, edit newsletters, arrange reunions, and help out with fundraising.  “The old model,” I wrote, “is simple.”

First colleges spend four years teaching students to engage in critical thinking. Then they treat the same people like ciphers, instructing them to write checks every year while leaving the governance of the institutions to the administrators.

This was overstatement in the service of making a point.  I certainly do not believe that alumni volunteers, at Dartmouth or anywhere else, represent mere “ciphers.”  On the contrary.  Volunteers have always had my respect—and, now that I’ve joined the Dartmouth board, I view them with something a lot like reverence.  At Dartmouth, those who are determined to protect the status quo by enacting a new constitution—“the Hanover establishment,” as I called it–are only a small percentage of the whole.

To the good people I inadvertently offended, my apology.


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