Alumni of Dartmouth College have elected a fourth petition-driven candidate to its governing board, which includes 16 trustees (and two ex officio members). Stephen F. Smith, a Dartmouth alumnus and law professor at the University of Virginia, bested a slate of three candidates selected by the Dartmouth Alumni Council, according to results released today.
On his Web site, Mr. Smith argues that Dartmouth should retain the qualities of a small college, emphasizing both teaching and research, and that the college’s administration has become a bloated bureaucracy. Mr. Smith also disputes allegations that his candidacy was part of a conservative scheme to take over the board.
“I have been subjected to innuendo suggesting that I’m somehow a stooge for hidden conservative forces,” Mr. Smith writes. “I am, in fact, a truly independent candidate. No one and no group — liberal, conservative, or otherwise — is controlling or bankrolling my campaign.”
It’s easy to see why some critics have questioned Mr. Smith’s ties to conservatives, as he received scads of endorsements from right-wing groups, media outlets, and even William F. Buckley. The recent rise of insurgent candidacies, at Dartmouth and elsewhere, is a new front in the culture wars.
In a written statement, James Wright, Dartmouth’s president, said he looked forward to working with Mr. Smith and noted that he has good relations with the three other insurgent trustees.
Smith is the fourth straight petition candidate elected in the last three trustee races. Alumni dissatisfaction with the direction the College is taking is palpable. Over at <a href="http://dartwire.com/blog/2007/05/nearing_the_end_the_trustee_el_1.html“>DartWire Ned Kenney ‘10 argued that if Smith won, it would only be because of Wright’s entry into campus politics in the fall— because of Wright’s intervention, so the argument goes, the issue of free speech was again in the spotlight. I agreed with him, making the same argument myself to several people, but with Smith winning so convincingly it appears that this would be the wrong conclusion to draw. It is more likely, it now seems, that dissatisfaction with the administration is broad in its scope, making this election all the more important as rumours of President Wright stepping down in a few years circulate Hanover.
Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees is unique in that nearly half of its members are voted onto the Board by alumni. The Board currently consists of 18 trustees, 8 elected, 8 appointed, as well as two additional members, namely, the Governor of New Hampshire and the President of the College. In 2003, the Board voted to slowly expand to 22 from the current 18. As it stands after the current election, 4 of the 18 Trustees were petition candidates.
Smith has differentiated himself from the other three candidates through the extent to which he criticizes the current College administration.
On his website and in other media, Smith lambasted what he perceives as a shift of the College towards the status of a university from one of a college.
To counter this shift, Smith said he believes that more faculty should be hired to reduce the size of classes, and that teaching should be promoted above research.
“I think that is very important, as is trying to guarantee students that they won’t be shut out of classes they need for majors,” Smith said in an interview shortly after winning.
As his first priority, Smith said that he plans to focus on reform of the Committee on Standards, the body responsible for adjudicating disciplinary and academic action against students.
In the past, Smith has also been critical of alleged growth in the number of administrators at the College.
“Stephen Smith’s election underscores that today’s alumni are concerned about what’s going on at their institutions,” ACTA president Anne D. Neal said. “For years, Dartmouth alumni have been rightfully demanding input on critical issues facing their college.”