Friday, March 11, 2005

Dartmouth's Trustee Election

Chien Wen Kung at DartObserver asks for my opinion on the ongoing election for the two open seats on the Dartmouth Board of Trustees. This election has gathered quite a bit of attention in the blogosphere, largely because Peter Robinson '79 and Todd Zywicki '88 are running as petition candidates. The full slate of candidates and information about the election can be found here.

I am obviously proud of my connection to Dartmouth, but my relationship is very different from other Dartmouth-affiliated bloggers. I am an academic employee and not an alumnus. I don't have a vote in this election, any more than a vice president at a large publicly traded corporation would have a vote in a shareholder election.

Dartmouth has a unique place in American higher education. It is on the cusp of two different models of higher education--the large research university and the small liberal arts college. As an institution, we strive to be the best of both worlds, and when we are successful, I am convinced that there is no better undergraduate institution anywhere. But being on a cusp like this is a delicate balancing act--we are besieged by the dark possibility that we may fail, and in fact become the worst of both worlds.

Other appropriate metaphors for the awkwardness of this position might be suspended adolescence--being perennially in development toward one world or the other (depending on which you think is better)--or plate tectonics--the interface between two continental plates that are generally stable on the surface but occasionally collide or slip with great force. The heightened alumni interest in this election, along with the rules governing it, would seem to be a response to a change in the perception of whether the institution is managing that balance appropriately.

I have only met one of the candidates personally. Ric Lewis '84 joined the Rockefeller Center Board of Visitors last fall, and he immediately impressed me as someone who understands the delicate balance inherent in Dartmouth's mission. I have only good things to say about him, and he would have my complete confidence as a Trustee. I do not know any of the other candidates, and thus I offer no rankings and no preferences.

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