I’ve been following the Dartmouth College Board of Trustees’ dispute for about two years, where “the entrenched authority at Dartmouth has been trying to rid the Board of those who ask probing questions and who do not reflexively accept the administration’s word as final.”
Dartmouth College, one of the nation’s oldest institutions of higher learning and the preserve of one of our premiere undergraduate programs, has in the past five years seen something quite like a revolution.
At Dartmouth, the Board of Trustees’ September 2007 decision to dilute significantly the representation of alumni-elected trustees—eliminating distributed democratic governance structures that were carefully maintained for over a century—has sparked a nationally-covered imbroglio. The issue of whether to hear litigation on these changes is now before the Grafton Country Superior Court.
But to understand what’s at stake in the current case, one must consider the context. These events, at first glance, may appear to be one elite college’s internal governance dispute. But what happens in Hanover both indicates and influences current trends in academic board oversight—a realm undergoing significant rethinking in light of the ongoing economic downturn. And with the ongoing governance revolution, the eyes of higher education are looking on. Dartmouth, to be sure, is far from the only place where fealty to organizational leaders—and the notion of “going along in order to get along”—has been placed before true fiduciary duty.
Here’s a memorandum (pdf) that discusses the issues involved.