For the twenty-third straight year, Colgate University alumni cast ballots this past week for their preferred slate of candidates for the Colgate Alumni Corporation Board of Directors. And for the twenty-third straight year, alumni were presented with a pre-approved slate of candidates, selected and endorsed by the current Board. Undoubtedly, the Board expected alumni to rubber-stamp their choices, just as they had every year prior. After all, for the past twenty-three years, alumni voters had no choice. This year, however, proved a little different: for the first time in the Alumni Corporation’s history, an independent slate of candidates challenged the Board’s selected nominees.
Voicing concern about a wide range of pertinent issues—including their alma mater’s tenuous commitment to freedom of speech on campus, and the University’s rocky relationship with fraternities and sororities—the independent candidates expected, not unreasonably, to be allowed to present a legitimate alternative to the current Board’s chosen ascendants. However, in the weeks preceding the election, Colgate decided to play hardball. The University refused to divulge alumni contact information to the independent candidates, while sending out several letters of its own urging alumni to vote for the Board’s chosen slate. Colgate’s efforts to eliminate competition for the Board elections only make one wonder what the University is so afraid of. As independent candidate Amy Palmer observes: "Perhaps alumni who will work for intellectual diversity and the protection of Colgate’s traditions are too radical" for Colgate’s current Board to contemplate.
Unfortunately, Colgate isn’t the only private university stooping to tampering with alumni elections to prevent challenges to current school policy. Joe Malchow, a Dartmouth student blogging at Phi Beta Cons, notes that Dartmouth’s getting in on the act, too. The Dartmouth Association of Alumni cancelled their scheduled leadership elections late last month, extending the term of the current leadership until at least the middle of 2007, despite the fact that current Association bylaws provide no legitimate avenue for this type of unilateral action. So why is the Dartmouth Association of Alumni changing the rules in the middle of the game? Well, the Association is considering adopting a new constitution, which would make it nearly impossible for independent petition candidates to run and be elected to a leadership position. This drastically cuts down the opportunity for fresh, reform-minded alumni voices—like National Review contributor Peter Robinson, who succesfully ran as a petition candidate—to be heard, instead preserving and reinforcing the current status quo.
Anne D. Neal, President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, wrote a powerful letter to the Dartmouth Association of Alumni, calling on the group to rescind the cancellation and hold elections as planned. As Neal writes, "[a]t a time when there is growing alumni concern about the direction of the College, it is quite frankly shameful that the association responsible for representing alumni is doing all in its power to reduce their participation."
Both schools are setting a terrible example for the next generation of alumni.