ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.
ACTA joins InsideHigherEd.com, The Weekly Standard, and FIRE in announcing the historic election of Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki to Dartmouth College's Board of Trustees. "This election sends a message to every college and university across the country," said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. "Alumni will no longer put-up and shut up. They will no longer stand for the degradation of academic standards and stifling intellectual intolerance on their college campuses."
The election was an enormously contentious one: Whereas the four other candidates were placed on the ballot by the College, Robinson and Zywicki had to earn their spots the democratic way, by convincing fellow alumni to vote for them. Their platforms were consequently much more populist and outspoken than the Dartmouth administration liked; through websites, mailings, and petitions, Robinson and Zywicki ran as critics of the Dartmouth administration and champions of genuinely liberal education. They secured places on the ballot--and then they won the election itself.
Robinson and Zywicki's victory is a victory not only for democratic process in the selection of trustees, but also for student life at Dartmouth. As a column in The Dartmouth expresses it,
In Robinson and Zywicki, we will have two responsive trustees. Both have proposed closer relationships with the student body. Both have extolled the virtues of student websites, with Robinson saying, "I learned far more about what is actually taking place in Hanover, N.H., from blogs, for the most part run by undergraduates and recent graduates ... than I did in the last 25 years reading the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine."
And we will have two academics on our Board of Trustees. Currently, the seventeen members are COOs, CEOs, presidents, directors, attorneys and even an urban planner and a doctor. But now we've two academics: a professor of law at George Mason/Georgetown and a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. That is a victory for students. It is true: Dartmouth has been able to raise a lot of money -- some might say not enough -- but a lot. And that is what should be expected from a group of extremely smart, extremely talented executives. But what seems to have been missing was a clear vision for the intellectual life of the College. Both Robinson and Zywicki made that challenge an integral part of their respective campaigns. To light a clear, unmistakable path from the present to a smarter -- not just richer -- Dartmouth down the road.
Rather than the perennial bureaucratic hodgepodge, the path is now laid for fewer deans, and for more professors. For freer speech, and for greater tolerance. For fiscal transparency and financial responsibility. For diversity of thought -- not merely of skin -- that we may be wiser. And for support of athletics, that we may be prouder.
The four other candidates did not really lose. We appreciate their efforts to better Dartmouth and their continuing love for it: neither will end with this election. But the advocates of great centralized power have lost. Anyone who sought to limit speech in the interest of feelings lost. Anyone who dismissed crowded classrooms and scant housing as attendant to Dartmouth becoming a large and impersonal research university: they lost today. Those who allowed the office of speech to die lost today. Anyone whose confident embrace of academic freedom quails at the border of political correctness suffered a grave defeat indeed.
With this election, a shot across the bow of academic autocracy will be heard far and wide. A vicious cycle will be broken. This billion-dollar company we call Dartmouth, good as it already is, will actually have to turn an ear towards the vox clamantis of its customers, present and past.
Dartlog has a roundup of media coverage.
The Wall Street Journal, Andy Kessler
The Atlantic, Joe Pinkser
Inside Higher Ed, Greg Toppo
Chronicle of Higher Education, Lindsay Ellis and Lily Jackson
Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajan
Education Dive, James Paterson