alann

An Ayn Rand Fan Battles the Status Quo

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This just in from the Wall Street Journal Opinion Page:

Mr. Rodgers Goes to Dartmouth

A cautionary tale about a businessman who ventured back into the Ivory Tower.

BY JOSEPH RAGO

Saturday, September 1, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

[snip]

Some men of his means and achievement buy a yacht, or turn to philanthropic work, or join other corporate boards. Mr. Rodgers went back to school: He became a trustee of his alma mater, Dartmouth College--and not a recumbent one. He has now served for three years; and though he notes some positives, overall, Mr. Rodgers says, "It's been a horrible experience. I'm a respected person here in Silicon Valley. Nobody calls me names. Nobody demeans me in board meetings. That's not the way I'm treated at Dartmouth. The behavior has been pretty shabby."

Now the college's establishment is working to ensure that the likes of T.J. Rodgers never again intrude where they're not welcome. What follows is a cautionary tale about what happens when the business world crosses over into the alternative academic one.

[snip]

Earlier this year another petition trustee, Stephen Smith of the University of Virginia Law School, was elected with 55% of the voters. Quite naturally, Dartmouth's insular leadership has loathed all of this. A former trustee, and a current chair of Dartmouth's $1.3 billion capital campaign, publicly charged that the petition process had initiated a "downward death spiral" in which a "radical minority cabal" was attempting to hijack the Board of Trustees. That was among the more charitable commentaries.

Curious, again, that Mr. Rodgers has been cast as the leader of some sinister conservative faction, since he is open about what his actual goals are. "They attack things that don't matter because they can't attack you for what you stand for--quality of education. . . . The attacks become ad hominem. . . . We get called the problem. The fact is that we're a response to the problem."

[snip]

Mr. Rodgers notes that certain professors "seemed to specialize" in accusing him of being retrograde, racist, sexist, opposed to "diversity" and so forth. Or, in the academic shorthand, a conservative.

[snip]

In Mr. Rodgers's judgment, the increasingly political denigration--the "rancor," he calls it--has seriously impinged on his effectiveness as a trustee, and on the effectiveness of the board in general. "Before I ever went to my first board meeting," he says, "I did what any decent manager in Silicon Valley does--management by walking around. You actually go and talk to people and ask how they're doing and what they need to get their jobs done."

He noted trends: over-enrollment, wait lists and an increased percentage of classes taught by visiting or non-tenure-track faculty. He concluded that many departments--economics, government, psychology and brain sciences, in particular--were "suffering from a shortage of teaching."

"It's a simple problem," Mr. Rodgers says. "You hire more professors." His effort to get an objective grip on the problem would be comic were it not so unfathomable. "I've had to scrounge to get data," he says, the administration not being forthcoming. "My best sources of data come from faculty members and students."

[snip]

last autumn [the core board members] cooked up a new alumni constitution that would have "reformed" the way trustees were elected. In practice, it would have stacked the odds, like those in a casino, in favor of the house.

The measure needed two-thirds of alumni approval to pass, and in an election with the highest turnout in Dartmouth's history, it was voted down by 51%. "It lost big time," Mr. Rodgers says.

[snip]

[A]fter losing four consecutive democratic contests, the Dartmouth administration has evidently decided to do away with democracy altogether. "Now I'm working on the existence question," Mr. Rodgers notes mordantly.

Though he cannot say for sure--"I'll be kept in the dark until a couple of days before the meeting on what they're planning on doing"--a five-member subcommittee, which conducts its business in secret and includes the chair and the president, has embarked on a "governance review" that will consolidate power. "It looks like they're just going to abandon, or make ineffectual, the ability of alumni to elect half the trustees at Dartmouth," Mr. Rodgers says.

[snip]

"This is committees working in secret, which is a very bad way to run any organization." Besides transparency, it may also present conflicts of interest, in which the college president would dominate those who ultimately evaluate his performance.

But he contrasts the situation especially with his experience at Cypress: "Silicon is a very tough master. It operates to the laws of physics, there are no politics, you can't vote or will or committee your way around it. . . . Therefore the culture of Silicon Valley, where winning and losing is being technologically successful or not, is an objective, nonpolitical culture. It's just different on the Dartmouth board."

Mr. Rodgers expects to be "severely criticized, unfairly and personally," for talking to The Journal. He may even be removed from his post entirely. "It's worth it," he says. "Doing what is right for the college that I love is more important than holding what is largely a ceremonial position."

Mr. Rago, a Dartmouth graduate, is an editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal.

The nakedness of the Dartmouth entrenched board members' attempts to use their positions for anything but maintaining the standards of education at the school is really breathtaking. Rogers' willingness to risk his elected position by unmasking them is admirable and uncompromising. But it sounds like a sacrifice play: With the "totalitarian" (as he calls them) entrenched core of the board controlling and interpreting the rules in secret meetings, he may very well be removed for speaking his mind in public.

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The nakedness of the Dartmouth entrenched board members' attempts to use their positions for anything but maintaining the standards of education at the school is really breathtaking. Rogers' willingness to risk his elected position by unmasking them is admirable and uncompromising. But it sounds like a sacrifice play: With the "totalitarian" (as he calls them) entrenched core of the board controlling and interpreting the rules in secret meetings, he may very well be removed for speaking his mind in public.

Since Rodgers is a media savvy guy who knows how to go public and get what he wants, perhaps it is not a sacrifice play at all.

Observe that when he got stuck making his case about free speech, he appealed to the alumni and got them to elect more board members like himself. Now that he's stuck again on the issue of quality teaching, he went public to the Wall Street Journal and is practically daring the powers that be to throw him off the board. He's deliberately calling their bluff and exposing the issues to a much wider audience and I think it's a winning tactic.

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...Observe that when he got stuck making his case about free speech, he appealed to the alumni and got them to elect more board members like himself. Now that he's stuck again on the issue of quality teaching, he went public to the Wall Street Journal and is practically daring the powers that be to throw him off the board. He's deliberately calling their bluff and exposing the issues to a much wider audience and I think it's a winning tactic.
I hope you're right, Betsy. The entrenched trustees' motivations would certainly patently obvious to an objective audience. I don't know if they have that objectivity themselves, so they might be perfectly willing to incur objection from those whose opinions they have so far ignored. But it's terrific to see Rogers call them on their dishonesty and incompetence, whether it's a 'bluff' or not.

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