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Board of trustees vote to change how Dartmouth College is run

HOLDERNESS, N.H. --Dartmouth College's board of trustees voted Saturday to change the way the Ivy League school is run by diluting the direct influence of trustees elected via competition.

The trustees voted to double the number of board-appointed members, but keeping the number of those elected by alumni the same. The decision ends a tradition that lasted for more than a century in which half of the revolving members were slotted for alumni selection.

College officials said the change will help trustees operate more effectively. But critics are expected to challenge it, on the grounds it violates the Ivy League school's charter and diminishes the role of rank-and-file alumni.

At a private retreat that began Friday on Squam Lake, the board voted to increase its size from 18 to 26 members. The move will double the number of trustee-appointed members from eight to 16, but keep the number of alumni-elected trustees at eight. The remaining two seats are held by the college president and New Hampshire governor.

In 1891, Dartmouth alumni agreed to bail out the financially struggling school in return for the right to hold five of what were then 10 board seats.

Dartmouth survived that shaky stretch and today is recognized as one of the country's top schools.

The current debate hinges on parsing the 1891 agreement. Some believe the alumni were promised five seats, regardless of the board's size; others believe they were promised half the revolving seats not matter what. They fear a board expansion that would dilute the alumni voice.

Behind that debate is a broader one about the direction of the college. In recent years, four candidates who were critical of Dartmouth's administration collected 500 signatures to secure a ballot slot, then beat candidates put forward by the alumni council.

Critics say those trustees represent a conservative cabal pushing to return Dartmouth to a glorious, imagined past.

The four trustees say they've injected some much-needed new thinking and that there's nothing conservative about the issues they've focused on -- free speech and undergraduate education.

Board Chairman Charles "Ed" Haldeman on Saturday said having more trustee-appointed members will soften the impact of increasingly contentious campaigns for the alumni-elected seats.

"They address the destructive politicization of trustee campaigns that have hurt Dartmouth," Haldeman said in a statement.

The debate boiled over earlier this summer, when the board announced it was launching a study of how the school is governed.

A group called The Committee to Save Dartmouth College mounted a $300,000 campaign to fight changes to the board's composition, taking out large ads on national newspaper ads urging Dartmouth not to dilute the direct voice of alumni.

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