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3/09/2005 01:00:00 AM | Timothy

Trustee Elections and Ideological Diversity

Chien Wen of the Dartmouth Observer endorses at least one of anti-establishment petition candidates. He says he does this because: "This ideological diversity is healthy even if you don't agree with their views." I already disagreed with Kalb's view that 'this election is about disatisfaction, not issues'. Now Chien Wen, who says he is not even a disgruntled alum, nevertheless makes an argument for the candidates that does not depend on the merits of the issues advocated by the petitioners (and unlike Kalb, he does not seem to agree substantively on the issues with the petitioner candidates). I offer six points for consideration.

First, it is not necessarily true that ideologically diversity is always better. While in some situations it is better to have people you disagree with (I see the argument for this with faculty), in other situations you do not want many heads, but one. Often it is better to go with one coherent idea, whether you disagree with it or not so that at least it is implemented well. Of course this is a bad idea other times. I would say sometimes ideological diversity in some situations can be healthy; in those situations there is an argument for voting for someone you disagree with.

So, my second point is the question is more whether this situation one of them where ideological diversity is a benefit? Maybe it is just obvious. It could be a situation where of those cases. I'm not sure the election really forces disgruntled voices to be heard, any more than they already are.

But my third point is that even if diversity is important in boards, is 'more' diversity always important? If you have a minority viewpoint, but add more people to the board with the same viewpoint, how is that expanding diversity? Diversity usually means 'offering a perspective'. Well, the board has Rogers and has his perspective. People say that the petition candidates have been pushing the same buttons as Rogers did (I am not asserting that as true, but I am assuming it here). That argument about diversity could have worked well with Roger's election. It could have worked well if Janos or another young alum candidate was on the ballot (but it turns out you can stop a moving train). That would have added another, different voice, and hence diversity. But how does the diversity argument work by adding more people that basically have the same viewpoint as each other and someone already there (let's call them 'conservatives' for simplicity)? Why not add Marxists or people of an entirely different persuasion (Also this shows that diversity for diversity's sake is not always valuable or helpful for running a board. I bet the board will have a lot harder time assimilating their diversity than conservatives and libertarians.) Now, one argument is the one used by schools defending affirmative action policies: they say we need a 'critical mass' of minority students for diversity to have benefits: Tokenism doesn't work. I'm not too sure that argument works well for a small board. What additional benefits come with more members?

My fourth point is this. The arguments about adding the petitioners to the board do not revolve around 'oh, we'll give input the current board has not thought of... we'll represent groups not usually heard from'. As I said, I bet Rogers is voicing the opinions. The petitioners seem to want change. The key is power and numbers. The petitioners and/or their advocates don't want to change things merely by being the one advocate. Now maybe one or two more conservatives will mean a 'critical mass' such as that their voice will be taken seriously, and that is why Chien Wen is voting for them. But another alternative is simply get enough relatively like-minded people to implement your preferred type policies, or block those you disagree with (the equivilent of a filibuster). Whatever the merits of that are, it does not sound like an argument for diversity. Maybe it is an argument for 'balance'. But I am not sure that 'balance' (or equal 'division' and polarization) is always best. It can be. It hardly seems a good reason for 'conservatives' not to push ahead. But how is it an end in itself, necessarily?

Fifth, The other point is that I doubt 'conservatives' will be happy with an expanded voice. If they can succeed, why not get their whole slate in eventually? They did not stop with Rogers, why would they stop after that? Why should they? How are you voting for diversity? (This is more conjectural and remote fear, I admit, but it is a possibility that those who advocate 'diversity' and 'balance' should consider, at least in other contexts if not this one. I would weigh this only against the claim that more than one 'outsider' trustee will not ensure that 'disgruntled alumni...have trustees who'll listen to their criticisms' but having two or three 'outsider' trustees will ensure their complaints are heard.)

Sixth, I don't the exact nature of the petitioner's candidates ideas. But I bet they would not be able to consistently use the diversity argument for themselves. I'm not sure that this affects whether Chien Wen should vote for them. I don't have any reason to doubt Chien Wen's sincerity when he states his reasons. But I wonder how much sense they make. (Of course, a lot of what I said here turns at crucial points around the *assumption* that the petitioner candidates don't actually add much diversity considering who is already there. Of course, they are not the same men, but neither are any of the other candidates. Not all minor diversity is important here. For example, is the 'Law Professor perspective' really that important as a perspective at *Dartmouth*? )

So is anyone going to make a substantive case for the petitioner candidates?



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