Saturday, February 23, 2008

Was Wright Forced Out?

A reader, smelling something amiss, writes in:

In his Community Letter of February 28, 2007, President James Wright wrote:
Some people have claimed that one of the new trustee's assignments will be to elect the next president. This statement will likely prove to be correct—someday. For now though, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of my retirement are premature. While I may look my age, I am not yet ready to act it. In my thirty-eighth year at Dartmouth, I have things yet to do and I enjoy immensely doing them. So let us hold off on the transition planning.

The latest edition of the Alumni Magazine [not online] contains an interview with Jim Wright concerning his announced retirement only eleven months after he wrote the above. Some notable quotes:

"I've got the best job in the world right now."

"You know, the interesting thing is that we haven't spent a lot of time thinking about what we're going to do next."

"I have health. I have energy. I enjoy immensely what I do."

"I"m not running away from anything, I'm reluctantly stepping back."

Does this sound like a man who is voluntarily retiring?


Anonymous said...

Nice use of the passive voice there. Who, exactly, would have forced him out?

Anonymous said...

Duh. Haldeman and the other trustees, who are fed up with misjudgment after misjudgment by Wright. To wit, President Wright wrote the below on October 3, 2007:

"The College has been advised by its attorneys that the Board has full authority to enlarge the Board as it did and to make the other governance changes it authorized, and that there is no merit to the legal claims asserted by the Executive Committee members who voted to bring the suit."


John Bruce said...

The upshot of the SLI, after nine years, is that the College is in negative territory vis-a-vis the Greeks, reinstating Beta, which must have been the poster child for what was wrong with the system, and with AZD demanding that the administration find it a suitable house. Meanwhile, the administration spent x dollars of staff time computerizing the sorority rush process. This when the goal in 1999 was to eliminate the Greek system as we knew it? There hasn't even been reform, just a risorgimento

The SLI was also the cause of the alumni rebellion that resulted in four petition Trustees being voted in, the defeat of a revised alumni constitution that might have been well-advised had not the SLI caused so much mistrust, and finally a lawsuit, with the College getting egg on its face when its petition for dismissal was denied. My guess is that the governance changes are now going to go into limbo, like the SLI.

Top that off with the College dropping out of the US News top 10.

The interview sounds to me like Wright is in denial. The Board should have acted at Rodgers's election, which is what it did when Steel was elected in 1980.

Anonymous said...

John Bruce summarizes many of the salient points of Wright's failure. Add to that the dissatisfactions large and small that students report to their parents: class oversubscriptions, as recently described in Dartblog (; burgeoning class sizes; absurd alcohol and drug enforcement; and a general absence of energy and innovation (

In short, this is what happens when an ambitious bureaucrat makes it to the top....

Anonymous said...

Hey, don't forget the swim team fiasco (two years after the endowment grew by 46%!), the Indian symbol follies of 2006, the false-resume athletic director hire, the loss of Nobel-bound Gazzaniga and his $20M grant, and an ever-growing bureaucracy that is as ineffective as it is expensive.

All is all, a decade of screw-ups partially alleviated by the construction of some nice buildings (virtually all of which post-date the arrival of the petition trustees).

Anonymous said...

Not disputing all the above statements, but let's keep in mind that Wright was well-intended and much better than his predecessor.

Anonymous said...

Oh please. Deliver us of praise for good intentions.

Besides, Wright was a spinmeister who, along with his weakling adminstators, would twist facts and stats whenever it made him look good.

Anonymous said...

Eleven months? I can't believe Wright, who was already past retirement age, flip-flopped so quickly. Eleven months is an awful speedy time for someone who's been president about ten years to decide to retire. What's that, like nearly ten percent of his presidency elapsing between a comment that he doesn't plan to retire soon and a comment that he plans to retire in more than a year?

Mr. "to wit" has got his characters mixed up and the law backward. Wright is not a lawyer and has never made legal pronouncements based on his own determinations. Haldeman, who is a lawyer, would never criticize Wright's paraphrase of the Board's counsel in which he said the suit has no merit. Haldeman agrees that the suit has no merit. And in fact the suit has no merit, as will be proven in court, so Haldeman would again have nothing to criticize.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Wright said that he began contemplating retirement in the fall of 2007 - about six months after his categorical February statement. This seems very hard to believe - at least for anyone except a die-hard loyalist.

Wright's subordinate Donin, who hired Sullivan & Cromwell, has clearly made a mess of things. Sure Wright's legal skills are not in question; but as usual, his management skills are.

As for the merits of the suit itself, are you expecting surprise witnesses at the trial? Will it turn out that the Rauner documents are forgeries? Or is the judge simply going to read through the same documents and come to the same conclusions of fact and law as he did in the motion to dismiss.

In fact, there probably will not even be a trial. If the dissidents on the AoA slate maintain control, then the next President of the College will probably back off from the Board-packing plan.

Anonymous said...

Wright had to make the decision to retire at some point. When would you have him make it -- five minutes before he retires? A year? More than a year?

How has Donin or S&C made a mess of things? How does the existence of assorted fringe-y cranks and their filing of a lawsuit reflect on Wright's management?

What are these Rauner documents you speak of? Are you an insider with secret knowledge of documents that have not been revealed? Did you finally find a copy of the "contract" that the plaintiff has so far only been able to conjure in its imagination?

The judge concluded that the alumni suit does not fail to state a claim on which relief could possibly be granted. No one should file a lawsuit that can't pass a motion to dismiss. The lawsuit survived. It is still without merit.

What makes you think "the next President of the College will probably back off from the Board-packing plan"? Are you one of those people who thinks of Wright's power only in bizarre and unrealistic extremes? (One minute he's being canned for poor performance, the next he's running the 18-person board as if it were a puppet... but it never occurs to him to dissuade them from firing him...)

The entire Board of Trustees voted to have all the new seats nominated by the board. The board is free to amend that bylaw, but the next president, alone, is not.

Anonymous said...

actually the entire board didn't vote for that

Anonymous said...

This blog has a comments policy and the number one policy is that any entry containing personal attacks will be removed. At least this diatribe gives the lunatic fringe a chance to vent, sort of like the dittoheads that dote on Rushbo. Otherwise, they would be targets for a Secuity on Campus listing, or worse. Not to worry, no one takes this seriously. Rant on!

Anonymous said...

Actually the entire board voted unanimously to expand. All board decisions are reported as unanimous. We can assume some (the governor) were not there and some (the four renegades) voted against and perhaps some others (as many as five or so) might have voted against also. But they all had a chance to say their piece and agreed to live with the result.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 11:46 can you post a link to the new Rauner documents if they have been scanned. There are others out there who would like to judge for themselves whether the historic documents contain a "smoking gun".

Anonymous said...

"Actually the entire board voted unanimously to expand."
FALSE- It was not reported.

"All board decisions are reported as unanimous."
FALSE- They reported a prior 14-3 vote to endorse the AGTF constitution.

"We can assume some (the governor) were not there and some (the four renegades) voted against and perhaps some others (as many as five or so) might have voted against also."
PERHAPS- We do not know.

"But they all had a chance to say their piece and agreed to live with the result."
FALSE- The dissenting amicus brief is evidence they did not all so agree.

Anonymous said...

Look, the board traditionally just announces its decisions. It doesn't state particular vote counts, and the polite fiction that results is that every decision is unanimous. You can decide you don't take part in this fiction, but that won't help you learn any more about the vote tallies.

That is why it is so surprising and unusual that the AGTF constitution vote was reported. I did not say all board decisions "have been" reported as unanimous, because that one is an exception. The board had to take a vote just to decide to release the vote tally in that particular case.

The word "assume" connotes "perhapsness." Your quibbling is becoming annoying.

You seem to think that I said the renegades voted in favor of the amendment. That's silly. All the trustees had a chance to say their piece and agreed to live with the result when they were elected as trustees, when they took the trustee oath, and when they participated in the vote on the expansion. Some of them did not vote in favor of the amendment, but the proposal passed. Tough luck.

Truth Be Told said...

Any first-year law student (actually first semester) taking contract law can tell you that there are many ways to enter into a contractual relationship that do not involve a signed agreement on a single piece of paper.

For further edification on this point, please see Judge Vaughan's decision on the Motion to Dismiss, wherein he give THREE different ways that the AoA can prove that the 1891 Agreement was a binding contract - even in the absence of the sheet of paper that seems so important to Anon February 25, 2008 1:51 PM.

Anonymous said...

There are many ways to enter into a contractual relationship that do not involve a signed agreement on a single piece of paper, but they all require evidence of an intent to contract and reasonably certain terms.

Judge Vaughan did not give the plaintiff three ways to potentially prove the agreement was an enforceable contract. He gave two: express and implied contract. He also said the plaintiff's promissory estoppel claim would survive.