Hanover Institute

The Hanover Institute (THI) is a Vermont-based nonprofit organization concerned with alumni politics at the Ivy-League Dartmouth College. It describes itself as being composed “of Dartmouth alumni, by Dartmouth alumni, for Dartmouth alumni.”

The Institute is headed by Dartmouth graduate and former Massachusetts state legislator John MacGovern, who described the philosophy of the organization in a 2009 interview with the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine: “The Hanover Institute believes it is good for Dartmouth to have many alumni involved in the selection of one-half the board of trustees. That is good for fundraising, good for the close bond between alumni and the College, good for the overall health of Dartmouth.”

The organization was founded in 2002 and publishes a newsletter to interested Dartmouth alumni. According to The Hanover Institute’s 2007 tax filing, MacGovern conducts the entire operation. According to tax filings, the organization raised over $1.25 million between 2004 and 2007. MacGovern has stated that “Ninety-nine percent of our contributors are alums.”

Dartmouth College Board Elections

Dartmouth College is governed by a Board of Trustees whose membership, under an 1891 agreement, is to be made up of equal parts appointed members and alumni-elected members. Preceding an election to fill a vacancy of an alumni-elected seat, the Dartmouth Alumni Council formally nominates candidates. Additionally, candidates may “petition” to run on their own, without an Alumni Council endorsement.

Dartmouth College is governed by a Board of Trustees whose membership, under an 1891 agreement, is made up of two ex-officio members (the Governor of New Hampshire and one other selected by the Board, generally the current Dartmouth president) and a set of other members consisting of equal parts appointed Charter members and alumni-elected members. Charter members are nominated by the Board, while Alumni members are nominated by the alumni. (Alumni subsequently vote to elect these nominees.)

The Dartmouth Alumni Council formally nominates candidates to fill a vacant alumni-nominated Trustee seat. Additionally, candidates may “petition” to run on their own, without an Alumni Council endorsement.

Unhappy with the Alumni Council’s nominees and the direction of the college, a number of Dartmouth alumni have run as petition candidates on a reform platform. Cypress Semiconductors founder and CEO T.J. Rodgers ran as a petition candidate in 2004, and won election to the Board. In 2005, Hoover Institute fellow (and former Ronald Reagan speechwriter) Peter Robinson won a seat, as did and George Mason University law professor Todd Zywicki. University of Notre Dame law professor Stephen Smith (then of the University of Virginia) followed suit in 2007.

These four Dartmouth Trustees campaigned on specific reform issues, including the fight against “political correctness” and speech codes, and the decline of college athletics and fraternities. The Hanover Institute strongly supports these new leaders and the direction they seek for Dartmouth.

Lawsuit for parity

In September 2007 the Board of Trustees voted to expand by adding eight additional Charter members, a change which would dilute the power of the alumni in a manner that’s inconsistent with the 1891 agreement. The following month, the Association of Alumni announced that it would sue the College, seeking to enforce that agreement. The lawsuit was financially backed by The Hanover Institute. However, in June 2008 the Association of Alumni decided to drop the suit after new Association leadership (hostile to the Institute’s aims) was elected.

Later that year, a group of individual Dartmouth alumni sued the College, picking up where the previous lawsuit had left off. This litigation is still working its way through the court system. The Hanover Institute states that it will “commit its strength and resources to insuring that this disgraceful self-dealing by the Dartmouth College board of trustees will not stand.”

New Dartmouth President

Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees named Jim Yong Kim as the College’s 17th president in March 2009. The Hanover Institute offered a mixed review of the new executive, calling him a man of “high intellectual caliber” but noting that his selection “indicates a future reliance on grants from the federal treasury and major foundations, and that will tend to diminish the importance of alumni in charting the school’s course.”