Board demographics see changes over time
By Sharla Grass And Lindsay Ellis, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, May 24, 2012
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a three-part series about Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees.
Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees is composed of the president of the College, the governor of New Hampshire, 16 charter trustees and eight alumni trustees. While the Board’s composition has changed dramatically throughout its history, many continue to argue that it should include a more diverse range of members.
While attempts are regularly made to ensure diverse representation on the Board, the demographics have become skewed toward businessmen. Currently, 15 trustees hold MBA degrees, according to Dartmouth’s website.
“For whatever reason in our society now, [MBA is] somehow an evil word,” Chairman of the Board Stephen Mandel ’78 said. “That generally is a skill that is good for people on boards. You don’t necessarily learn management in law school or med school or if you get a PhD in philosophy.”
The Board is predominantly white, and men outnumber women 18 to seven. When Nathaniel Fick ’99, Richard Kimball ’78 and Benjamin Wilson ’73 join the Board in June 2012, the Board’s gender composition will not change, as they will replace Stephen Smith ’88, Vice Chairman of the Board John Donahoe ’82 and Thurman Rodgers ’70.
In some years, even “vigorous” attempts to recruit diverse candidates to the Board have not succeeded, according to Susan Dentzer ’77, who was the first woman to serve as chairman of the Board and sat on the trustee nominating committee within the Alumni Council before joining the Board in 1993.
“You’re searching for diversity, and some years you don’t get it,” Dentzer said. “It’s unfortunate, but it happens. You try to make up for it the next year. Let’s go back to the drawing board and make sure we’re reaching out to the right potential candidates and thinking seriously about the needs of the Board.”
Many trustees were attorneys from New England and the Northeast during Dentzer’s first years on the Board, she said.
“The Board tended to mirror the makeup of the alumni body, which for many years was preponderantly white men from New England,” Dentzer said. “That began to change rather dramatically — more and more members came from all walks of life.”
By the time she left the Board in 2004, more of its members worked in the financial sector, Dentzer said.
“The Board became even more focused than it had been on the finances of the institution, the rate of return on the endowment, the management of the institution and the way we were keeping the books,” she said. “It wasn’t that things had been run poorly before by any stretch, but running a large institution of higher education is running a sophisticated business.”
Diversifying the Board
Mandel said he would like to see younger trustees and more trustees in academia on the Board in future years. Geographic, gender and ethnic diversity are also areas that the Board has aimed to improve, Mandel said.
“We don’t have anybody from overseas now on the Board — I’d like to see that,” Mandel said. “That’s logistically difficult for those people to make meetings. We have had that historically, but we don’t have it currently. That’s an objective.”
Donahoe said he does not believe any changes need to be made regarding the Board’s current composition. In Donahoe’s opinion, Dartmouth’s trustees are from sufficiently diverse backgrounds that enable them to engage in better discourse, he said.
“The culture of the Board is one of mutual trust and respect among people that have diverse skill sets and backgrounds,” he said. “That leads to very engaging discussion. There’s a strong sense of intellectual honesty in whatever issue we’re talking about, whether it’s the strategy of the College or the annual budget.”
The participation of several trustees on corporate boards unrelated to Dartmouth does not interfere with their work as trustees, he said. His own experience serving on the boards of Intel and eBay in addition to the College are “unrelated to one another,” he said.
Diversity within the Board should ideally span race, gender, ethnicity, geography and areas of interest and expertise, Dentzer said.
“We’re all to a certain degree prisoners of our experiences,” she said.
Dentzer that said the Board’s decision to keep the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program after former U.S. President Bill Clinton implemented the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, while publicly arguing against the law, shows the Board’s diversity of perspective.
“The diversity drove the eventual decision to keep ROTC but send the signal that the policy was wrong and that the institution was going to work with others, that we would be voices on lawsuits that we were trying to change the policy at the national level,” she said.
The Board’s vote was initially split — several board members felt the policy was wrong and wished to “send a signal” by removing the ROTC program — but if it were presented before a less diverse Board, “everyone would have voted to keep ROTC,” Dentzer said.
Size of the Board
Dartmouth’s Board currently includes 23 elected trustees and two ex-officio positions for a total of 25 members.
During her tenure on the Board, its size increased after the addition of eight new College-appointed trustees, Dentzer said.
“People had multiple committee assignments,” she said. “There was a fairly intense workload for many people on the Board. There weren’t as many opportunities to put people on, and our terms were long. We decided after a lot of discussion to increase the size of the Board over time.”
This decision also enabled the representation of more “diverse perspectives,” Dentzer said.
Donahoe said the Board’s size is a unique advantage for Dartmouth.
“As a result [of its size], it’s a Board that is very engaged,” he said. “It’s not just board members show up and attend a meeting and go home. It’s one where it’s a small enough group that you can have an engaging back and forth discussion. You can build strong relationships.”
Mandel said that the Board is big enough to be a “Board of the whole” while still small enough to efficiently accomplish its goals.
“You want to have it be everyone around a table and talking,” he said.