Board differs in size, structure from others
By Sharla Grass, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 25, 2012
Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a three-part series about Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees.
Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees functions in much the same way and shares a similar mission to boards at its peer institutions, though it has slightly fewer members than most boards. Dartmouth’s Board is also distinguished from some of its peers’ by its lack of official student members, a fact that several student groups have pushed to change.
Dartmouth’s Board is one of the smallest in the Ivy League. Cornell University’s board is made up of 64 voting members, according to its website, and the University of Pennsylvania board includes 56 active trustees, according to Associate Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania Leslie Mellet. Yale University’s board is smaller than Dartmouth’s with only 19 members, according to Vice President and Secretary of Yale Linda Koch Lorimer.
“The size allows for real discussion and debate,” Lorimer said in an email to The Dartmouth.
The ideal board size depends on the needs of the particular institution, according to Association of Governing Boards President Richard Legon. The appropriate number of trustees differs between public and private institutions and should be “based on the scope of work expected of the board,” Legon said.
“The average sizes of boards at independent institutions such as Dartmouth tend to be substantially larger than most boards at four-year public institutions, but I don’t know that there is a defined number that makes governance more effective,” he said.
Princeton University’s board fluctuates between 23 and 40 members, according to Secretary of Princeton Robert Durkee. The Board of the University System of New Hampshire is composed of 27 trustees, according to General Counsel and Secretary of the University System of New Hampshire Ronald Rodgers.
The smaller size of Dartmouth’s Board allows members to engage in substantive discussions with one another instead of simply attending Board meetings where members are unable to actively participate, according to Vice Chairman of the College’s Board John Donahoe ’82.
The small size also allows the entire Board to meet instead of participating only in smaller committees, Chairman of the Board Stephen Mandel ’78 said.
The inclusion of the governor of New Hampshire on Dartmouth’s Board as an ex officio member follows a trend seen across multiple institutions. The governor of New Jersey, for example, is included on Princeton’s board, according to Durkee.
“Some governors attend board meetings — our current governor quite regularly attends board meetings,” Durkee said. “Governors cannot participate in the rest of the work of the board, and most of the work of the board is done through its committees, not at the full meetings. So the governor plays a limited role but is an active participant in board meetings when he’s able to attend.”
The presidents of each university are also included on boards, and the president of Princeton plays a leadership role, Durkee said.
Most boards, like Dartmouth’s, include both trustees elected by current members of the board and trustees elected by alumni.
At Princeton, there are currently 13 elected alumni trustees serving four-year terms.
Like Dartmouth’s alumni trustee elections, Yale’s are usually not contested, according to Lorimer.
“The Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee annually works hard to propose a slate of two to five alumni, and one of them is elected,” Lorimer said in an email to The Dartmouth. “There is a mechanism for a petition candidate to be included on the ballot. That has occurred once in the last 19 years.”
Dartmouth’s Board does not include any student members, unlike some of its peer institutions. Cornell’s board includes two students elected by the student body, according to its website. At Princeton, the current junior and senior classes and the two most recently graduated alumni classes elect a member of the senior class as an alumni trustee each year, a practice that began in 1969, Durkee said.
“There’s a primary process which is conducted only by the senior class where anyone who wants to be a candidate can submit a petition,” Durkee said. “This year, we had about 40 candidates from the senior class. The senior class votes to determine which three will go on the ballot, and then the election for the position among those three includes the junior class, senior class and the two youngest alumni classes.”
These trustees have the same responsibilities and participation as other board members, according to Durkee.
The presence of the young trustees is beneficial to Princeton’s board because they are in “a position to help the rest of the board have a better understanding of current students and their concerns and their interests,” Durkee said.
The student trustees’ younger age also helps add diversity to the board, he said.
“Having this range of perspectives and people on the board who knew Princeton in different decades is very healthy,” Durkee said. “Even if they weren’t recent graduates, they would bring a generational perspective to the work of the board that I think is very helpful.”
Each year, two student trustees are elected by the student body to serve one-year terms on UNH’s board, Rogders said. These students act as full members of the board and participate just as the other trustees do.
Although Dartmouth has no student trustees, students have “a lot of connection” with the Board’s activities, according to Donahoe. Student organizations and the Student Assembly president bring critical issues to the Board’s attention, and the Board also regularly meets with students over lunch or dinner, he said.
The idea of having student trustees has not been suggested at Penn, Mellet said.
“I know that other universities have student trustees, but they’re very few and far between,” she said.
Dartmouth has received input from other schools that have included current or recently graduated students as trustees but “wish they didn’t,” Mandel said.
“It’s hard when you’re fresh out of school to really have the big picture in perspective,” he said.
Palaeopitus Senior Society has pushed to make upperclassman students’ voices heard on the Board, former Student Body President and Palaeopitus member Max Yoeli ’12 said. The society has explored ideas including the addition of a non-voting member or a “full-blown” student or young alumni trustee, he said. Yoeli added that the student does not need to vote on financial aspects of the College, but a student’s opinion would be useful when the Board discusses aspects of student life.
Yoeli said that the initial push for student representation was stalled by College President Jim Yong Kim’s World Bank nomination and the Rolling Stone article about hazing at Dartmouth.
“Hopefully when things calm down we can push the ’13s to do it,” Yoeli said.
Representatives from all boards interviewed expressed a desire to continue making diversity a priority for board membership.
At Princeton, the committee that assembles the slates for trustee candidates tries to ensure that they represent people of different ethnic and professional backgrounds, Durkee said.
“The nominating committee is very attentive to presenting candidates for election which are representative,” he said.
Similarly, the committees responsible for identifying candidates for trustee positions are made aware of attributes that would be helpful for the Board’s newest members, Rogders said.
Membership diversity in race, gender, ethnicity and personal and professional backgrounds allows the Board to make better decisions, Legon said.
“It’s up to a board and its governance committee to make sure there is a kind of profile that lends itself to diversity and diverse opinion,” he said.
In terms of professional interests, ethnicity and age, Penn’s board is “very diverse,” Mellet said.
“That’s one of the things they look for when choosing trustees,” he said. “It contributes greatly to having an active and engaged board.”
Yale’s board is diverse both in terms of racial descent and professional background, Lorimer said. The school’s trustees include men and women involved in humanitarian non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, entrepreneurs, a former head of a museum and the head of the University of Texas System.