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"Honored and Privileged to Serve"Trustees Share Their Experience on the Board

"The last thing I ever expected as a freshman was that I would one day become a trustee and eventually lead the board," says Susan Dentzer '77, health correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and the first woman to chair Dartmouth's board of trustees. "It's a wonderful experience and a great honor. I've had the opportunity to get to know Dartmouth in depth over an eventful period of time."

Trustee Peter Fahey '68, Th'69, Th'70 and board chair Susan Dentzer '77 chat with President James Wright at the board of trustees meeting in November.
Trustee Peter Fahey '68, Th'69, Th'70 and board chair Susan Dentzer '77 chat with President James Wright at the board of trustees meeting in November.

For Dentzer, who will complete her term as a trustee this spring, it's been personally eventful as well. "My three children have been born while I've been on the board," she says. "My eldest son went to his first trustee meeting when he was one month old."

Dentzer and her fellow trustees work closely with the president to provide long-term governance for the College. "There is a crucial difference between governing and managing," says Peter Fahey '68, Th'69, Th'70. Fahey chairs the Dartmouth College Fund Committee and works extensively with alumni volunteers. "We support the president's strategies for making Dartmouth as good as it can be," he says. "But the implementation of those strategies is the job of the administration and the faculty."

"One of our most important responsibilities is to select and hire the president," says Dentzer. "To the degree that any single person has responsibility for running the organization, that person is selected by the trustees." Helping presidents execute their complex tasks is a fundamental responsibility for trustees. The president is also an elected member of the board, thus serving not only as the College's academic and administrative leader but also as a member of its governing body. "This is an important component of what makes Dartmouth so strong," says Dentzer. "We work closely with the president in advancing his goals, and he participates with us in the decision making process."

The board's decisions undergird almost everything that happens at Dartmouth, from approving the operating budget and governing investment of the endowment and how its proceeds are used, to overseeing the construction of new buildings and the preservation of existing facilities. "Technically," says Dentzer, "we hold the assets of the institution. We don't own them as individuals, but we hold them in trust and make decisions about how they will be used."

Trustee Pam Joyner '79 talks with students (l-r) Jonah Kolb '06, Peter Sokol-Hessner '04, and Lloyd Burnett '04.
Trustee Pam Joyner '79 talks with students (l-r) Jonah Kolb '06, Peter Sokol-Hessner '04, and Lloyd Burnett '04.

One of Dartmouth's most valuable assets is its campus. Hailed as one of the nation's most beautiful, its aesthetics must be protected while at the same time new facilities must be designed to keep pace with faculty needs and student expectations. Trustees play a vital role in this process by approving the campus master plan, making decisions about how new buildings will be funded, and working with administrators to ensure new facilities maximize the benefits Dartmouth brings to Hanover and surrounding communities.

The board is composed of charter trustees, elected by the board itself, and alumni trustees, nominated by alumni and elected by the board. (Click here for the current slate of candidates) There is an extraordinary diversity of expertise and life experience among members. Journalism, law, finance, and urban planning are some of the professions represented, and the governor of New Hampshire serves ex officio.

Three board committees oversee facilities, financial affairs, and fundraising. The facilities committee works with the provost and other key administrators, architects, campus planners, faculty, and students as building needs are identified and projects are developed. The finance committee keeps tabs on Dartmouth's budget, among other matters. In examining the current year's budget, for example, "we monitor whether our spending is in line with what we said it would be," says Dentzer. "We ask, What should we anticipate as we assess budgets in future fiscal years?" The board also has committees that oversee matters such as personnel and audit of financial operations, and still others that serve as liaisons with the faculty, students, and alumni.

Thanks to the generosity of alumni and others, as well as strong investment performance, Dartmouth has accumulated an endowment currently valued at $2.2 billion. Spending from the endowment supports many of the College's activities, and the board sets overall policy on what portion of the returns on endowment will be used.

Both Dentzer and Fahey represent the College on other boards as well. "We are trustees to all of Dartmouth," says Dentzer, who serves on the Dartmouth Medical School Board of Overseers and the board of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC). Fahey is also a DHMC board member and a member of the Thayer School of Engineering Board of Overseers. Other trustees serve on the governing bodies of the Tuck School, the Hopkins Center/Hood Museum, the Rockefeller and Dickey Centers, and the Tucker Foundation.

"Different people bring different perspectives," says Fahey. "It's a matter of matching the interests of board members with the needs of the institution."

Those needs have become far more complex over time, and one of the critical responsibilities of the board is to assess its own effectiveness in meeting them. This can mean making new committee assignments, reorganizing committee structure, or even changing the size of the board. "In 1769, the charter set the board's size at 12," says Fahey. "We expanded it in 1961 to 16, and we recently announced an expansion going forward." Six trustees will be added to the board over the coming decade, bringing additional skills, capacities, and expertise to help meet the increasingly complex governance needs of Dartmouth in the 21st century. (more on the board's expansion)

Three times a year, the trustees come to Hanover for intensive three-day meetings, and once a year, the board holds an off-site retreat for a more general discussion of major issues facing the College. The agendas are extraordinarily full, and every moment is accounted for. But individual trustees serve Dartmouth in a variety of other ways. Members of the board meet with students, speak to alumni at club events and Alumni Council meetings, spend time with faculty members, and meet with administrators.

Overseeing Dartmouth fundraising is a crucial responsibility of the board, and planning for the forthcoming capital campaign is a priority. "We need to continue to grow the resources of the institution," says Dentzer. "The campaign will enable us to undertake those things that will make Dartmouth an even more distinctive place."

Fahey adds, "In order to keep the College in its esteemed position, move it forward, and maintain its competitiveness, we have to make sure it can adapt to a changing world."

From its origins over 230 years ago, Dartmouth College has become one of the world's premier liberal arts institutions. "First and foremost we were founded as an undergraduate college, and we retain our dedication to teaching undergraduates and our commitment to the liberal arts," says Dentzer. "We combine that with a commitment to teaching and training students in our graduate programs and professional schools. We emphasize serious scholarship across the institution-from arts and sciences to the medical school, Tuck, and Thayer. We're not a large university and we're not a small college. We are a university that remembers and continues to nurture and cherish its roots as an undergraduate institution.

"Being a trustee has given me the opportunity to develop an extraordinarily close relationship with those who are administrators or who are teaching and pursuing scholarship here," she adds. "You see the unique and important challenges they face, the issues they grapple with. You see how faculty members become an integral part of the community during careers spanning many decades. At the same time, you see new generations of students experiencing the same excitement and love of Dartmouth that we once did. As a result, you can't help but feel honored and privileged to have the opportunity to serve this great institution in this special way."

(Trustee bios)

- By Laurel Stavis

Responsibilities of the Board

  1. Appoint the president and support his or her goals.
  2. Determine the mission of the institution and draw up long-range and strategic plans to carry it out.
  3. Ensure the institution's financial strength and sound management; approve the budget and manage the endowment; help raise money.
  4. Review the educational program.
  5. Ensure that the physical facilities are adequate and well maintained.
  6. Serve as ambassadors for the institution on and off campus.
  7. Preserve the institution's autonomy.
  8. Stay well informed about trends in higher education and other developments that could affect the institution's program or health.
  9. Assess its own performance in institutional governance.

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Last Updated: 11/18/14