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>  News Releases >   2007 >   September

Dartmouth Trustees vote to strengthen College's governance

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 09/09/07 • Roland Adams or Sue Knapp • (603) 646-3661

Changes Will Expand Board to Better Meet College's Needs and Retain Alumni Role in Governance

Board Also Reviews Academic Programs and Adopts Statement of Commitment to Maintaining Dartmouth's Academic Excellence


The Trustees of Dartmouth College this weekend adopted a series of measures to strengthen the governance of the College.  The Board's actions, which were taken at its annual September retreat, follow a comprehensive Governance Committee review of the composition and size of the Board as well as the method of selecting trustees.  These actions include:

  • Expanding the Board from 18 to 26 trustees, preserving the current number of trustees nominated by alumni at eight and adding eight charter trustees - to involve more alumni in Dartmouth's governance and bring additional skills, capabilities and expertise that can help meet the needs of the College.
  • Retaining Dartmouth's unique alumni-driven nomination process and contested ballot election system, to ensure alumni continue to have a direct voice in the College's governance.
  • Charging the Alumni Council and Association of Alumni with developing a simpler and fairer trustee nomination process to address the divisiveness and politicization of recent elections.
  • Increasing the Board's direct engagement with academic affairs, alumni relations, and student affairs by adding new standing Board committees focused on these critically important areas.

In commenting on the governance changes, which he outlined this weekend in a letter to the Dartmouth community, Chairman of the Board Ed Haldeman said, "Dartmouth has never been stronger than it is today.  But like all our peers, we're confronting new challenges and pressures - including increasing competition for the finest students, the best faculty, the most qualified trustees, and the financial resources needed to support the College.  These governance reforms will expand the board to help us meet those challenges - as we look to maintain and build on Dartmouth's preeminent position in American higher education. And they will preserve the unique role that alumni play in our governance process, without further fueling the destructive politicization, costliness, and divisiveness of trustee campaigns that threaten to harm Dartmouth. They are driven by what the Board believes is best for Dartmouth and its students in the 21st century."

In conducting its review of these issues, the Governance Committee, chaired by Trustee Christine Bucklin, solicited and received feedback from thousands of Dartmouth alumni, faculty, parents, students, and staff - via email, through the College web site, and in one-on-one discussions. The committee sent a detailed questionnaire to current and former trustees, alumni volunteer leaders, and senior administrators to solicit their views on the College's governance. The committee also evaluated practices at peer institutions and spoke with leading experts in non-profit and collegiate governance.  In total, the committee spent hundreds of hours over the summer carefully reviewing and discussing the input they received from throughout the Dartmouth community, and developing a set of recommendations regarding the strongest possible board for Dartmouth.  A copy of the Committee's report to the Board is available on the Dartmouth College web site at www.dartmouth.edu/governancereport. Prior to the Board's consideration of the report, President Wright informed his Board colleagues that he was recusing himself from the deliberations and voting on this matter in order to remove any possible question about his role in the Board's actions.

Expanding the Board to Involve More Alumni in Dartmouth's Governance and Better Meet the Needs of the College

The Board voted to expand the size of the Board from 18 to 26 members to involve more alumni in the College's governance and ensure it has the broad range of backgrounds, skills, expertise, and capabilities needed to steward an institution of Dartmouth's scope and complexity.  Dartmouth currently has one of the smallest Boards of any peer institution - with only 18 members versus an average of 42 at other comparable schools - and the Governance Committee concluded that this was putting the College at a competitive disadvantage versus its peers. By adding eight charter trustees nominated by the Board, Dartmouth will still have a smaller Board than many of its peers, but the Board will have more flexibility to add trustees who offer the specific talents and experiences that the College needs, which elections don't ensure.

Retaining Alumni Trustee Elections and Reaffirming the Important Role of Alumni Nomination of Trustees in the Governance Process

The Board determined that it would retain the significant number of alumni-nominated trustees on the Board as well as the contested ballot election process that the College has used to select them.  Dartmouth has the highest proportion of alumni-nominated trustees of any peer institution, and is one of the few schools that selects alumni trustees via contested ballot elections. The Board believes that having alumni-nominated trustees and elections gives Dartmouth's alumni an important direct voice in the College's governance and fosters greater alumni involvement in the College. Under the changes adopted by the Board, Dartmouth will continue to have one of the most democratic trustee election processes of any college in the country.

Mr. Haldeman, in commenting on the balance between trustees nominated by alumni and those nominated by the Board, said, "We will continue to have a significant number of trustees nominated by the alumni, but given the divisiveness of recent elections, we did not believe that having more than eight alumni trustee elections would be good for Dartmouth. We also believe that the Board needs more trustees selected for the specific talents and experiences they can offer the College, which elections can't guarantee. We will still have more alumni-nominated trustees than most other schools and the opportunity for regular contested elections. But we think this is the best balancing of Dartmouth's interests."

Returning to a Fairer, Simpler Alumni-Trustee Election Process

The Board adopted reforms designed to address what the Governance Committee described as the increasingly divisive and expensive electioneering that has characterized recent trustee elections. The Alumni Council will nominate no more than two candidates (instead of the current three) for each alumni trustee vacancy.  Petition candidates would continue to be allowed and the process for petition candidates could not be made any more restrictive. The trustees also required that winning nominees receive an absolute majority of votes cast and replaced the approval voting system, which was confusing for some alumni, with a fairer and more democratic "one person, one vote" system. The Committee cited the "churn and burn" aspect of the current nomination process - which has unnecessarily pitted some of the College's most committed, involved, and capable alumni against one another - as one of the key reasons to adopt these changes.

Improving the Board's Operations and Direct Engagement with Academic Affairs, Alumni Relations, and Student Affairs

The Board also took a number of steps to improve the operations of the Board and enhance direct engagement with alumni and other stakeholders.  It created new standing Board committees for academic affairs, alumni relations, and student affairs that will help drive more direct communication and engagement with these important constituencies.  The Board also voted to appoint a vice chair; expand the Executive Committee to include the chairs of all standing committees, in addition to the chair and vice chair; and adopt Board bylaws.

Mr. Haldeman continued, "What has made Dartmouth such an enduring and successful institution is that its history has not been one of resisting change, but rather one of adapting to meet new challenges and needs, while still preserving what is unique and special about the College.  That is why a board originally composed of twelve New England men, half of them members of the clergy, today consists of eighteen men and women from many parts of the country and walks of life.  That is why Trustees who once served for life now serve four-year terms.  And, that is why elections once open only to 'graduates of at least five years standing' are now open to all alumni.  In these and many other respects, Dartmouth's Board has made fundamental changes to its governance structure and procedures throughout the College's history.  The changes we're making today are no different. They are necessary to ensure the College continues to meet the new competitive challenges it faces - and builds on Dartmouth's preeminent position in American higher education."

Board also Conducts Review With Academic Deans and Adopts Statement of Support for Academic Priorities

In addition to taking action on the governance issues, the trustees spent a significant portion of the meeting reviewing updates on the academic program with Provost Barry Scherr and the academic deans.  In her report to the Board, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Carol Folt noted that tenure-track faculty have increased by more than 50 positions since 2000. She noted that in the most recent academic year, median class size declined to 16, and 65% of classes had fewer than 20 students. Dean Folt also reviewed with the trustees faculty retention and curriculum initiatives in writing and rhetoric, computational science, and life sciences among other areas.

Following that review, the Board adopted a statement reaffirming its commitment to maintaining the best possible learning environment, support for the teaching and research missions of the faculty and the importance of Dartmouth graduate and professional programs in the academic life of the College.

In other business at the meeting, the Board reviewed updates on the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience, which has raised almost $890 million toward its $1.3 billion campaign goal. The Campaign's priorities include financial aid, an expansion of the faculty, and increased support for the academic program.

Mr. Haldeman said that "Dartmouth's great strength is rooted in the superb quality of its academic program, and the Board is extremely pleased with progress the College's leadership has continued to make in this critical area.  With President Wright's strong leadership of the College and the Board's new Academic Affairs Committee, we will continue to focus intensely on further strengthening Dartmouth's world-class educational experience."

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