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New Board Chair Looks Ahead

William H. Neukom '64
William H. Neukom '64 was elected chair of the Dartmouth board of trustees in June 2004.

William H. Neukom '64 was recently elected chair of the board of trustees. Vice President for Public Affairs William Walker '71A asked him to share his thoughts with Dartmouth Life readers.

Q: You've been on the board of trustees for eight years, a period that includes the appointment of President Wright and the entire six years of the Wright administration. What do you see as the primary accomplishments of the board and administration?

A: We have worked together closely and in a very natural collaborative manner. The board tries to be careful not to engage in the management of the College, but instead to offer governance and guidance at a strategic level. We have confidence in the ability of the senior administrative group, and we are available to answer questions and offer insights.

During my time on the board, there has been an increased focus on the intellectual and academic opportunities we provide for faculty and students.

Since 2000, the administration and the trustees have understandably concerned themselves with the stewardship of the institution during the very challenging financial circumstances that confronted all educational institutions. The College has done a creditable job of maintaining the high standard of the Dartmouth experience, while at the same time dealing with a restrained budget.

Q: What do you see as the goals of the administrative/governance team looking ahead?

A: Jim Wright's goals, as he has described them recently-first in his five-year report and more recently in his annual report to the faculty-are very much shared goals of the board of trustees. We want to focus on, and invest first and foremost in, continuing to improve the Dartmouth experience for undergraduates. There can't be any standing still. We are blessed with having the most capable and engaging students in the world come to Hanover for their education, and we have a world-class faculty, wonderful facilities, and an administration that understands very clearly the job of the College, which is to provide an outstanding opportunity for faculty and students to learn together. There are some facilities needs that are important to the quality of that experience, and we have to continue to hire the best scholar-teachers we can to maintain the quality of our faculty. The students deserve no less.

Q: The board has made some changes in its operational and committee structure as you have assumed the chair. What is the philosophical basis for those changes?

A: We want to make the best possible use of the talent on the board, and, to that end, we have adopted a structure of just three standing committees and the use of working groups on particular topics as needed. The standing committees deal with finances, facilities master planning, and governance.

We have two working groups already hard at work. One is on the subject of academic excellence. That's a group that was formed not because we have any doubt about the excellence of the academic opportunities at Dartmouth, but because the trustees wanted to understand more about academic programs and to be able to provide support in that critical area.

The other working group is on the subject of alumni relations and communications. The College and the board have regularly made extensive efforts to communicate with the alumni population and have endeavored to be open to ideas, suggestions, and criticisms from the alumni group, which is, after all, a critical constituency to the enterprise. We felt it was worth having a focused effort by a subset of the board on that subject to better understand how we are connecting with the alumni because we can learn from them, and if they are connected, they will be loyal and helpful to the mission of the College.

We hope that each of those groups will be able to complete its work during this academic year.

Q: You have been active in the governance of several nonprofit organizations. Are there principles that apply broadly and that guide your work as a trustee of various groups?

A: People who agree to serve as volunteers on a board for a nonprofit should bring to that position the same seriousness of purpose and thoughtfulness and preparation that they bring to their day jobs. It deserves that kind of attention.

The business of Dartmouth College is quite complicated, in a good way, and, obviously, in-volves faculty, students, and managers who are highly talented people in a fiercely competitive business, and the results are terribly important: providing an exceptional learning experience and the skills to become leaders in a broad range of endeavors.

Q: What experiences during your life within the Dartmouth community-as a student, an alumnus, and the father of three children who attended Dartmouth-helped prepare you for your work as a trustee?

A: It's been my good luck that three of my children enjoyed the Dartmouth experience, and that has meant that, in addition to the usual sources of information that alumni have about Dartmouth, I had a student's point of view-or at least as much of a student's point of view as the student is willing to share with the parent.

My children were quite forthcoming about their lives at Dartmouth-Josselyn was in the class of '90, Samantha the class of '91, and Jay the class of '97-and I learned from them about the College in the mid- to late '80s, right through the late '90s, up until the time that I was asked to join the board. Each of them had a very positive experience, and it was gratifying to see three different people with different intellectual pursuits and extracurricular interests engage themselves in different ways at the College.

It was also very beneficial to have spent some time on then Dean Jim Wright's council. Back in the late '80s, he formed a council of alumni to inform us about the work of the College from his perspective as the dean of the faculty. We had a chance to learn from faculty and students. That established a baseline of information that complemented my parent and alumnus perspective.

Q: How is the work of the board of trustees different during a comprehensive fundraising campaign?

A: The Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience is a high-priority item on the agenda of the board, and two consequences follow. One is that the board must provide some strategic help in the planning and execution of the campaign. The other is that we should accommodate the campaign as a high priority, but not to the exclusion of the board's continuing to contribute to the other aspects of the governance of the College.

The campaign makes our agenda longer and puts one very important topic right at the top, but it's one of several important topics going forward, and we have to keep it in that perspective.

The board is very enthusiastic about this campaign. We have an opportunity to provide a learning experience for undergraduate and graduate students that is unique because of its transdisciplinary nature. If we can build on the collaborative attitude of the outstanding faculty and the remarkably smart students who come to Dartmouth, if we can maintain need-blind admissions, if we can build some residential facilities we need so we can provide the best extracurricular experience, if we can expand our science and arts facilities, we are going to be an even more remarkable institution than we are now.

For more information, visit Dartmouth News.

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Last Updated: 7/24/18