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The Board That We Need? Part 1

Thumbnail image for Blind Breughel.jpgPresident Kim would be the first to acknowledge that he has limited experience in administering large organizations. That is one of the reasons that the NY Times called him “an unusual choice” for a college president. However, fortunately for us, he is backstopped by a Board of Trustees with an extensive background in higher education. Right? Uh, well, no.

However, before we dig into that issue, let’s step back a bit and ask ourselves what is the function of Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees. We’ll forget about the Board being a plum for big donors, a feather in their already well-feathered caps, if you will. The Board’s chief function is to monitor and evaluate the President’s performance, to serve as a sounding board (a pun, a coincidence, or an antecedent?), and to give advice. I think that this statement is as true for a corporate Board of Directors as it is for Trustees at an educational institution. Do you agree with all of these propositions?

To fulfill these functions in the business world, you would expect that Directors would predominantly be business leaders with extensive experience in industries somewhat analogous or useful to the corporation that they are overseeing. And in fact, this is true. For example, the Board of Directors at Freddie Mac, where Dartmouth Chair Ed Haldeman’s has just begun his new job as CEO, is composed of experienced executives from the worlds of finance, investing, and law — and one academic specialized in housing. Dartmouth Board Vice-Chair John Donahoe’s eBay Board of Directors has a similar profile: experienced entrepreneurs and executives from the worlds of software, computers, on-line enterprises, consumer marketing and banking.

As you would expect for institutions of higher learning, the placement of experienced educators on Trustee boards is common: the non-executive members of Harvard’s seven-person Corporation include a former President of Duke and a law professor. Harvard’s subsidiary 30-person Board of Overseers includes ten experienced educators and administrators.

At Princeton, seven of the 38-member Board of Trustees have similar qualifications, including a college and a prep school president. Exceptionally, at Yale, only two of the 17 Fellows of the Yale Corporation are educators.

As we will see tomorrow, the 21-member Dartmouth Board has fewer members who have made their careers in teaching or in administering institutions of higher learning than our peer institutions.


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