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A Real Board of Trustees Close to Home

In the past we’ve referred to the Dartmouth Board of Trustees as the Upper Valley PTA, so thin is the representation on it of people with real expertise and experience in higher education. If you’d like to see a contrasting Board, one with members who have the background to give real-world, real-time guidance to management, you need look no further than Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which is making significant efforts to improve itself at all levels.

A Board of Trustees has two core responsibilities: a) choose and then evaluate a President on an ongoing basis; b) serve as an advisory body to aid the President in creating and implementing policy. Self-evidently, one would expect a Board to have significant, hands-on skills in order to fulfill these responsibilities.

The Board overseeing Dartmouth’s entire medical enterprise is filled with experienced medical administrators, senior doctors, educators, and professionals in management who are at the very top of their fields. Board members come from a broad range of backgrounds; the Board is not dominated by people of a single profile. Most notably, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Board includes:

● four former CEOs/leaders of top-rank medical centers (Denis Cortese; Hugh Smith, Ruth Brinkley; Vincent Conti). Cortese was the CEO of the Mayo Clinic from 2003-2009, and Smith was chair of the Mayo Clinic’s Board of Governors;

● three senior physicians and medical educators from DHMC/DMS (William Abu; Peter deLong; Stephen Surgenor);

● a former DHMC Co-President (Nancy Formella);

● a former head of human resources for General Electric (William Conaty);

● a former management consultant in Ernst & Young’s hospital practice (Michael Goran);

● a former assistant director of the federal Office of Management and Budget, with a long career in management and government relations (Wayne Granquist);

● a management consultant who is now the head of a think tank dedicated to medical reform (Laura Landy);

● a former senior auditor in Arthur Anderson’s hospital practice (Alan Keiller);

● a retired executive from IBM who led Big Blue’s education division (Anne Verville);

● the co-owner of Hypertherm, the Upper Valley’s most innovative and successful private enterprise (Barbara Couch);

● the former President of Carleton and Kenyon colleges, who was a professor of religion at Dartmouth from 1972 to 1989 (Bob Oden);

Of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s 24 Trustees, eight are medical doctors. As well, many of the Trustees are retired, giving them the necessary time to devote to improving Dartmouth’s medical school, its hospital, and its research efforts.

What a wealth of education and experience the Board has, both in managing medical institutions, supporting specific technical functions within them, and dealing with the government, parallel educational institutions, and the local community. When CEO James Weinstein or DMS Dean Chip Souba (both of whom are Trustees) face a specific problem, the answer, or at least a way of approaching the challenge, will almost certainly be found on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Board of Trustees.

DH Trustees1 2012.jpg

Dartmouth College’s Board of Trustees is a mirror-image contrast. It has only one PhD in its ranks Marye Anne Fox; she is the sole Trustee with a background in higher education administration. (Note: Fox is not well, which is why she is not on the Presidential Search Committee). Other than Fox, only two other Trustees have an approximate professional familiarity with undergraduate education (Law Professor Annette Gordon-Reed and Professor of Medicine John Rich).

The remaining members of the Board are utterly dominated by MBA/money managers: 13 of the Board’s 25 members hold MBA degreess — six from Harvard, three from Stanford, and two each from Columbia and Tuck. Another four are lawyers. One doesn’t need a doctorate in anthropology to imagine the limited range of discussions on the Dartmouth Board — and the Trustees’ narrow understanding of higher education.

Additionally, it is no stretch to say that this is a “donor board” — most members hold their prestigious seats after having made substantial gifts to the College. Almost all of the Trustees work full time at demanding jobs, and almost all serve on six or seven other highly visible boards.

Beyond Fox’s academic credentials, Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees ostensibly possesses professional expertise only in the areas of finance and hotel management. However, having gone from the best performing Ivy League endowment in 1990-2000 to the worst in 2000-2011, the performance of the Board’s current Investment Committee and the Board’s oversight of the College’s finances both leave a lot to be desired. Additionally, while Trustee Denise Dupre ‘80 is a recognized expert in the hospitality industry, her presence on the Board did not seem to impede the financial train wreck of the Hanover Inn renovation.

Dartmouth Trustees 2012.jpg

The College will not rise out of its current funk until we have a Board with a profound understanding of higher education — as do the Boards of our sister schools. Only via a fluke or a miracle will the current Board of Trustees attract and pick a competent President.

Addendum: There is no shortage of well qualified alumni to serve on the Board — senior faculty members, educational administrators, dedicated professionals in technical fields, and ex-governors and senators — however, judging from the recent additions to its ranks, it seems that the current Board does not want discordant voices to intrude on its clubby mediocrity.

Addendum: While Dartmouth’s Trustees are always in the running for the Board That Couldn’t Shoot Straight Award, that honor has already been given this year to the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia. This Sunday’s NYT Magazine has a good overview of the entire Sullivan débâcle. Of the UVA Board, the Times notes:

The board that was judging Sullivan’s performance included lawyers, developers, a coal-mining executive and a beer distributor, but no voting member had an education background.

At least we have Marye Anne Fox.

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