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Yale’s Expert Board

catharine bond hill.jpgMy Yale alumni magazine (which doesn’t hold a candle to Dartmouth’s award-winning publication) notes that Yale alumni have elected a new member to the Yale Corporation, the university’s board of trustees: Catharine Bond Hill, currently the President of Vassar. Prior to leading that school, Hill was Williams’ Provost for seven years

Think about those facts for a moment. A Trustee with actual experience in higher education: someone who can tell the difference between an administrator offering platitudes instead of policy, like Carol Folt, or someone selling himself rather than solutions, like Jim Kim — a Trustee who could be a valuable sounding board for Phil Hanlon because in her career she has faced the same set of problems that Phil encounters every day; or who might be familiar with a range of educational options of which Phil might not be aware.

Makes good sense, right? In fact, in addition to Bond, Yale has several people on its 19-member board with extensive, upper-level experience in higher education: Francisco Cigarroa, the Chancellor of the University of Texas System; Peter Dervan, the Bren Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology; and Paul Joskow, who became president of the Sloan Foundation after a thirty-five year career on the faculty of MIT, where, among many other responsibilities he chaired the Department of Economics. Take a look at Yale’s entire Board to appreciate its rich mix of members.

In contrast, Dartmouth’s Board of Trustees has nobody comparable to Catharine Bond Hill. Our Board counts three members who have slight, rather than profound, experience in higher education; and they have only the remotest professional experience with undergraduates: John Rich, a professor of medicine at Drexel University, whose scholarly and practical work has focused on serving African-American men; Annette Gordon-Reed, who has held a joint appointment as a professor of law and of history at Harvard for three years, a position she only obtained after teaching for 19 years at New York Law School (note: not NYU Law), a Top 200 standalone law school that has no undergraduate component; and recently appointed Emily Bakemeier ‘82, one of Yale’s eight Deputy/Associate Provosts. That’s a weak Dartmouth team. Take a look at the College’s entire Board to appreciate its mix of rich members.

As an advisory resource on higher education, Rich, Reed and Bakemeier don’t offer much expertise to Phil Hanlon. In fact, one measure that we might take of Phil is whether he beefs up the Board with colleagues from higher education who have the heft and experience to truly counsel him. All he has to do is ask the Trustees for this kind of support. Will he do so?

Addendum: Apologies if I haven’t updated these lists for a while, but the College has a deep reserve bench of senior educators who could serve on the Board. For that matter, the alumni body includes a range of former Governors and U.S. Senators, too. They could all strengthen a Board that talks endlessly about diversity, but does not begin to practice it.

Addendum: The idea of Trustees who are more than multi-billionaire financial guys enjoying the prestige of sitting on an Ivy board is not entirely foreign to the Dartmouth community. While the College’s Board has no members with meaningful undergraduate educational experience, the impressive Board at DHMC counts no less than four Trustee who have run major hospital chains.

Addendum: Meanwhile, at UNC five new Trustees have joined the Board:

The five new trustees are: Jefferson Brown of Charlotte, a partner with Moore and Van Allen law firm; Haywood Cochrane Jr. of Elon, board chairman of DARA Biosciences; Charles Duckett of Winston-Salem, partner with Battle & Associates Inc.; Kelly Matthews Hopkins, a civic leader from Charlotte; and Dwight Stone of Greensboro, president of D. Stone Builders Inc.

Note that not one of these people has any experience in education. Carol will feel right at home.

Addendum: An alumnus from academia writes in:

The sad fact is that the College has for decades now taken a pay-to-play approach to board appointments. Donations are rewarded or expected. No competing ideas needed, thank you. Not from earnest alumni, certainly. Not from anyone, really. The Board’s role is not oversight; it’s support for the administration and for the treasury. A few appointments do slip through for “balance” or on some sort of merit (though, as you hint, not enough merit to intimidate). Board quality often appears directly proportional to an institution’s fiscal security. But it’s ALWAYS directly proportional to a president’s self-confidence. With our fiscal security long squandered, if a higher-education meritocracy does — against the odds — begin to coalesce, seat by seat, in Parkhurst’s boardroom, we’ll know why: the second reason.


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