Board to cut terms, increase members

by Mark Herman | 11/18/03 6:00am

The Dartmouth College Board of Trustees announced yesterday that it voted at last weekend's meeting to increase its size by six seats -- from 16 members to 22 -- before the end of the decade.

The six seats will be split evenly between three charter trustees appointed by the Board and three alumni trustees nominated by the Board and elected by the alumni body.

Such a change has been considered on multiple occasions, but only became feasible this past summer after the passage of Home Rule legislation by the state legislature. This expansion will mark only the second time the Board has changed its size in the College's history; the first was in 1961.

"The Board has constantly been looking to see: do we have the right size, the right complement of people to govern the institution?" Board President Susan Dentzer '77 said.

The increase will give the Board greater flexibility to seek new members from diverse backgrounds, with specific skills, capacities and expertise, Dentzer said. The Nominating Committee met Saturday morning to discuss these issues more thoroughly.

"We have long sought to have a balanced Board in terms of the different professions of our members, as well as their gender, age, race, ethnicity and state or country of residence," Dentzer said.

Although the expansion would help attract members specifically with backgrounds in higher education and the non-profit sector, Dentzer said, both she and College President James Wright denied that the current Board was lacking in its diversity or available skills.

"There is no specific category or need that the Board thought was missing right now," Wright said. "I don't think that anyone believes there is a major deficiency on the Board."

The plan to increase the Board's size will also limit the tenure of its members from two five-year terms to two four-year terms. Current trustees will finish their five-year ter0ms, at which point they may be re-appointed for a second term of four years.

"It's somewhat daunting to ask them to make a commitment for 10 years," Dentzer said.

The decision to expand the Board comes after state legislators passed a bill last June to allow the College to change its charter without the approval of the New Hampshire legislature.

Dentzer and Wright said they expect the reaction to the Board's decision to be positive, as the Board will maintain the balance between charter trustees and alumni trustees.

Both alumni and students who spoke with The Dartmouth expressed optimism at the change, saying that a larger board would be more representative and better able to meet the challenge of governing the College.

James Adler '60 Tu'61, a member of the Dartmouth Association of Alumni's executive committee, was not surprised by yesterday's announcement.

"I think everybody's known this was going to happen for a year now, and the fact that it's happened is good," Adler said.

"They really do need an expanded board," he added. "The job of running any institution such as Dartmouth now -- the job duties of the Board of Directors for Dartmouth or any other college or university -- are greatly expanded ... You need more people just to do the work, and to have greater levels of expertise and representation is a smart thing."

The Alumni Association's First Vice President Henry Nachman '51 Tu'55 agreed. "I think they felt that a larger Board would get them more expertise on the Board, and that's not a bad thing," he said.

Still, Nachman, who said he was not involved with the decision to expand the board, did not have an opinion on the change. "I don't know that I have an opinion because I don't know enough about it to have an opinion," he said.

Student Body President Janos Marton '04 sees the Board's expansion as an opportunity to move ahead with proposals for younger trustees, which were rejected in the past because of the Board's small size.

"I think it's a really positive thing because it'll mean a more diverse membership, including younger alums on the board," Marton said, anticipating that the size of the Board would no longer be an issue.

"Now with that barrier out of the way, I think it's more of a possibility," Marton said. Assembly officials plan to present an "elaborate proposal" to the Board in the next few weeks, he said.

Although he said he hopes the Assembly will be successful in its efforts to expand the Board's representation of young alumni and students, Steven Koutsavlis '05, the chair of the Assembly's Academic Affairs Committee, remained skeptical at their chances.

"We'll have to wait and see," he said. Koutsavlis also questioned the reasons for the Board's decision. "The rationale behind the expansion of the Board is not entirely sufficient," he said.

The trustees' decision is separate from the Alumni Association's proposal to combine the Association with the Alumni Council, a smaller group elected to direct alumni affairs, Wright said.

"The Board is not involved in that current discussion," he added.

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