Profs. praise ‘academic' trustee

by Grace Afsari-Mamagani | 11/10/10 11:00pm

Faculty, alumni and students interviewed by The Dartmouth said they expect newly-elected Trustee Annette Gordon-Reed '81 to offer a distinctive perspective on College issues that will enhance the discussion among members of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees.

The Board selected Gordon-Reed, a historian and law scholar, to fill the seat vacated by outgoing Trustee Al Mulley '70 at its November meeting, The Dartmouth previously reported. Her appointment comes in the wake of recent efforts to increase attention to diversity particularly career diversity among the members of the Board.

"One is always looking for a balance on any board," Rockefeller Center Associate Director Ronald Shaiko said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth. "You can't have all business types, nor can you have all billionaires."

Currently, most trustees have backgrounds in business administration, finance and investment, with only a few coming from the world of academia. Many have served as chief executive officers of major firms, according to biographies posted on the Board's website.

"Generally, I feel strongly that Dartmouth's Board of Trustees has a disproportionate number of representatives from the world of business and finance, and that there should be more people with actual experience of teaching at an academic institution," history professor Walter Simons said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth.

Professors and alumni interviewed said they support the Board's attempts to incorporate members like Gordon-Reed, who can provide a view on academic considerations otherwise missing from the group.

"The academic is someone who has given their career to the education of students," Association of Alumni President John Mathias '69 said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "They're teachers in most respects, and they have taken their scholarship to levels that are really extraordinary compared to their peers, perhaps in the business world. Unless you're an academic, you haven't participated in the full experience of what a college or university is all about."

Gordon-Reed, who earned a degree in history from the College and now teaches both history and law at Harvard University, will likely be sensitive to students' academic needs, according to Student Body President Eric Tanner '11.

"It's always good to maintain a focus on academics," Tanner said. "It gives [the Board] a good perspective and a good voice on some crucial issues, like advising, curriculum and professorships. These are things that, to become an elite institution, you need to be good at, and they're not always things that are taken into consideration in the business world."

Tanner's mother, Peggy Epstein Tanner '79, was elected to the Board in June.

Gordon-Reed's understanding of the workings of a college at a classroom level will allow her to advocate policies that could improve the quality of teaching and communication at Dartmouth, several professors said.

"One might think that a more diverse board would have more prudently invested the College's endowment over the past few years or might have provided sensitive advice for academic issues relating to, say, globalization or changing patterns of scholarly communication," history professor Richard Kremer said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth.

Her election reflects significant efforts by the Board to diversify its members and approach a balance between businesspeople and those in other fields, like academia, according to J.B. Daukas '84, former president of the Alumni Council.

"I think it's a pretty good example of what the Board's trying to do," Daukas said. "I think one thing that you see that's come out of the past 10 years is that when it comes to trustee elections, it's been difficult to target the sort of skill set the Board thinks it needs."

The expansion of charter trustee seats in recent years has allowed the Board to specifically target individuals who would contribute to a "healthy mix of experiences," Daukas said.

In 2007, the Board expanded to include an additional eight charter trustee seats, a move that sparked two lawsuits between alumni and the College. Proponents of previous expansions of the Board had pointed to their utility to balance trustees' experience and perspectives, The Dartmouth previously reported.

"Her scholarship has made her a force to be reckoned with," history professor Robert Bonner said. "Even in probing the dark corners of our history, she's found complexity and humanity. That depth of vision bodes well, now that she takes on this important role in Dartmouth governance."

Gordon-Reed received a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, among other awards, for her research on slavery during the foundation of the United States, The Dartmouth previously reported. Her book, "The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family," traces the history of the slave family owned by Thomas Jefferson.

In addition to her experience as a professor and scholar, Gordon-Reed will offer the viewpoint of a female African American, according to Uthman Olagoke '11.

"I don't think it's just her race that's important, or that she's a woman or that she's an academic, but that she's all three," Olagoke said.

Members of the Board and various alumni have discussed appointing Gordon-Reed "for a while," Daukas said. Her presence on the Board will enrich the dialogue between trustees and complement the atmosphere fostered by College President Jim Yong Kim, he said.

Reporter Isha Flores contributed reporting to this article.

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