This morning, The Dartmouth editorial board enjoined the community to consider changes to the structure of the Board of Trustees that the editors think are more fundamental than parity. The editorial’s ideas are flaccidly presented, but this could still serve as a good opening for a renewed discussion of
As the editors point out,
So we should have more minorities and women on the board, correct? Absolutely. But the editors forget a component more fundamental than race and gender – intellectual diversity and independence. Trustees of whatever gender, color or creed should be independent and active fiduciaries instead of deferential wielders of the rubber stamp.
This is becoming more infrequent in American higher education. Despite the board’s technical role as ultimate governors of the College, much authority has been abdicated. As Jose A. Cabranes writes in the Fordham Law Review [Vol. 76, 2007] “the real power in any university is, for better or worse, the faculty.” Because trustees assume they know less about the College than the faculty, they defer to the faculty and the administration almost universally. To appear fiduciarily responsible, trustees hold hearings on proposed projects and, technically, have the final say on tenure. But these hearings are, according to Judge Cabranes – who has served as a trustee at Fordham, Colgate and Yale – nigh on “dog and pony shows” most of the time.
This pattern is very apparent at
By expanding the board only through the addition of charter trustees, the College’s board endorsed the prevailing attitude that trustees should be passive and deferential. I, on the other hand, side with Judge Cabranes in that we should seek to “strengthen the performance of basic fiduciary responsibilities of trustees.” I want to see trustees actively engaged – not micromanaging, but engaged – in the direction of the school beyond just playing bandwagon politics behind the College’s president.