Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Student Leaders Meet Trustee

Tonight, I attended the 2007 Dartmouth Advanced Leadership Summit at the Hanover Inn. It sounds prestigious, and I got a very nice invitation in my Hinman Box, but for the large part it ended up being quite bizarre. It turns out the entire event was about Dartmouth finances, as it was sponsored by the Dartmouth College Fund. There was absolutely no discussion about student leadership or anything along those lines - instead it ended up being a very PR-friendly presentation about the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience. There was a cute little video where the Dartmouth high-rollers spoke in loving terms about why they decided to donate money for new dorms. Not that I don't appreciate their philanthropy - because I very much admire alumni giving - but I expected something with more substance, as did everybody else in the room, who frequently looked like they were going to die. About 40 students attended, and they seemed to represent a wide range of student leadership across campus.

The video was surrounded by presentations by Carolyn Pelzel, the VP of Development, Adam Keller, the Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, and Brad Evans '64, a trustee. It was the latter's talk where things got interesting. Evans explained the role of the Board of Trustee and how they approached their positions. He described the trustees as the "proprietors" of the college, and said that their sole constituency was current and future students. As soon as there was a lull in his discussion, he was confronted with an aggressive set of questions from the student leaders in the audience. Most questions were focused on the interaction between the Board of Trustees and the student body. One student asked why there was not a young alum or student on the Board of Trustees, noting that many of our peer institutions have student or young alumni representation. Evans responded that a position on the Board of Trustees was too valuable from a financial standpoint to give to a student or a young alumnus/a - that spots on the Board should be reserved for alumni who can donate large amounts of money to the college. He also noted that one of the major problems of petition candidate success was that they took spots away from large donors.

Evans was also asked whether the Board of Trustees to interact with students when they meet on campus, and whether they solicit student opinion. Evans seemed to stumble with his answer, saying that the Board did reach out to students but that he wasn't sure how they did. The crowd did warm up when he mentioned going back to Phi Delt, his fraternity, with other trustees and buying them a keg. Overall, the general atmosphere of the students seemed to be skeptical of the trustees' ability to ascertain what was really going on at Dartmouth, from the student perspective. Another student asked Evans about whether the success of petition candidates have had a tangible effect on the Board. He discussed T.J. Rodgers '70 as an example, and attributed FIRE's upgrading of Dartmouth's free speech rating to Rodgers' passion for the issue and willingness to push James Wright to take stronger stances in support of free speech. When asked if the Board of Trustees concerned themselves with developing issues facing students at Dartmouth, Rodgers responded that the Board was not interested in micromanaging the college and that if they disappointed with what was going on, they would simply fire the president.

Overall, it was very interesting to see a very direct interaction between student leaders and a trustee. Throughout the question and answer session, Evans was constantly on the defensive and there seemed to be a poignant dissatisfaction with the trustees that cut across partisan ideology.

Edit: Joe Malchow at Dartblog also covered the event.


Anonymous said...

What a sad commentary on our sitting trustees that Evans thinks that the seats on the board are (or should be) up for sale: give big dough; get a seat; impress your friends!!!

No wonder that the we have a do-nothing board that hates competitive elections and supports an ineffective President.

No wonder that committed alumni are up in arms.

John Bruce said...

The whole point of the 1891 Agreement was that the occupants of certain seats on the Board should be supplied from nominees of the Association of Alumni based on its own criteria for selection. Money shouldn't necessarily come into it, that's up to the AoA. Evans is in effect speaking above his pay grade here.

All the more reason to keep nominating petition candidates!

Dartmouth Green $$ said...

Payment requirements are actually common among private boards of trustees. It is normal to require specific annual or total donations in order to let trustees stay on the boards of other schools. That might shock our sensibilities, but Dartmouth's way of doing it is actually very modest.

It is not a coincidence that Haldeman, Neukom, Fahey, and other recent trustees have buildings or institutes named after them. Only if Dartmouth can find ways of replacing that category of funding should it risk electing trustees of ordinary means.

If you think that rich (if not successful) alumni are no more qualified to run the school than alumni who are elected, then you have a low opinion of a Dartmouth education and an unrealistic opinion of the actual power of the board, which is never as great as its critics want it to be.

Anonymous said...

Why don't we simply matters and put the seats up for sale on E-Bay.

John Bruce said...

To $$, I don't disagree that it is often the usage among non-profits to require donations of board members. Some do this with specific seats, and of course, this is in effect the system Dartmouth has. The existing system provides that a majority of alums decides who's best qualified to fill half the non ex-officio seats. You're right about the other half. This was worked out as a deal in 1891 -- Evans apparently wasn't in that meeting.

As to whether rich folks are better qualified in general to run a college -- I would ask if the Neukoms are particularly intellectual, and whether the pattern of their donations indicates an interest in education otherwise. Generally, philanthropic donations go to the usual prep schools and the prestige universities. If a Neukom were even interested in education, you'd expect him to be donating, say, to the Seattle or New York (or wherever he lives now) public school systems. Does he? I doubt it.

The problem is that the big-donor Board members, not just at Dartmouth but elsewhere, are either interested in the high-stakes rat race of philanthropy or in ensuring that the schools don't get too far off the reservation as the very wealthy see it.

And of course, a big enough donation ensures admission for your offspring, no matter how dysfunctional.

Anonymous said...

This guy could have been a board member at Enron for all he cares about effective oversight.

He seems to think that he does not need to talk to students or faculty when he is in Hanover; he has Jim Wright to tell him how great things are!

Brad, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! How do you spell f-i-d-u-c-i-a-r-y d-u-t-y?

Anonymous said...

I have worked at 4 colleges. The last thing Dartmouth needs to do is sell seats on the Board. At 3 of the colleges I worked at there was no election of alumni, only appointments. On the positive side this resulted in huge donations and very little else. On the negative, non-alumni trustees directed the college in the exact opposite direction as the alumni wished, trustees treated the staff/students/faculty like crap, believed they were 'special,' demand limos and precise meals to a degree that Jennifer Lopez would be envious of. If you want Dartmouth to become like a whole lot of other corporate universities, then just make this jackass Evans chairperson of the trustees.

Anonymous said...

Some rich alums are rich because they are brilliant managers, more qualified than the average alum to run a college. The fact that some are rich because they inherited money doesn't make the preference for rich alums any less useful for Dartmouth -- and let's face it, the rich alums on the board are not selected simply because they are rich, but because they run large corporations and are likely to donate.

If you were to pick trustees randomly from only one of the categories of all alumni, averagely-wealthy alumni, and rich corporation-running alumni, you would serve Dartmouth best by dipping into the latter pool. Certainly the wealth of a potential trustee should not disqualify him or her from leadership, which is what some (counterproductively) seem to suggest.

Was Mr. Bruce at the 1891 meeting where a deal was reached allowing a majority of alums to decide who's best qualified to fill half the non ex-officio seats?

Anonymous said...

Someone asked "How do you spell f-i-d-u-c-i-a-r-y d-u-t-y?"

How do you reckon a trustee owes a fiduciary duty to the students?

Anonymous said...

A trustee owes a f-i-d-u-c-i-a-r-y d-u-t-y to the institution, and one way to acquit that duty is to investigate independently the health of the institution and the effectiveness of the administration and the President - who is chosen by the trustees.

Evans admitted that his only source of information on the school is the material that he receives from Wright - because he had no independent program for understanding the effectiveness of the President by interacting with students and faculty.

Therefore he is not doing his f-i-d-u-c-i-a-r-y d-u-t-y.

Anonymous said...

August 10, 2007 10:41 AM asked "Was Mr. Bruce at the 1891 meeting where a deal was reached allowing a majority of alums to decide who's best qualified to fill half the non ex-officio seats?"

August 10, 2007 10:41 AM, the judge who will rule on the validity of the 1891 agreement was not at the meeting, nor was Mr. Bruce. Such a powerful rhetorical question, you pose!!!

However, the judge will look at all of the documentary evidence surrounding the agreement and subsequent practice, etc., - as any judge does in any contract case - to determine the intention of the parties. The judge will then rule. Mr. Bruce is fully entitled to an opinion on the issue (and I think that he is clearly correct in his analysis).

Please have a chat with anyone who has taken first-year contract law or beyond and they can fill in the gaps in your lacunae about basic contract law.

daddy greenbacks said...

There is a world of difference in the experiences of wealthy alums who made their money running businesses and those who simply inherited it. But the former category is not the same as Wall Street investment bankers and Silicon Valley venture capitialists who make their money serving as financial brokers or investors. Two entirely different skill sets.

Boards need a variety of skills- people who understand how to evaluate managers and invest in others (VCs) as well as individuals who have experienced the responsibilities of accoountable management (CEOs) can both be invaluable. Maybe less so bankers who are not primarily investors or managers themselves, but dollar- gaining middlemen. Their role is a network of well-off others who can be tapped for money.

Anonymous said...

How about a place on the Board for people with actual experience in academia, who can bring in new ideas, and who can effectively evaluate an administration by comparing it to those at other schools?

Tim Dreisbach '71 said...

Anon immediately above: An excellent idea. Go here and read the very last paragraph.

Comments will be appreciated by you and all other readers to the general topic there... a philosophy for board composition, selection, and in a followup comment, organization.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous August 10, 2007 3:17 PM wrote "Mr. Bruce is fully entitled to an opinion on the issue (and I think that he is clearly correct in his analysis)."

But is his opinion on some 1891 meeting worth anything? He wrote "This was worked out as a deal in 1891 -- Evans apparently wasn't in that meeting." Why do you think Mr. Bruce is qualified to speak on the contents of this "meeting" or criticize a trustee's knowledge of it? I realize Mr. Bruce was being facetious, and at the very least he realizes that the agreement (which you incorrectly call a contract – you obviously have never taken a contract law class...) was worked out over several meetings over several days or even years.

Mr. Bruce has barely offered any analysis at all, and what he has provided is ignorant and uninformed. Why would you subscribe to his analysis or condone his snide criticism of Mr. Evans?

Anonymous said...

Earth to Anonymous 3:08: you were asked why a trustee would have a fiduciary duty to students, and you replied that his fiduciary duty (to whom, you do not say) involves doing this or that.

We ask again: whatever his fiduciary duty requires him to do, why must he do it for a student? (Evans "seems to think that he does not need to talk to students or faculty when he is in Hanover," you said as a prelude to your spelling of "fiduciary duty" letter by letter.) What makes you think becoming a trustee creates any duty to Dartmouth students?

Anonymous said...

"How about a place on the Board for people with actual experience in academia," someone asked.

In my experience, academics make utterly terrible managers. How many department chairs have you met who were actually good at running their departments? Some, perhaps, but more were probably steered toward academia precisely because they were not suited for management.

As for evaluating an administration and comparing it to others, surely an administrator would be the one for that job, not an academic.

Dartmouth has plenty of people who can provide a faculty perspective to the board if needed -- its faculty. Its board already has several faculty members on it as well (Zywicki, Smith, probably others). The last thing the board needs is more people whose experience is limited to the employee side of the employee-management line.

Tim Dreisbach '71 said...

Anon immediately above: Another excellent idea. Go here and read the ...second from last... paragraph.

Comments will be appreciated by you and all other readers to the general topic there... a philosophy for board composition, selection, and in a followup comment, organization.

Anonymous said...

Hey, someone with "experience in academia" would be a present or past college president or senior academic adminstator; just as corporate boards ALWAYS have other CEOs on them. I wasn't suggesting Prof. Throckmorton. Harvard's governing corporation has only one "money guy":