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Demystifying the Board of Trustees

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Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

By U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones ’77, P’11, Chair of the Board of Trustees

As a Dickinson student in the 1970s, I had only a vague notion that there existed a Board of Trustees. I recall that my impression was that a group of aging, somber and mostly male alums gathered at odd intervals somewhere on campus to work in secret. I’m quite sure that I had no idea what their responsibilities were, nor did I know the composition of the board or even their number. That I might one day find myself elected to this then-mysterious group, or to chair it, was an idea beyond my comprehension.

Recognizing that other alumni have felt and perhaps still do feel the same, the purpose of this column is to provide some insight into the board’s structure and mission, for we are light-years beyond operating largely in the shadows and with relative anonymity. And that is as it should be. Additionally, you can read about some of the varying personalities on our board, as well as the formidable work we are doing. And if you’re interested, you can view our membership roster.

Most recently, our board convened in October with 36 term trustees and several of our 24 emeriti members present. Jim Chambers ’78 is the board’s vice chair, and his career experience in international business management and on corporate boards combined with his dedication to Dickinson has made him an invaluable resource. The group is diverse and talented and spans graduates from the 1950s to 2019. Indeed, one of the most salient initiatives accomplished during my service is to add a Young Alumni Trustee (YAT) to our ranks every year. We began this program in 2011, and by any measure it has been wildly successful. This individual is announced at Commencement and serves a single two-year term. These recent graduates have created closer ties and more transparency among the board, students and young alumni by bringing forward ideas and concerns. The YATs also led the board to institute events during board meetings that promote networking and relationship building with current students.

The mission of our board is to work within the campus governance system and to be a strong partner with the administration and faculty. It is decidedly not the board’s purpose to micromanage those day-to-day areas that are best left to on-campus decision-makers but rather to focus on larger, more strategic issues. By way of example, under the able leadership of Mark Burgess ’81, the board convened a task force on college finances. This task force comprised some of our most accomplished members possessing substantial business experience, who worked hand in hand with the administration to assist in charting a long-range plan that will ensure financial stability for our college.

There are many more challenges, but there are also exciting initiatives ahead—too numerous to list in this space. Among them is the addition of two new task forces that will assist our nine standing committees and three subcommittees in addressing several strategic issues.

  • Immediate past board chair Jennifer Ward Reynolds ’77 is leading a task force on board structure that will aid us in reviewing how our board does business, including bringing our committee structure in line with today’s best practices.
  • John Frisch ’80 is chairing a task force on strategic resources that will interface with the administration and appropriate standing committees in formulating a plan that is both cognizant of the budgetary challenges facing Dickinson—and all similar institutions today— and suggests a workable process for replacing and rehabilitating campus facilities.

It has been a privilege to work with President Ensign, her exemplary administrative team, my dedicated fellow board members and our world-class faculty in ensuring that Dickinson will continue to fulfill its enduring mission of providing a useful education for the common good. I am immeasurably humbled and exceedingly well served by their dedication and good work. 

Read more from the fall 2019 issue of Dickinson Magazine.

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Published November 18, 2019