Harvard Corporation Announces Historic Overhaul to Governance Structure

The Harvard Corporation—the University’s highest governing body—announced today an overhaul to its governance structure that would nearly double its membership and impose term limits.

The reforms—the first major structural change since the Corporation was founded in 1650—include boosting the number of members from seven to 13 and creating several new committees to address issues including finance, governance, capital planning and facilities. The change brings the Corporation's structure closer in line with the governing bodies of other major universities.

Laid out in a report of the Corporation's Governance Review Committee released today, the reforms come on the heels of heavy criticism from some faculty and alumni levied against the Corporation for a lack of transparency, accountability, and community engagement. The reforms partly address these criticisms, senior fellow of the Corporation Robert D. Reischauer ’63 said in an interview Sunday.

By increasing the number of members on the Corporation, the body will be better able to meet with members of the Harvard community and increase the exchange of information between itself and the University it governs, Reischauer said.

The larger membership will also allow for individuals on the Corporation to focus on issues related to their area of expertise, potentially increasing the breadth and depth of the body’s work, he said.

“There’s sort of a 'Goldilocks solution'—the addition of a very few people would not have solved the issue of capacity and diversity of expertise,” said Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Richard P. Chait, an expert on higher education governance who advised the Corporation on its reforms. “Too many would have changed the character of the group from the intimate group.”

Chait added even with its expanded membership, Harvard's Corporation will remain the smallest among its peers. The body will continue to select its own members, and intends to choose the new six over the next two to three years.

University President Drew G. Faust said in an interview Sunday the ongoing selection process for the new members of the Corporation will incorporate feedback from the Harvard community, potentially addressing concerns that the body has grown too insular.

“When we search for members of the Corporation we do a lot of outreach, we talk to people about: ‘What does the Corporation need? What issues should we be considering?’” Faust said. “I think that looking for new Corporation members on a regular basis is going to be one of the avenues of constant communication.”

With only seven members, the Corporation has previously included its entire membership in the organization’s work, and the creation of committees to focus on particular issues is a major departure from its past structure.

The reforms also include term limits for Corporation members. Fellows will now be limited to six years in office with the possibility of a six-year extension, though the report of the Governance Review Committee stated that "some adjustmentswill likely be necessary to assure appropriately staggered periods of service" as the body grows to its larger size.

Reischauer said the review’s launch in the fall of 2009 was part of and motivated by a broader University effort to re-examine its policies in the aftermath of the financial crisis—a moment for self-reflection for the broader University community.

“The fact is that all parts of the University have been asked to look themselves in the mirror, reassess how they might do their job to the optimal degree, and it’s only natural that we should do the same thing,” Reischauer said.

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