THE intention of the Harvard Club of New York to test the question whether graduates non-residents of Massachusetts are eligible to membership in the Board of Overseers, touches a subject of interest to all connected with the University. It appears that this is not the first time that this question has been discussed. In 1873, when ex-President Hill, who was then an Overseer, thought of removing to Maine, it was his opinion that inhabitancy in Maine would not render him ineligible; but the Board of Overseers, acting in accordance with the advice of Messrs. E. R. Hoar, W. G. Russell, and R. H. Dana, Jr., who had been chosen to examine the legal points at issue, decided that removal from the Commonwealth creates a vacancy in the Board. This decision was based on the opinion that the act of the Legislature, in 1865, by which the government of the College was transferred from the representatives of the Commonwealth to those of the alumni, merely provides a "mode of filling places and vacancies," and that the section of the Act of 1851 by which the Board was empowered to fill vacancies, whether caused "by death, resignation, removal from the State, or otherwise," still remained in force.
From these conclusions the Harvard Club most decidedly dissents, and maintains, on the other hand, that there is no legal prohibition to prevent any graduate, in whatever State he claims a home, from becoming an Overseer. Furthermore, that since, of the thirty Overseers, some twenty live within sight of the State House in Boston, the obvious tendency of the Board in future is to the character of a close corporation, whereas it was clearly the design of the Act of 1865 to withdraw the College entirely from connection with the State and from local opinion.
Leaving out for the moment the technicalities of the law, there seem to be no strong reasons why some members, although not a majority of the Board, should not be apportioned among different States, according to the number of graduates in each of those States. The advantages that might accrue from such an apportionment are many, while the disadvantages are few and trivial. For, if it is true that the benefices to the University have come for the most part from localities subject to the personal influence of members of the Board, it is reasonable to conclude that, if this influence encircled a larger area, the area of patronage might be enlarged, without detriment to the interests of the University. And although there is no want of confidence in the integrity and administrative ability of the present Board, there is no surety that the same may be said of all boards in future. When the management of a large amount of property is confined to a small circle of men for a long time, they are liable to become negligent and to forget their position as the holders of public trusts.
For these reasons it seems that the Harvard Club has taken a step in the right direction; and if Dr. Bellows, who has been formally nominated as a test candidate, shall be elected at next Commencement, an interesting and important question will be in a fair way of settlement.