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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
By leaving to the Overseers their right to veto appointments, degrees, and statutes passed by the Corporation, as pointed out in the first article on the government of Harvard, President Dunster and others responsible saw the value of a system of checks and balances in University politics. Whereas many other colleges have only one governing board, their trustees, Harvard has two, and the workable board of seven must obtain the sanction of the cumbersome board of thirty.
This veto power of the Overseers is not there in name alone. On three occasions, they have exercised their power, the most important being the case of the appointment of President Eliot. When the Corporation named Eliot and sent their choice to the Overseers for ratification, the latter returned the choice for further consideration. Meanwhile, many of the doubting Overseers decided that Eliot was the right man, and aware of this, the Corporation sent the name up once more. This time the appointment was confirmed.
Although there is dispute as to just which is the number one governing board of the college, the fact that the Overseers have absolutely no initiative power seems to relegate them to second place. Also, the Corporation, unlike the larger body, are self-perpetuating; they may elect whom they choose, and members serve until they resign or die. At first this seems too exclusive, but it must be remembered that, with a group of only seven, the board must be friendly and be in the same walk of life to accomplish what they must.
Finally, there is the matter of finances. All the property of the University is in the name of the Corporation. They control all the University finances, and this control is subject to no veto power above. Thus, though the system of University government is one of checks and balances, the pendulum seems to be stuck far over on the side of the Corporation.
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