Campus & Community

Governance Review Culminates in Changes to Harvard Corporation

6 min read

The Harvard Corporation, the governing board formally known as the President and Fellows of Harvard College, will undertake a number of changes to its composition, structure, and practices, it was announced today (December 6).

Intended to reinforce the Corporation’s strategic focus and enlarge its collective capacity, the changes grow out of an intensive governance review launched in the fall of 2009.  The review concluded with a joint meeting of the Corporation and the University’s Board of Overseers this past Saturday, December 4, at which key changes were adopted by the boards.

“At a time when many different parts of Harvard have been reflecting on their roles and how best to fulfill them, all of us on the Corporation have thought this an opportune moment to step back and think purposefully about our own responsibilities and structures,” wrote President Drew Faust and Robert D. Reischauer, the Corporation’s senior fellow, in a letter to the Harvard community.  “We have challenged ourselves to consider how the Corporation, created in the mid-17th century, can assure the capacities needed to guide and serve our vastly larger, more ambitious, and more diverse University in the 21st.”

As described in a committee report on the governance review, the changes include a doubling of the number of Corporation members other than the president, from six to 12, to expand the Corporation’s collective capacity and breadth of expertise.  There will be prescribed periods of service for the Corporation’s fellows, to assure a balance of continuity and fresh perspective, as well as a more defined leadership role for the Corporation’s senior fellow.  The Corporation will create three standing committees to assure in-depth focus on key areas of core fiduciary concern:  finance, facilities and capital planning, and governance.  In addition, the two governing boards will launch a joint committee on alumni affairs and development, as Harvard prepares for a University-wide campaign and aims to integrate the boards’ work in this domain.

“The Corporation has been at the heart of Harvard’s evolution and progress ever since it was chartered in 1650, a century and a quarter before the American Revolution,” said Faust.  “The governance review has given us a welcome occasion not just to reflect on the Corporation’s history but to challenge ourselves to consider a set of changes that can extend and deepen its capacity as we look ahead.  It’s been gratifying to contemplate how the President and Fellows can spur the efforts of all of us around Harvard to look forward with imagination and discipline, to navigate complexity and change, and to shape strategies that help our academic enterprise thrive.”

The report underscores the Corporation’s intention to concentrate increasing attention on matters of strategic direction and high-level policy, with an emphasis on the productive interplay of the University’s different parts.  The report also highlights plans to inform the community more regularly about key aspects of the Corporation’s work, to create more opportunities for members of the Corporation to hear from various people within the University community, and to continue strengthening working relationships between the Corporation and the Board of Overseers.

“We’ve benefited throughout the review from the candid observations of deans, former board members, faculty, alumni, and others, whose shared devotion to Harvard’s well-being couldn’t be clearer,” said Reischauer.  “I’m confident that the changes we’re pursuing will give us greater scope to see the big picture and take the long view, to probe areas that most warrant the Corporation’s in-depth attention, to calibrate both opportunities and risks, and to consider Harvard’s distinctive parts in relation to the larger whole.”

The review was conducted by a committee comprising the seven members of the Corporation as well as three colleagues with experience on the Board of Overseers.  The Corporation’s current members are President Faust; Nannerl O. Keohane, L.L.D. (hon.) ’93, Laurance S. Rockefeller Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Affairs at Princeton University and past president of Duke University and Wellesley College; Patricia A. King, J.D. ’69, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law, Medicine, Ethics, and Public Policy at the Georgetown University Law Center; William F. Lee, A.B. ’72, co-managing partner of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr; Robert D. Reischauer, A.B. ’63, president of the Urban Institute and past director of the Congressional Budget Office; James F. Rothenberg, A.B. ’68, M.B.A. ’70, chairman, principal executive officer, and director of Capital Research and Management Company and treasurer of Harvard University; and Robert E. Rubin, A.B. ’60, L.L.D. (hon.) ’01, co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.  Lee joined the committee upon beginning his Corporation service in July 2010, replacing James R. Houghton, who stepped down from the Corporation on June 30 after helping to launch the review.

The governance review committee also included Frances D. Fergusson, A.M. ’66, Ph.D. ’73, president emerita of Vassar College and president of Harvard’s Board of Overseers in 2007-08; Robert N. Shapiro, A.B. ’72, J.D. ’78, a lawyer, past president of the Harvard Alumni Association, and current chair of the Overseers Committee on Institutional Policy; and Seth P. Waxman, A.B. ’73, former U.S. Solicitor General, former HAA elected director, and current president of the Board of Overseers.

“Harvard has flourished over centuries in no small part because it has managed to balance a sense of enduring purpose and values with a capacity to adapt and look ahead,” said Waxman.  “These changes are well-designed to enhance the University’s governance, in service of the academic enterprise that all of us on the governing boards are devoted to advance and serve.”

The committee was advised by Richard Chait, one of the nation’s leading authorities on higher education governance, now a Research Professor at the Graduate School of Education.

“Our Overseer colleagues and Professor Chait brought a great deal of insight and perspective to our deliberations, including both a sense of Harvard’s distinctive culture and a broad view of governance practices elsewhere,” said Reischauer.  “We couldn’t have asked for more engaged, helpful, and constructively critical partners.  I also want to thank Jamie Houghton, my predecessor as senior fellow, who played an essential role in getting this review started and in guiding its early phase.”

According to the report, a process will soon begin to select new members of the Corporation, with the expectation of expanding the Corporation from seven to 13 members within two to three years.  Confidential advice and nominations may be directed by e-mail to or by letter to Harvard Corporation Search, Loeb House, 17 Quincy St., Cambridge, MA 02138.