Penn History

Advisory and Overseer Boards and Councils at the University of Pennsylvania

A Brief History

By Mark Frazier Lloyd
With the assistance of Nicholas G. Heavens
University Archives Summer Research Fellow
August 2000

Boards Defined by the Statutes of the Corporation, 1928-1954

An excellent reference work on the role of academic advisory boards at the University of Pennsylvania is Donald R. Belcher’s 1960 volume, The Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. This 112-page book was commissioned by the Trustees in February 1957 and published by the University Press. Belcher was the former Treasurer of AT&T and Regents Professor at the University of California (Berkeley). In Chapter VII of his book, Belcher described in detail the academic Advisory Boards then in existence at Penn. He began by noting that the Advisory Boards were rooted in an earlier “system of Constituent Boards established by action of the Trustees in 1928.” The constituent boards, Belcher wrote, “were designed and authorized to administer the affairs of the University in various specified academic areas, subject to the direction of the Executive Board and the Board of Trustees.”

In the years between 1928 and 1954, the constituent boards were explicitly provided for and clearly defined by the Statutes of the Corporation. The Statutes contained an article on the governance of the schools which stated, “the several activities of the University shall be administered by boards, known as constituent boards.” The Statutes divided constituent board membership into two classes. The first was a number of Trustees appointed annually by the Chairman of the Trustees. The second was “persons other than Trustees,” elected by the constituent board itself, “who in its opinion are peculiarly fitted for services in respect to the activities under [that board’s] jurisdiction.” The Statutes named this second class of constituent board members as “Associate Trustees.” The Chairman of the Trustees and the President of the University were members of all constituent boards, ex officio.

On 21 January 1952, as Harold E. Stassen entered the final year of his presidency at Penn, the Trustees published in booklet form the Statutes effective as of that date. Article IV of that edition of the Statutes defined ten constituent boards, as follows:

  1. The Constituent Board of Graduate Education and Research, which had jurisdiction over the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and “also over the coordination of the research work of the University in all schools and departments.”
  2. The Constituent Board of Liberal Arts, which had jurisdiction over the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Liberal Arts for Women, the College Collateral Courses, the Summer School, and the General Extension Courses.
  3. The Constituent Board of Medical Affairs, which had jurisdiction over “the medical schools, departments, institutes, foundations, laboratories, and hospitals of the University.” This included the School of Medicine, the School of Dentistry, the School of Veterinary Medicine, the Graduate School of Medicine, and the School of Nursing.
  4. The Constituent Board of Business Education, which had jurisdiction over the Wharton School and Wharton’s Evening and Extension schools.
  5. The Constituent Board of Fine Arts, which had jurisdiction over the School of Fine Arts.
  6. The Constituent Board of Law, which had jurisdiction over the Law School.
  7. The Constituent Board of Teacher Training, which had jurisdiction over the School of Education and its Extension courses.
  8. The Constituent Board of Engineering Education, which had jurisdiction over the Towne Scientific School and the Moore School of Electrical Engineering.
  9. The Constituent Board of Libraries, which had jurisdiction over the University libraries.
  10. The Constituent Board of Education for Social Work, which had jurisdiction over the School of Social Work.

Article V of the same 1952 edition of the Statutes was titled “Other Boards, Councils, Committees” and it named eight additional governing bodies of “related or non-teaching branches of University activities and not coming within the jurisdiction of any constituent board.” These eight were as follows:

  1. The Board of Managers of the University Hospital
  2. The Board of Managers of the Veterinary Hospital
  3. The Board of Managers of the University Museum
  4. The University Committee on the Henry Phipps Institute
  5. The Board of Managers of the Graduate Hospital
  6. The Advisory Council on Athletics
  7. The General Committee of the University of Pennsylvania Fund
  8. The Board of Managers of the Valley Forge Project

In June 1953, the Trustees elected Gaylord P. Harnwell, a distinguished Professor of Physics, President of the University (Minutes of the Stated Meeting of the Trustees, 10 June 1953, Volume 25, page 431). Harnwell was Penn’s fourth President (Gates (1930-44; McClelland, 1944-48; Stassen, 1948-52). He took office on 1 July 1953 and served continuously until 1 September 1970. Simultaneous with the election of Harnwell, the Trustees commissioned a management survey study of the administration of the University. The Trustees selected the firm of Cresap, McCormick and Paget (CMP) of New York City to conduct the survey. Richard M. Paget worked closely with the Trustees to develop the plan of the study and John C. Batchelor, an associate of CMP, was largely responsible for implementing the work plan. (see Collections of the Office of the President, UPA 4, Box 65, File Folders “Trustees (Organizational Survey) – I, II, III, and IV” (all four files dated 1950-1955), at the University Archives and Records Center)

By December 1953 the study had progressed to the point that the Trustees’ Subcommittee on Administration reported that CMP had “formed and presented to the committee certain preliminary conclusions. The committee conducted a two-day series of interviews on the campus with various members of the University staff, including representatives of the [University] Senate.” The Subcommittee believed that “satisfactory progress has been made and that the committee will, from time to time, have further progress to report.” President Harnwell then “stated that he wished to make several proposals to implement on an interim basis certain recommendations flowing from the study of the administrative organization of the University and approved by the [Trustees’] Committee.” (see Minutes of the Executive Board, 11 December 1953, 25: 454)

Five years afterwards, in summarizing the actions taken by the Trustees in response to the CMP report, Belcher wrote that CMP “severely criticized the constituent board system on the grounds that it represented such a confusion of policy making and administrative authority as to conflict with the policy-making role of the Board of Trustees, promote undesirable autonomy for the various schools, and ‘prevent the President from exercising the full authority necessary to be the chief educational administrative officer of the University.'”

New Advisory Board System Established, 1954

The Trustees, in Belcher’s view, “were persuaded that the constituent system was unsound, but felt the need for an advisory system.” The Executive Board of the Trustees therefore decided, at a meeting held on 12 February 1954, to establish a new Advisory Board system at the University of Pennsylvania. On that date (Minutes of the Executive Board of the Trustees, 26: 51-52) the Executive Board adopted the following policy (italics add by Mark Lloyd):

RESOLVED, That the following Boards as now constituted be continued through June 30, 1954, their duty being to advise on matters of policy:

  • Board of Graduate Education and Research
  • Board of Liberal Arts
  • Board of Medical Affairs
  • Board of Business Education
  • Board of Fine Arts
  • Board of Law
  • Board of Teacher Training
  • Board of Engineering Education
  • Board of Education for Social Work
  • Board of Libraries

RESOLVED, That the agreement of 1938 with the Managers of the University Museum be reaffirmed and that the Educational Policy Committee be requested to study it and make recommendations for possible changes.

RESOLVED, That the Managing Committee of the Institute of Local and State Government as now constituted be continued, under the jurisdiction of the Educational Policy Committee of the Trustees, its duty being to advise this Committee and the President upon matters of policy.

RESOLVED, That the Vice-President for the Corporation be asked to confer with the Corporate Trustees and Counsel of the Morris Foundation concerning the Advisory Board of the Foundation which has to do with the Morris Arboretum.

RESOLVED, That the Advisory Council on Athletics as now constituted be continued its duty being to advise the Committee on Student Affairs and the President upon athletic policy.

Prior to the adoption of the above resolutions, discussion developed the following points: 1. The Educational Policy Committee will submit to the Trustees at the next stated meeting of that body suggestions for membership on the Boards to be organized in lieu of the present Constituent Boards. 2. The Committee on Appointments, Promotions, and Stipends will adopt the policy of presenting to the several Boards information pertaining to appointments and promotions of interest to the respective Boards.

In the meantime another committee of the Trustees was at work revising and enormously simplifying the Statutes. At the Stated Meeting of the Trustees held in January 1954 (Minutes of the Trustees, 18 January 1954, 26: 10) revised Statutes which required just 18 pages to print, as opposed to the 73 pages of the January 1952 edition. Robert T. McCracken, Chairman of the Executive Board, explained that “the elimination of much of the detailed operating procedures contained in the old Statutes should provide for greater flexibility by permitting operation by resolution rather than by statutory prescription. Among many other changes, the constituent boards disappeared.

The Trustees also adopted a “committee, boards, and council structure” which consisted, in part, of the following advisory boards (26: 21):

The Trustees’ Medical Affairs Committee had responsibility for three advisory boards:

  1. University Hospital Board
  2. Graduate Hospital Board
  3. Veterinary Hospital Board

The Trustees’ Educational Policy Committee had responsibility for thirteen more:

  1. Board of Medical Education and Research
  2. Board of Engineering Education and Research
  3. Board of Social Work Education and Research
  4. Board of Teacher Education and Practice
  5. Board of Business Education
  6. Board of Law
  7. Board of Fine Arts
  8. Museums Board
  9. Library Board
  10. Board of Humanistic Studies
  11. Board of Social Sciences
  12. Board of Biological Sciences
  13. Board of Mathematics and Physical Sciences

In addition, the Trustees recognized five Affiliated Boards:

  1. Evans Institute
  2. Wistar Institute
  3. Moore School
  4. Local and State Government
  5. Morris Arboretum

It quickly became apparent, however, that establishing the Advisory Board system was one thing, but administering it was quite another. The University’s Directory [of] Officers – Faculty, Students – Departments [for] 1954-55 (Philadelphia: By the University, November 1954), at pages 10-11, included only fourteen “University Advisory Committees, Boards, and Councils,” as follows:

  • Board of Education and Research, which was divided into two committees:
    • Committee on Physical and Biological Sciences
    • and the Committee on Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Board of Medical Education and Research
  • Board of Engineering Education
  • Board of Business Education
  • Board of Fine Arts
  • Board of Teach Education and Practice
  • Board of Education for Social Work
  • Board of Law
  • Board of Libraries
  • Advisory Council on Athletics
  • Board of the University Museum
  • Board of the Morris Arboretum
  • Board of the University Hospital
  • Board of the Graduate Hospital

It seems clear that the Trustees’ mandate for the multiple boards of Humanistic Studies, Social Sciences, Biological Sciences, and Mathematical and Physical Sciences had been combined into the single Board of Education and Research and its two committees. In addition the Veterinary Hospital Board did not appear to have yet been formed. Finally, there was no mention of the affiliated boards of the Evans Institute, the Wistar Institute, the Moore School, and the Local and State Government.

The Advisory Board system as established in 1954 remained in place for thirteen years. Moving forward from 1954 in five-year increments, a search found the following published information in the University directories for 1959-60 and 1964-65. The Directory of the Faculty and Staff of the University of Pennsylvania [for] 1959-60 (Philadelphia: By the University, 1959), at pages 104-105, included only eight advisory committees and boards of managers, as follows:

  • Trustees of the Moore School
  • University Hospital – Board of Managers
  • Graduate Hospital – Board of Managers
  • Phipps Institute – Advisory Council
  • University Museum – Officers and Managers
  • Wistar Institute – Board of Managers
  • Morris Arboretum – Advisory Board of Managers
  • Fels Institute of Local and State Government – Administrative Board

The Directory of the Faculty and Staff of the University of Pennsylvania [for] 1964-65 (Philadelphia: By the University, 1964), at pages 94-97, included fourteen advisory committees and boards of managers, as follows:

  • Joint Committee of the Annenberg School of Communications and the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania
  • Advisory Committee [on the] Institute of Contemporary Art
  • School of Dental Medicine – Advisory Council
  • Fels Institute of Local and State Government – Administrative Board
  • Foreign Policy Research Institute – Advisory Committee
  • Graduate Hospital – Board of Managers
  • Albert M. Greenfield Center for Human Relations – Advisory Board
  • Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania – Board of Managers
  • Moore School of Electrical Engineering – Trustees
  • Morris Arboretum – Advisory Board
  • University Museum – Board of Managers
  • School of Nursing – Advisory Council
  • Council on Veterinary Medical Education and Research
  • Wistar Institute – Board of Managers

Restructuring of the Advisory Board System, 1967

In September 1966, however, the Executive Board authorized an administrative study of the Advisory Board system (Minutes, 30: 118) and in January 1967, at the Stated Meeting of the Trustees, a resolution was adopted which restructured the Advisory Boards, changing their name to Visiting Committees (Minutes, 30: 248-49). The text of the discussion and resolutions which followed was minuted as follows:

Mr. Gillen [the Chairman of the Board of Trustees] reviewed the background of the Advisory Board structure and recalled that in the Fall, he had requested the administration to study the system and present recommendation to the Trustees for their consideration. As part of the study it was revealed that the attendance figures at the Advisory Board meetings during the past three years had not improved since the previous study made in 1956 by Mr. Donald L. Belcher. The average attendance for Advisory Board meetings is from 45% to 65%. The attendance at the Plenary Sessions of the Associate Trustees has averaged 23%. Presently approximately 170 persons are involved in the Advisory Boards and National Council. It was noted that some boards have performed exceptionally well and enabled the participants to feel a genuine involvement in University activities. The over-all pattern is quite discouraging, however, and suggests certain realignments and restructuring if the involvement of these friends of the University is to be meaningful.

Following discussion and upon presentation these resolutions were adopted:

RESOLVED, That the Trustees approve in principle the restructuring of the present advisory board system and establish visiting committees on a basis to be recommended by the administration after consultation with the faculty members involved, and be it further

RESOLVED, That under this new structure the visiting committee ultimately report directly to the Trustees and that their membership be determined after consultation with a Trustee committee, and be it further

RESOLVED, That approval of the details of the new committee organization be brought to the Trustees for action in May 1967.

It is noted that a suggestion concerning a change of title from ‘Associate Trustee’ to ‘Visitor’ was removed from the fore-going resolution. This matter will be reconsidered by the Trustees when the details of the new committee organization are brought to them in May 1967.

At the April 1967 meeting of the Executive Board (Minutes, 30: 315), President Harnwell “reported on the progress being made in the study of the restructuring of the University Boards and Councils. He observed that these committees fall into four groups:

  1. Joint Boards – which cooperate autonomously with other institutions such as the Moore School of Electrical Engineering.
  2. Operating Boards – ancillary boards concerned with the operation of sub-units such as the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
  3. Professional School Boards – which are advisory boards to the Deans of the schools and consist of persons who are thoroughly knowledgeable in the professional areas such as Business, Education, and Law.
  4. Advisory Councils – such as the Athletic Council.

Dr. Harnwell then said that consideration would be given to the establishment of visiting committees when requested by department chairmen. These committees would be created for the purpose of providing specialized advice and counsel and would nominate appropriate scholars or scientists to the University administration for official appointment to such departmental committee. He reported that in connection with the study Dean Winn is preparing a draft of a basic defining document for a professional school board and that Dr. Luther Terry is studying the possible structuring of boards and councils in the medical areas.

Dr. Harnwell also said that it will be proposed that a President’s Council on University Affairs be established for the purpose of focusing the interests of local friends of the University who are participating in an advisory capacity in one area or another or who are major benefactors of the University’s programs on the broad role of the University in the community. Meetings of this Council or subdivisions of it may be held from time to time for special purposes. The council membership would consist of local members of the joint boards, operating boards, professional school boards, National Council and such other individuals as may from time to time be nominated by the President to the Trustees. Membership on these Councils would carry the title “Associate Trustee.”

At the May 1967 Stated Meeting of the Trustees, the minute of President Harnwell’s report to the Trustees on the subject of Advisory Boards and Councils was identical to that found in the minutes of the April meeting of the Executive Board (Minutes, 31: 38). It was not until the October Stated Meeting that the reorganization was finalized. The minutes of that meeting include the following (Minutes, 31: 137):

Dr. Harnwell called attention to the recommendations of the administration concerning the restructuring of the Advisory Boards and Councils (Appendix B). He noted that certain of the former advisory boards would be discontinued. These include: Physical and Biological Sciences; Humanities; Medical Education and Research; and Library. He explained that the Library Board would be reconstituted as a Library Council and would be related to the Friends of the Library. The functions of the Medical Education Research Board would be coordinated through the two hospital operating boards and the Trustees’ Committee on Medical and Hospital Affairs. He observed that visiting committees would be established, as needed, at the departmental level. He noted the statement defining the Composition and Role of the Professional School Board (Appendix C), at which time several suggestions were made by Trustees concerning its wording. It was agreed that the recommendations for reorganization should be entered into the record.

“Appendix B” of the October 1967 minutes consisted of an organizational chart which provided the following definitions (Minutes, 31: 148):

Joint Boards included the Trustees for the Moore School; the Joint Committee of the Annenberg School; the Board of Managers of the Wistar Institute; and the Tri-Institutional Facilities, Inc.

The President’s Council on University Affairs consisted of members of Joint, Operating and Professional Boards, members of the National Council and others. All members of the President’s Council are Associate Trustees.

Operating Boards consisted of the Board of Managers of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; the Board of Managers of the Graduate Hospital; the Board of Managers of the University Museum; and the Advisory Board of the Morris Arboretum.

Professional School Boards consisted of Business Education; Engineering Education; the Graduate School of Education; Fine Arts; Social Work; and Law.

Advisory Councils consisted of the Athletic Council; the Fels Institute; the Foreign Policy Research Institute; the Greenfield Center; the Library Council; the Dean of Women; and the Institute of Contemporary Art.

“Appendix C” of the October 1967 minutes was a two-paragraph statement titled “The Composition and Role of the Professional School Board.” Its text was as follows (Minutes 31: 149):

The Advisory Board should be composed of leaders in the School’s field and should include both alumni and non-alumni. The members should be thoughtful, progressive professionals in the area of interest and should be selected on a national, not merely a local basis. Board members should have rotating terms and the meetings should be at least once or twice a year. Having a group of this kind can serve many purposes. It can facilitate communications with the public, the administration, and the trustees. It can force the School administration to make periodic reviews of its activities, and keep the members to developing trends in the field as well as to changes in the public image of the School’s program. It can provide a good sounding board for new ideas, and a unique laboratory in which to release trial balloons. It can provide occasions for exposing faculty to business leaders, and to some of the current problems in their common fields of interest. Finally, the Advisory Board can broaden the circle of friends and interested supporters of the School.

This Board should not be viewed as a substitute for a visiting committee consisting of academics from other institutions. These two groups should not be co-mingled. It is important in using the Board to present problems to the board, and to pose questions for its members to answer. It can also be used by the School to open doors in various areas. In other words, it should be a working board.

After the Board of Trustees considered and approved this restructuring of the Advisory Board system, the Harnwell administration did not return to the subject during the remaining years of its tenure.

The Meyerson Administration and the Establishment of Overseer Boards

Boards of Overseers at the University of Pennsylvania, as they are known today, find their origin in the following minute in the report of President Martin Meyerson to the Trustees at the Stated Meeting of the Trustees for 13 October 1972 (Minutes, 34: 239):

Mr. Sheehan is in the process of developing a program of Boards of Visitors, and early attention is being given to the creation of such a Board for the Wharton School, the Chairmanship of which will be assumed by Mr. Regan.

In brief comments, Mr. Regan expressed his concerns for the quality of education in management and for business research and he reflected optimism concerning the role which the Board can play in bringing attention to the Wharton School.

In a statement of the purpose and procedures associated with Visiting Boards, Mr. Sheehan indicated that there is no single pattern for all schools, but that the needs and goals in each situation will be evaluated. He looks for the Visiting Boards to serve as a means of informal annual review of school operations, to provide interchange with the faculty and student body, to help make a School more widely known, to provide contact with certain external publics, to serve as a means for encouraging financial assistance, and to provide the Dean and faculty with advice on specific matters.

At the conclusion of President Meyerson’s report, the meeting moved on to the report of the Provost. The Trustees took no formal action in approving or resolving to adopt the several purposes or mission statement for Visiting Boards which Mr. Sheehan had articulated.

The topic of Boards of Visitors did not appear again in the minutes of the Trustees until the meeting of the Executive Board for 14 September 1973 (35: 29-30). The minutes of that meeting contain the following statements:

On the subject of reconstituting advisory boards for certain of the schools, the question was posed by President Meyerson as to the most appropriate title to be used for such boards in the future. Discussion ensued about the pro’s and con’s of ‘Board of Visitors’ and ‘Board of Overseers;’ there was a general consensus that the latter term was preferred. The President expressed the hope that the chairman or at least vice chairman of such boards will be University Trustees in order to maintain appropriate liaison with the governing body.

Mr. Sheehan gave a brief report on his activities in establishing the Wharton School Board of Overseers, in which he noted that ten persons of stature have been enlisted to date and that the initial meeting of the Board will be on November 15-16. In the case of the School of Social Work Board of Overseers, the Dean, Provost, and President have agreed to constitute a Board of approximately 25 members representing social work professionals, representatives of the public at large who have a demonstrated interest in social work and related problems, and Trustees.

Approval was given to the following resolution:

RESOLVED, That the present Advisory Board of the School of Social Work be reconstituted as the Board of Overseers of the School of Social Work and that the following individuals be elected as the members of the Board:

Present members to be retained:

  • Mrs. Anderson Page, Chairman
  • Mrs. Arlin M. Adams
  • Mrs. Taylor Anderson (Alumni Association)
  • Robert J. Callahan, Esq.
  • Dr. Robert D. Eilers
  • Mr. Clifford Scott Green
  • Dr. Arthur H. Keeney
  • Miss Elizabeth Madeira
  • Mr. William G. Nagel
  • Mr. Robert W. Reifsnyder
  • Hon. Francis L. Van Dusen

New Members to be Elected:

  • Trustee Robert L. Trescher, Esq.

Professional-Social Work Field

  • Mr. Donald B. Hurwitz
  • Dr. Katharine Kendall
  • Esther Lazarus
  • Mr. Richard Lodge
  • Mrs. Irene Pernsley
  • Dr. Eugene Pusic
  • Miss Willie V. Small

Public Representatives

  • Lee F. Driscoll, Jr.
  • Anita Grossman Langsfeld
  • Rt. Rev. James E. McDonough
  • Mrs. Hilda Robbins
  • Richard S. Schweiker
  • Mr. Charles (Chuck) Stone

Following the adoption of this resolution, the discussion of the subject of Boards of Overseers was concluded and the September 1973 meeting of the Executive Board moved on to other topics.

Two months later, on 9 November 1973, the minutes of the Executive Board of the Trustees (35: 101) contained three resolutions relative to Boards of Overseers:

Upon presentation by the Secretary, the following resolutions were adopted:

RESOLVED, That the following persons be elected to The Wharton School Board of Overseers and as Associate Trustees as indicated:

  • Mr. Reginald H. Jones
  • Mr. John A. Mayer
  • Mr. Donald T. Regan
  • Mr. William J. Zellerbach

Associate Trustees

  • Mr. Marshall S. Armstrong
  • Dr. Andrew F. Brimmer
  • Mr. August A. Busch, III
  • Mr. Leonard C. Davis
  • Mr. Robert R. Nathan
  • Mr. Louis M. Ream, Jr.

RESOLVED, That the Advisory Board of the School of Veterinary Medicine be designated as ‘The Board of Overseers of the School of Veterinary Medicine’ in accordance with the expressed of that Board.

RESOLVED, That Harold J. Caster be elected as a member Board of Overseers of the School of Social Work. (The home of the School of Social Work, the Caster Building, is named in appreciation of a generous gift of Mr. Caster, a 1921 graduate of The Wharton School, and his sister.)

Following the adoption of this resolution, the discussion of the subject of Boards of Overseers was concluded and the November 1973 meeting of the Executive Board moved on to other topics.

A search of the minutes of the Stated Meetings and Executive Board meetings of the Trustees did not find mention of Board of Overseers again until the meeting of the Executive Board for 1 July 1974 (35: 256). The minutes of that meeting contain the following statements:

President Meyerson presented the following resolutions which were approved:

RESOLVED, that Reginald H. Jones be appointed Chairman of the Board of Overseers for The Wharton School, effective immediately.

RESOLVED, that C.B. McCoy be appointed Chairman of the Board of Overseers of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, effective at such time as he indicates acceptance of this position.

The President solicited the suggestions of Trustees in the formation of boards of overseers for the arts and sciences and the Graduate School of Fine Arts.

Following the adoption of these resolutions and President Meyerson’s request for nominees, the discussion of the subject of Boards of Overseers was concluded and the July 1974 meeting of the Executive Board moved on to other topics.

All subsequent discussions of and resolutions on Boards of Overseers may be viewed online at the University Archives web site: