Advisory boards at Penn began in 1928 when the Statutes of the Corporation were amended to allow for constituent boards to provide counsel for each of the University's faculties. In 1972, the Trustees and the President decided to build on this earlier precedent by establishing boards of overseers for Penn's schools and major resource centers.
Ten of Penn's twelve schools have boards of overseers:
The Annenberg School does not have a board of overseers, relying instead on an informal board to advise on the affairs of the school. In 2001, the School of Medicine Board of Overseers was folded into Penn Medicine.
In addition to the aforementioned schools, the Office of the University Secretary works with the following resource center boards:
Overseer boards serve as bridges between Penn's schools and centers and the community beyond campus boundaries. Although overseers do not have fiduciary responsibility, the President, Provost and Board of Trustees rely heavily on these boards to help inform the work of the schools and centers.
In addition, boards of overseers are important components of the Penn volunteer leadership structure and are essential to the University's ability to engage volunteers at various levels. They are resources for identifying and cultivating leaders who may eventually serve on the Board of Trustees, and for providing existing or former trustees with an opportunity to lend their expertise to a specific school or center.
As the top level of volunteer leadership for Penn's schools and centers, overseers are expected to:
Provide long- and short-term advice to deans and directors regarding the achievement of strategic objectives and priorities;
Ensure that schools and centers have the resources necessary to achieve their goals by being a source of financial support, identifying and delivering financial support, and/or helping to shape school- or center-wide strategies for obtaining such support;
Serve as a sounding board for deans and directors and hold the schools and centers to the highest standards of excellence;
Assess the current contributions of schools and centers in relation to the needs of their public and professional communities;
Make the work of schools and centers more widely known among alumni, prospective students, potential donors, employers, professionals, and other publics;
Assist in the search for new deans or directors, by serving on search committees or assisting in the identification of possible candidates;
Provide regular updates to the Trustees.
Power of appointment to the boards of overseers rests with the Trustees of the University, who act upon recommendations by the President and the Chair of the Trustees. Nominations may come from any source, but first must be approved by the dean or director, who then will formally recommend candidates to the Vice President & University Secretary. After the Office of the University Secretary reviews nominations and gathers input from the Department of Development and Alumni Relations, viable candidates are sent to the President and Chair of the Trustees for approval. After approval by the President and the Chair of the Trustees, nominations are placed on the agenda of the subsequent Stated Meeting of the Trustees for board action.
The school- and center-specific criteria for overseer appointment may vary with the changing needs and direction of the particular school or center. The following criteria for service, however, remain constant and are considered when evaluating overseer nominations:
- A history of volunteer leadership at Penn--with the nominating school or center, or with alumni relations, central development, or another area of the University;
- A proven track record of personal giving or leading volunteer fundraising efforts, including helping to solicit gifts from others;
- Distinguishing career and/or civic accomplishments;
- The ability to add professional, geographical, gender, age or ethnic diversity to the board.
Overseers are appointed for a term of three years. Terms are renewable for two additional terms, limiting overseer service to three consecutive three-year terms (or nine years). When new boards are formed, appointments will be divided to ensure that the terms of not more than one-third of the new members expire in any one year.
Boards of overseers are limited to 30 persons, and should include the very top school and center volunteers. Board membership should at all times reflect the current needs and vision of a school or center. It should represent a balance among practitioners, scholars, alumni, non-alumni, and knowledgeable men and women representing a broad range of expertise, as well as a broad range of ethnic identities. Ideally, there will be at least one university trustee on each board.
Term renewals (up to the three-term limit) are at the discretion of the dean or center director. When evaluating whether or not a board member's term should be renewed, consideration is given to the member's effectiveness, including an assessment of:
- The direct impact of his or her advice or participation in the success of specific projects;
- His or her attendance at, and constructive participation in, board meetings;
- His or her attendance at other school functions (alumni activities, development events);
- His or her direct financial contributions to the school or center over the length of his or her term;
- His or her total impact on fundraising over the length of his or her term (i.e., help in connecting with prospects, leadership of fundraising efforts).
The chairmen and the vice chairmen of all boards of overseers and other advisory boards formed by the Trustees are nominated by the Chairman of the Trustees and the President and elected by the Trustees for terms of three years, unless otherwise determined by the Trustees. The terms may be renewed. Normally, a board chair will serve only two consecutive terms.
Although the school- and center-specific roles and responsibilities for board chairs vary, overseer chairs' University responsibilities include:
- Serving as the chief volunteer liaisons between the University and the boards of overseers;
- Representing the boards at University meetings and events, including annual meetings with the President, Chairman, and other overseer chairs
- Whenever possible, participating in Penn ceremonial events, including commencement and presidential inaugurations;
- Delivering state-of-the-university addresses at overseer meetings to keep members apprised of major University issues and activities. (In some cases, the Vice President & University Secretary or Director of Boards and External Relations delivers this report.)
The Vice President & University Secretary and Director of Boards and External Relations work with the schools and centers to ensure that new board members receive a proper introduction to their role, including, upon request, individualized orientation meetings. Every other year, the Office of the University Secretary also hosts an all-overseer update meeting with the President, Chairman, Provost and other senior University officers. This Overseer Overview provides an occasion for all overseers-new and seasoned-to have an exchange with Penn's principal leadership and to hear the latest University news.