Some US institutions shrinking their boards

August 14, 2012

Over the past several years a few US PSE institutions have conceded that their large boards may be a problem. Governance experts say large boards dilute accountability and invariably allow a small group to take control of an institution, leaving the remaining governors on board merely to cut ribbons and big cheques. Following a 14-month review of its governance structure, Johns Hopkins University's board voted last year to start shrinking its 65-member board by nearly half, setting a cap of 35 for 2015, and membership now stands at 45. The reduction "has enhanced our productivity, and we certainly have a deeper level of strategic engagement," says the trustee who led the review. Since reducing a board's size can be unpalatable, some institutions have explored other ways to handle communication problems and board disengagement. In 2003 the Corporation of Brown University underwent a major restructuring that was designed to promote discussions of greater depth and frequency. The 54-member corporation eliminated 10 of its 21 committees and reduced the number of people serving on each committee. The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)