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In 2008, Chancellor Thomas Tisch '76 — who leads the Corporation — admitted to The Herald that the Corporation has often been accused of being a bunch of "dead white males."

Since then, the Corporation set aside two trustee spots for young alums in 2009, but the body remains predominantly male — and the majority of its members come from the financial sector. The Corporation currently has 53 members — 12 fellows and 41 trustees. Of the 53, 32 are male and 21 female. A bare majority — 27 — deal primarily in the financial sector. That figure does not include two lawyers who practice financial law and a commissioner with the Securities and Exchange Commission with a background in finance.

Despite what may seem a somewhat homogeneous makeup, the Corporation's members still bring a healthy breadth of perspectives, Tisch said.

"The way the Brown Corporation is constructed is actually a relatively diverse board, recognizing that at the end of the day, it has to raise millions of dollars," said Stephen Nelson, associate professor of educational leadership at Bridgewater State University.

Nelson said he felt a preponderance of financiers does not hurt academic governance, but instead said it was a politicization of academia — a trend he traced back to the 1960s — that has been a negative influence in university governance. He credited President Ruth Simmons as a prominent leader who has avoided politicizing the University's governance.

But Tisch rejected the notion that Corporation members in finance are not attuned to broader academic or intellectual issues.

"Many of the members that people would characterize as ‘in finance' come at it from different directions," Tisch said. "Within finance, there are a great many skills, abilities and passions."

He said many members are simply passionate about building businesses. He added that financial skills in themselves are relevant to some of the Corporation's duties, and that it boasts "a terrific internal budget and finance team."

Tisch said that the Corporation's makeup, unlike a legislature's, is not intended to be demographically representative of any constituency.

"It's the role of the Corporation to take the long view and have a longer perspective on issues we face to help give administrators a sense of longer direction and goals," he said. "The Corporation is a group of individuals who care passionately about the University and our future and have perspective and talents that are inclined to help us fulfill that future."

But perspective and talents are not all that Corporation members give to Brown.

The presence of "wealthy benefactors" on universities' governing boards is nothing new, according to Nelson.

Nelson said wealthy benefactors in governing positions have often supported universities from their inceptions, citing Stanford University's founding in the 19th century by wealthy railroad tycoon Leland Stanford.

Universities want and need these people on their boards for their leadership, wisdom and forethought, but money and connections also play a role, he said.

Tisch said members of the Corporation were a major source of funds for the University, especially during the five-year Campaign for Academic Enrichment that ended last fall.

Of the $1.61 billion raised in the campaign, 30.9 percent, or $499 million, came from present or past members of the Corporation. Tisch also noted that though much money raised through the campaign was earmarked by donors for clearly identifiable needs embraced by the administration as part of the Plan for Academic Enrichment, he thought this was especially true of donations from Corporation members.

"The reality is that we as a University are very under-resourced as compared to other schools in our cohort," Tisch said. "Financial needs are really with us at all times. They're with us in a way that forces us to be conscious of tradeoffs, but there are also issues we must be very aware of at all times. As a standard, the Corporation has been engaged, committed and has led in terms of giving to the University."

Jay Lorsch, professor of human relations at the Harvard Business School, said though there is no question that board members are expected to contribute large sums of money, it is generally not everyone on the board who does so, but rather a few key people.

He added he "would be concerned if the only reason they were on the board was because they were going to write a check."

Ronald Ehrenberg, director of Cornell's Higher Education Research Institute, said governing boards like the Corporation usually need some members with expertise in finance to help out with budgets and investments, and the fact that these people tend to be wealthy may bear little relevance to their seats on the boards.

— With additional reporting by Nicole Boucher


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