``Trustees of Princeton University''

``Trustees of Princeton University'' is the legal title of the corporation that is empowered to ``conduct a university not for profit.''

There are a maximum of forty trustees, of whom two (the governor of the state and the president of the University) serve ex-officio; thirteen are elected by alumni and students, and the remainder are chosen by the board itself. Four of those chosen by the Board are called term trustees and serve four years, as do all of the thirteen trustees elected by alumni and students. The rest of those chosen by the board are called charter trustees; those elected prior to 1969 serve until their seventieth birthday, those elected in 1969 and thereafter, for terms of ten years.

Of the original twelve trustees named in the College's first charter in 1746, nine were clergymen, one was a merchant, one -- the person who drafted the charter -- a lawyer, and the twelfth was that indispensable adjunct of a privately endowed college -- ``a man of leisure and wealth and given to good works.''

The youngest of the twelve was twenty-three. The oldest, Jonathan Dickinson, the first president of the college, was fifty-eight.

The twenty-three trustees named in a second charter, granted in 1748, represented a broader spectrum of society and reflected the founders' avowed purpose of raising up men who would be ``ornaments of the State as well as the Church.'' Added were the governor of the Province, Jonathan Belcher, and four members of the provincial council of New Jersey as well as two judges and a merchant in Philadelphia. Now there were twelve clergymen -- a clerical majority of one.

The clergymen maintained this majority of one for more than a century. As the number of trustees was increased after the Civil War, more laymen were appointed, and although there were still twelve clergymen they were now outnumbered. As late as 1905 the bylaws stipulated that at least twelve trustees should be clergymen, but the following year the number was reduced to eight, and in 1913 this requirement was removed completely. The present bylaws make no occupational stipulation whatever.

Most of the original trustees were graduates of Yale, Harvard, or William Tennent's ``Log College'' in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, but a decade later graduates of the College began infiltrating its Board of Trustees. Richard Stockton, a member of the first graduating class of 1748, who practiced law in Princeton, became the first in 1757 and was joined four years later by his classmate, Israel Read, minister at Bound Brook. By 1768, when John Witherspoon became president, there were five graduates of the College on the board; a century later, under McCosh, there were seventeen. In recent years, with few exceptions, every trustee has been a Princeton alumnus.

One non-Princetonian, John A. Stewart, was an active member of the board longer than any other trustee in Princeton's history. A graduate of Columbia College in 1840, and a trusted financial adviser to President Lincoln and later to President Cleveland, Stewart was elected a Princeton trustee in 1868 and continued to serve until his death in 1926 at the age of 104. He was acting president of the University in the interregnum between the Wilson and Hibben administrations.


In 1900, in recognition of the increasing part that alumni were playing in Princeton's growth, the board amended the charter and bylaws to permit adding to its membership five trustees to be elected annually by the alumni. This number became eight in 1917, and the method of election was subsequently modified several times, resulting in a plan adopted in 1934 which provided that two alumni trustees be elected annually, one from a region by vote of alumni living in that region, the other chosen at large by vote of the entire alumni body, in both instances from among candidates nominated by a nine-man committee of the Alumni Council.

The range of alumni trusteeships was further extended by two developments in the 1960s. The first came in 1963 with the addition of a ninth alumni trustee representing the graduate school, elected for a four-year term once every four years from among candidates nominated by the Princeton Graduate Alumni Association and voted upon by the entire alumni body.

Further additions were made in 1969 when increasing student interest in the governance of the University led the board to provide for four more alumni trustees, one elected each year from the graduating class by vote of the members of the junior and senior classes and of the two most recently graduated classes, to serve a term of four years.

The latter provision was made retroactive by the election of two trustees in May 1969. Richard W. Cass '68, aged twenty-two, was elected for a three-year term and Brent L. Henry '69, aged twenty-one, was elected for a four-year term. Henry had the double distinction of being the youngest man and the first black to be elected a Princeton trustee.

At the same time the board revoked the rule that alumni trustees elected by regions and at large must have been members of classes out of college at least ten years.


Meanwhile changes had been made affecting trustees elected by the board itself. In 1942, in an act of self-restraint led by Albert G. Milbank 1896, the board renounced the right to life tenure that trustees had enjoyed for almost two centuries. ``Life trustees'' became ``charter trustees,'' committed to retirement at age seventy with the title ``trustee emeritus.'' This change opened up vacancies for oncoming generations at earlier dates and compelled a more rapid changeover of committee chairmanships traditionally retained by the same persons over long periods of time.

In 1956 the board reduced the number of charter trustees by four, replacing them with term trustees elected by the board for four-year terms. This new classification permitted the board to use the services of a greater number of persons whose special knowledge and judgment might be needed at various times in the University's development.

As a further means of achieving greater diversity in the age, interests, and background of trustees, the board in 1969 set a ten-year limit for terms of service of charter trustees elected on or after July 1 of that year.

The Board added women to its membership for the first time in 1971 when it elected as charter trustees, Mary St. John Douglas and Susan Savage Speers (daughters of alumni in the classes of 1905 and 1920 and wives of alumni in the classes of 1943 and 1950).


Until 1939, the governor of New Jersey was the presiding officer of the Board. Since then, the president of the University has presided and, in his absence, the chairman of the Executive Committee of the trustees, who serves as spokesman for the board.

Starting with the McCosh administration, most of the work of the trustees has been done by standing committees, of which there are now nine: executive, finance, curriculum, grounds and buildings, plans and resources, library, student life, health and athletics, and honorary degrees. Between board meetings, the executive committee has all the powers and duties of the board except that of removing or electing a trustee or the president.

The Executive Committee (originally called the Administrative Committee, and headed by the president) was first instituted in 1919. Its chairmen have included Edward D. Duffield 1892, Walter E. Hope '01, Fordyce B. St. John '05, Harold H. Helm '20, James F. Oates, Jr. '21, John N. Irwin II '37, and R. Manning Brown '36.


Relations between the trustees and the administration and faculty have sometimes been strained. Early in the nineteenth century the trustees made frequent visitations to Princeton and interfered with the faculty in matters of discipline. ``Unhappily,'' President Maclean later observed, ``there were no railroads to take the trustees to their homes in those days.'' President McCosh complained that the board was ``full of old dotards and sometimes they go to sleep,'' and Moses Taylor Pyne recalled that ``the Trustees spent most of their time fighting Doctor McCosh.'' In recent times, the situation has changed markedly. In a speech to the alumni at the close of his administration, President Dodds commended the trustees for their understanding of the function of a university, and ``for the respect they pay to the professional province of the faculty and to the responsibilities which pertain to the administration.'' ``I have known college presidents,'' President Dodds said, ``who always took to their beds for the weekend following a meeting of their trustees. My sworn testimony is that I have never attended a meeting of our board which did not give a lift to my heart.''

In his annual report of 1968, President Goheen said that he had often been struck by how little is known about the role and function of university trustees in general and about Princeton's board in particular, and that ``this is the more regrettable because, in my close observation, Princeton's Trustees merit so much trust.''

``Their sense of their role [he continued] is almost always one of service and the best interests of the University, not a matter of vested rights or of power.

``They hold a public trust to carry out specified educational purposes. . . . They . . . have a general responsibility for the kind of education and kind of research conducted by the University, and for their bearing on the public interest . . . [leaving] the specific determination of academic programs and the conduct of instruction to professionals -- that is, the faculty and academic administration.

``With this basic public trust . . . go also binding legal and fiscal obligations. It is the Trustees alone who can hold title to the material assets and property of Princeton University, and responsibility for the management of its funds rests directly on them. With respect to the latter, Princeton's twentieth-century record is superb. Even during the Great Depression, when salary slashes were the order of the day on American campuses, Princeton managed to avoid them through the Trustees' good management of the funds in their charge. More recently, the simultaneous growth of the University's endowment and of the annual return on this endowment has been impressive. . . .

``More than any one in the University, the Trustees have to carry the sense of a trust held in perpetuity. On them rests the responsibility to a university whose future is no less important than its present or its past. . . . On many fronts -- provision for the Library, for health and athletics, for student affairs, for faculty and staff housing and benefits, for curricular developments and the enlistment of financial support; in interpreting the University to those outside and defending its best interests; in trying to assess the varied opportunities and obligations which confront the University at any and all times -- the Princeton Trustees are, indeed, working trustees.''

From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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