This coming school year, Duke’s Board of Trustees will be test-driving a brand new governance structure.

The Board, which is responsible for approving major business of the University, is shifting from being based completely on fiduciary committees to being a mix of consolidated committees and issue-based task forces. 

“It’s a grand experiment this first year. I’m sure we’ll have to tweak it along the way, find out what works and what doesn’t work,” said Jack Bovender, chair of the Board. “But I think the trustees are excited about this because it’s a brand new way of approaching what we need to do and what we want to do.”

The changes come after an internal review of the Board’s governance led by Laurene Sperling, vice chair of the board. It had been 10 years since the last governance review, Bovender explained, so they commissioned one last Fall. The group brought in an outside consultant who specialized in the area to help. 

Now, instead of each of Duke’s Trustees serving on two of the standing committees, they will each serve on one of the reconfigured committees and one of the new task forces. 

Under the new system, the nine current standing committees—executive, academic affairs, business and finance, Duke health academic affairs, audit, risk and compliance, facilities and environment, institutional advancement, human resources and undergraduate education—will be consolidated into seven new committees. 

The new committees will be external engagement, graduate and professional education and research, resources and undergraduate education and governance. The executive committee and the audit, risk and compliance committee will continue as they are. 

External engagement’s priority will be global ventures, development, public relations, marketing, community relations and alumni affairs. Graduate and professional education and research will be responsible for overseeing all of Duke’s graduate and professional programs, while resources will oversee all of the University’s financial, physical and human resources. Undergraduate education will focus on all aspects of the undergraduate educational experience.

The new governance committee sprung out of a need for greater transparency within the Board about how individuals are chosen for positions and how governance decisions are made, Sperling said. It will also be responsible for identifying and recruiting new Trustees.

Changes to the committees’ focuses came out of a desire to create more time for the Trustees to have strategic discussions, explained Sperling.

“In order to create some time, we decided to streamline the fiduciary committees,” she said. “In addition to streamlining them, one of the hallmarks of Duke is to be a really interdisciplinary institution and we wanted to be sure that the committees were reflective of that.”

In addition to the new consolidated committees, the Board will also be adding four new strategic task forces—activating the global network, advancing Duke science and technology, the future of Central Campus and the next generation living and learning experience. 

The task forces are being charged with a specific set of deliverables and given a set time horizon, Bovender explained, because different strategic issues may need to address their focus in a couple of years. The Trustees will be surveyed about their preferences during the summer and then assigned to task forces based on that. 

Activating the global network is responsible for creating a plan for “next-generation engagement platforms to extend and deepen all aspects of university life,” explained Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, in an email. Advancing Duke science and technology will be charged with advising the chancellor of health affairs and President Vincent Price as they “seek to strengthen select areas of science and technology” at Duke.

The future of Central Campus committee is responsible for making a recommendation about the best use of Central Campus after undergraduates stop living there and the housing is demolished.

“The housing is coming down there. It’s an incredibly valuable piece of land and there may be many different uses that could be made of it,” Bovender said. “That needs some strategic thought behind it, so that task force will focus on that and come up with recommendations of what we do and how we do it.”

The fourth task force, next generation living and learning experience, will focus on advising the administration about shaping the University’s undergraduate residential experience. 

Bovender explained that they will be looking for what is working and what is not about the current undergraduate experience. The chair said he was in a fraternity during his time at Duke, and that the semester of rushing “was probably the worst experience I had at Duke.” Although it may be better now for fraternities and sororities, the committee’s goal will be to look at the question of how structures like Greek life work and how they’re constructed, and what things the Board can do to take the “friction” out of the undergraduate experience.

Both the new consolidated committees and the strategic task forces will have students and faculty members involved in them, Bovender said.

“I think that’s particularly important with these strategic task forces because you really want to get an enriched a view of opinions of where we ought to be going and what we ought to be doing,” he said. “Like the undergraduate task force, you certainly wouldn’t want to do that without having students who are living here now and experiencing it now have input in the process.”

As they transition into the new governance structure, Sperling said the new governance committee will be particularly focused on evaluating the new structure’s effectiveness through the first year.

“So that’s some pretty radical changes in governance here—very different way to look at these things,” Bovender said.