The Board of Overseers is one of Harvard’s two governing boards, along with the President and Fellows, also known as the Corporation. Formally established in 1642, the Board plays an integral role in the governance of the University. As a central part of its work, the Board directs the visitation process, the primary means for periodic external assessment of Harvard’s schools and departments. Through its array of standing committees, and the roughly fifty visiting committees that report to them, the Board probes the quality of Harvard’s programs and assures that the University remains true to its charter as a place of learning. More generally, drawing on its members’ diverse experience and expertise, the Board provides counsel to the University’s leadership on priorities, plans, and strategic initiatives.
The Board typically gathers five times a year for plenary and committee meetings, in addition to the time Overseers devote to other Harvard service. The plenary sessions commonly focus on a topic prominent on the University’s agenda—in areas such as innovations in teaching and learning, research initiatives throughout the arts and sciences and the professions, and efforts to enhance connections across the University’s schools and to amplify Harvard programs’ beneficial impact on the wider world. Plenary sessions typically include reports from standing committees and a discussion with the President of the University about key issues and challenges. The Board also has the power of consent to certain actions such as the election of Corporation members.
In all their activities, the Overseers bring to bear their best judgment and their deep commitment to Harvard’s overarching academic mission and long-term institutional interests.