The Board of Overseers is one of Harvard’s two governing boards, the other being the President and Fellows, also known as the Corporation. Drawing on the diverse experience and expertise of its members, the Board of Overseers exerts broad influence over the University’s strategic directions, provides essential counsel to the University’s leadership on priorities and plans, has the power of consent to certain actions such as the election of Corporation members.
The Board also directs the visitation process by which a broad array of Harvard Schools and departments are periodically reviewed. The more than 50 visiting committees (on which Overseers serve with others) play a principal role in assessing the quality of Harvard’s programs and assuring that the University remains true to its charter as a place of learning.
The Board as a whole typically meets five times during the academic year. Its plenary sessions commonly focus on a broad topic that is prominent on the University agenda—such as the effort to enhance undergraduate education; the pursuit of interfaculty academic collaboration; or emerging initiatives in the sciences, the arts, or international studies. Plenary sessions also commonly include reports from the Board’s several standing committees (which cover both academic and administrative domains) as well as a discussion with the president of the University about key issues and challenges. Here the Overseers may have their greatest effect, bringing to bear their special expertise, wise judgment, and deep interest in Harvard.