Behind the doors of Nassau Hall, a group of 39 individuals make the decisions that determine Princeton’s future. As the chief governing body of the University, the Board of Trustees passes the University’s budget, supervises the management of the endowment, sets changes in tuition and fees, determines what changes to teaching methods should be made, and crafts the admission policy that whittles Princeton’s more than 30,000 applicants to the lucky 1,500 incoming first-years.
Decisions of the Board of Trustees have had major impacts in recent years. Last September, the Trustees voted to dissociate from 90 fossil fuels companies and in June 2020, the Board decided to rename the previous Woodrow Wilson School, now the School of Public and International Affairs, and Wilson College, now First College.
Despite their importance, the composition of the Board of Trustees is not widely known. The Daily Princetonian examined Trustees’ backgrounds, professions, and relationships to Princeton.
None of the members of the Board responded to a request for comment from the ‘Prince.’
Election to the Board
Constitutionally, the Board of Trustees is composed of no fewer than 23 and no more than 40 members. Currently, 39 trustees sit on the board. All members of the board except Gov. Phil Murphy, an ex officio member, are alumni of the University.
There are four types of elected trustees: Charter, Term, Alumni, and Young Alumni Trustees. Charter Trustees are elected by existing members of the board for six-year terms with the opportunity to serve an additional two-year term; until July 2020, Charter Trustees were elected to eight-year terms. Term trustees are chosen by the board for a term of four years.
Nine Alumni Trustees are elected by the full alumni of the University for a term of four years, with new alumni trustees elected every year.
There are also four Young Alumni Trustees: every year, the current junior and senior classes, as well as the two most recently graduated classes, elect a member of the senior class to serve as a Young Alumni Trustee for four years. Most recently, the Classes of 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 elected Naomi Hess ’22 as Young Alumni Trustee.
Additionally, the President of Princeton University and the Governor of New Jersey are included on the board as ex officio members. Currently, these roles are filled by University President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 and Phil Murphy.
Trustees can serve multiple terms on the board, including through different processes, provided there is at least a one year gap between terms.
Despite the difference in selection processes, Section 1.1 (g) of the University bylaws states that “Trustees ex officio, Charter Trustees, Term Trustees, and Alumni Trustees shall have the same duties, rights, and powers.”
The Board of Trustees contains alumni from a wide array of backgrounds, disciplines, and lines of work. Many are accomplished in their fields, with CEOs, members of Congress, and professors among the ranks of trustees. The ‘Prince’ combined the biographies listed on the Office of the President website with degree and eating club information to create brief profiles of each trustee.
15 of the 39 trustees have or currently work in financial fields, such as capital management, investing, or consulting. Seven trustees work in academia, while five work for nonprofits or other advocacy fields. Just five trustees work in STEM-related fields.
Louise Sams ’79 has had the longest tenure on the board, followed by James Yeh ’87 and Laura Forese ’83, each of whom served four years from 2010 to 2014 as Term Trustees before being named Charter Trustees in 2015. Their service mirrors a pattern of other trustees’ tenure — many trustees serve four years as Alumni or Term Trustees before leaving the board for a year and then being named Charter Trustees.
The median year of trustees graduating from Princeton is 1988. Graduation years range from Paul Maeder in 1975 to young alumni trustee Naomi Hess who graduated in 2022. No members of the board of trustees graduated between 1999 and 2016.
Places of residence
35 of the 39 trustees live in the United States, according to the Board of Trustees website. Five trustees call New York home, all of whom live in New York City. Four trustees live in California, all in the Bay Area, and four live in New Jersey. 32 states have no trustees within their borders. Trustees tend to live in the coastal regions of the United States, with just five trustees coming from landlocked states.
Their time at Princeton
At Princeton, most trustees studied a discipline in the humanities or social sciences. The most common field of study was history, with nine trustees having majored in this discipline, while seven trustees studied in the School of Public and International Affairs and four in mechanical and aerospace engineering. In total, 13 out of the 39 trustees studied STEM disciplines.
32 of the 39 trustees graduated from Princeton as undergraduates. Of these 32, 27 received Bachelor of Arts degrees, while just five received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering. Of the six trustees who attended Princeton for graduate study, five received Doctor of Philosophy degrees, while one obtained a Master of Public Affairs degree.
The ‘Prince’ used the University Library’s Yearbook archive to determine which eating club, if any, University trustees who attended Princeton as undergraduates were members of. Cap and Gown Club has the most trustee alumni, with seven former members. Following Cap is the University Cottage Club and Cannon with four trustees each, though one of these was a member of Dial Lodge and two were in Elm Club, both of which are predecessors to today’s Cannon Dial Elm Club.
Tower Club and Tiger Inn each had three trustees. Quadrangle and Campus Clubs each counted two trustees as part of their alumni, while Charter, Colonial, Cloister, Ivy, and Terrace each had one trustee.
Many trustees are active in the political realm, through public service or donating to political causes. Through the Federal Election Commission’s donor lookup tool, we examined the political donations of each of the University trustees. The ‘Prince’ identified 3,135 unique monetary donations made by members of the Board of Trustees dating back to 1989. In total, the current Board has collectively donated $7,858,125 to political causes over the last 33 years.
Approximately 78 percent of political donations made by the current trustees have been to candidates or causes associated with the Democratic Party. This balance has shifted towards Democrats over time; for example, in 2010, nearly 58 percent of the current trustees’ donations were to Republican candidates or associated groups, a number which declined to just six percent in 2022. The total sum of donations has also increased over time — the current trustees donated just $344,092 to political causes in 2012, a presidential election year, but they donated nearly $1 million in 2016 and over $1.5 million in 2020.
The trustee that has donated the most to political causes by far is Blair Effron ’84, who has donated $2,942,046.91 since 1992. Since 2005, Effron has donated entirely to Democratic-associated or nonpartisan causes. Effron’s donations represent almost 38 percent of all trustee donations.
Following Effron in political donations are Bradford Smith and Peter Briger, who have donated $1.53 million and $1.23 million, respectively. Almost all trustees have donated mostly to Democratic candidates and causes except for Yeh and Anthony Yoseloff ’96, who directed 80 and 58 percent of their donations to Republican beneficiaries, respectively.
Impact on campus
The trustees’ donations to the University can be seen in the many buildings and organizations named after them. Yeh is the namesake of Yeh College and Yoseloff provided the donation to construct Yoseloff Hall in Butler College. Maeder Hall, which houses the primary lecture hall of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, was made possible by a gift from Maeder.
The M.S. Chadha Center for Global India is named after Sumir Chadha ’93. Effron provided the funds for the Effron Center for the Study of America, which expanded the University’s American Studies program. While the ‘Prince’ could not verify whether the Effron Music Building was named after Effron himself, it bears his last name.
How wealthy are Princeton trustees on the whole? Looking at the cumulative net worths of the Board, the wealth seems to be relatively concentrated in a few trustees. About 75 percent of trustees have a net worth below $10 million. Trustees’ net worth was found through public resources online.
Princeton class reunion books often feature profiles of alumni with their children’s names. The ‘Prince’ was able to identify 26 children of 10 trustees, 23 of which were old enough to have applied and attended college. Of these 23, 14 attended Princeton, though only six were admitted during their parent’s time on the Board of Trustees.
Comparison to other schools
Compared to the rest of the Ivy League, Princeton has an average number of trustees. Yale University has the fewest number of trustees, at 19, and Cornell University has the most trustees, at 64.
Yale University’s Board of Trustees consists of the University President, ten “successor trustees” selected by the existing Board of Trustees to serve up to two six-year terms, six alumni trustees elected by alumni of the University, and one senior trustee chosen by the President. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut serve as ex officio members.
At Harvard University, there are two governing boards; one is the Board of Overseers, which is made up of alumni, and the other is the Corporation, which is made up of the President and Fellows. New members of the Board of Overseers are elected each spring “by Harvard degree holders (excluding officers of government or instruction at the University and members of the Corporation).” Fellows of the Corporation are appointed to their position. President of the University emeritus and professor of molecular biology and public affairs Shirley M. Tilghman has served as a Fellow at Harvard since 2016.
The Board of Overseers is tasked with a number of essential duties, including directing the visitation process, which is the “primary means for periodic external assessment of Harvard’s Schools and departments,” and it provides counsel to University leadership. The Corporation “exercises fiduciary responsibility with regard to the University’s academic, financial, and physical resources and overall well-being.”
The 39 largely-unknown members of the Princeton Board of Trustees hold enormous influence in determining the future of the University. Through an analysis of their time at Princeton, their political activity, and their personal wealth, this opaque institution becomes more transparent.
The next meeting for Princeton’s Board of Trustees will take place on May 12, 2023 on campus.
Ryan Konarska is an assistant Data editor for the ‘Prince.’
Lia Opperman is the Investigations editor for the ‘Prince.’
Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.
Correction: This piece previously stated that Sams only served as a Charter Trustee from 2015 to 2023. In fact, she also served as a Charter Trustee from 2004 to 2014. The piece also did not mention that Fouché served as an Alumni Trustee from 2015 to 2019 and that Stein served as a Young Alumni Trustee from 1997 to 2001. A previous version of this piece also stated that Anthony Lee was a member of Colonial Club and Carla Vernón was a member of Terrace Club. Lee was also a member of Tiger Inn and Vernón was also a member of Cloister Inn. The ‘Prince’ regrets these errors.