Radcliffe College Governance

The earliest records of governance relating to Radcliffe College are entries in the diary of Arthur Gilman. With the approval of Harvard University’s President Charles William Eliot, Gilman conceived of the program for Private Collegiate Instruction for Women, which was implemented by the Committee of Seven Lady Managers in 1879. The official records of governance are contained in a series of minute books that begin with the Articles of Association for the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women, dating from 1882.

Academic excellence, standards, and policy were the most important business of the Executive Committee. Yet it exercised a broader mandate that included fundraising and budgeting, hiring, and property management. For example, the committee minutes record approving the hiring of an errand boy and a bookkeeper and authorizing repairs to frozen radiators. The Executive Committee was also responsible for student life issues. In 1893 they denied students permission to participate in an intercollegiate tennis tournament at Smith College, while beginning discussions to erect a gymnasium and add laboratories in the same year. The last acts of the Executive Committee are in a meeting on June 5, 1894, when it approved the wording of Radcliffe College diplomas and accepted the Radcliffe College seal.

With its origins as a subgroup of the Executive Committee, the Academic Board acted as an academic policy committee for the young institution; for example, establishing the original courses of instruction: English, French, German, Greek, History, Latin, Mathematics, Music, Natural History, Philosophy, Physics, Political Economy, and Sanskrit. The Academic Board made academic policy, which was then referred to the Executive Board for ratification. Their deliberations were about admissions to the society; the courses of instruction; and candidates for certificates, which were to be “the equivalent in amount and quality” to a Harvard University diploma. In addition, it recommended new courses and the faculty members to teach them. With the incorporation of Radcliffe College, the board continued as a subgroup of the Council of Radcliffe College, sharing its mission to oversee academic excellence and standards.

The Council of Radcliffe College was the governing board for more than 100 years, dating from the Massachusetts legislature’s recognition of Radcliffe College and its right to grant degrees in 1894. This group carried on the deep concern of the earlier governing body (the Executive Committee) to promote academic excellence and standards: ratifying admissions, approving promotion through the class ranks, and graduation. It heard petitions for leaves, exceptions to the course of study, probationary statuses, and dismissals. It also authorized the building of fences, the acceptance of gifts and donations, and authorized building and renovation projects. The council voted on a budget and oversaw the continuing development of Radcliffe College. From 1916 to 1930, members of this group were known as Radcliffe College Associates.

In the Report of the President, issued in June 1930, the term “trustee” is used officially for the first time. The president indicates in his report that Professor William C. Greene has been “elected to a three year term as a member of the larger body which from this time forth is to be known as the Trustees.” Prior to fiscal year 1931, members of previous governing boards were known as associates, but from 1931 on, the title is trustee. Trustees exercised fiduciary responsibility to the College and had a wide-ranging mandate that included student life, fundraising, buildings and grounds, and assessment of the educational program. They were also responsible for agreements negotiated with Harvard University.

In October 1947, the Academic Board’s concerns were taken up by a new entity, the Administrative Board. This board was concerned with academic excellence. It granted petitions to students for variance in course loads; reviewed proposals for new courses; granted credit; and recommended promotion, withdrawal, and academic leaves. The committee also made course assignments and recommendations for faculty.