Advisory boards at Penn date back to 1928 when the Statutes of the Corporation were amended to allow for constituent boards to provide counsel for each of the University's faculties. In 1972, the Trustees and the President built on this precedent by establishing boards of overseers for Penn's Schools and Centers. In 2020, the Trustees and the President approved the renaming of these bodies to Boards of Advisors.

Ten of Penn's twelve Schools have Boards of Advisors:

  • School of Arts and Sciences
  • School of Dental Medicine
  • Graduate School of Education
  • School of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Penn Carey Law School
  • School of Nursing
  • Stuart Weitzman School of Design
  • School of Social Policy & Practice
  • School of Veterinary Medicine
  • The Wharton School

The Annenberg School does not have a Board of Advisors, relying instead on an informal Board to advise on the affairs of the School. In 2001, the School of Medicine Board of Advisors was folded into Penn Medicine and is known as the Penn Medicine Board.

In addition to the aforementioned, the Office of the University Secretary works with the following resource Center Boards:

  • Penn Live Arts
  • Athletics
  • Institute of Contemporary Art
  • Penn Libraries
  • Penn Museum

Boards of Advisors serve as bridges between Penn's Schools and Centers and the community beyond campus boundaries. Although Advisors do not have fiduciary responsibility, the President, Provost, and Board of Trustees rely heavily on these Boards to help inform the work of the Schools and Centers.

In addition, Boards of Advisors represent important components of the Penn volunteer leadership structure and are essential to the University's ability to engage volunteers at various levels. They are resources for identifying and cultivating leaders who may eventually serve on the Board of Trustees, and for providing existing or former Trustees with an opportunity to lend expertise to a specific School or Center.

As the highest level of volunteer leadership for Penn's Schools and Centers, Advisors are expected to:

  • Provide long- and short-term advice to Deans and Directors regarding the achievement of strategic objectives and priorities;
  • Ensure that Schools and Centers have the resources necessary to achieve their goals by being a source of financial support, identifying and delivering financial support, and/or helping to shape School- or Center-wide strategies for obtaining such support;
  • Serve as a sounding board for Deans and Directors and hold the Schools and Centers to the highest standards of excellence;
  • Assess the current contributions of Schools and Centers in relation to the needs of their public and professional communities;
  • Make the work of Schools and Centers more widely known among alumni, prospective students, potential donors, employers, professionals, and other stakeholders; and
  • Assist in the recruitment of new Deans or Directors by serving on search committees or helping to identify possible candidates.

Power of appointment to the Boards of Advisors rests with the Trustees of the University, who act upon recommendations by the President and the Chair of the Trustees. Nominations may come from any source, but first must be approved by the Dean or Director, who then will formally recommend candidates to the Vice President and University Secretary. After the Office of the University Secretary reviews nominations and gathers input from the Department of Development and Alumni Relations, viable candidates are sent to the President and Chair of the Trustees for approval. After approval by the President and the Chair of the Trustees, nominations are placed on the agenda of the subsequent Stated Meeting of the Trustees for Board action.

The School and Center-specific criteria for Advisor appointment may vary with the changing needs and direction of the particular School or Center. The following criteria for service, however, remain constant and are considered when evaluating Advisor nominations:

  • A history of volunteer leadership at Penn--with the nominating School or Center, or with Alumni Relations, Central Development, or another area of the University;
  • A proven track record of personal giving or leading volunteer fundraising efforts, including helping to solicit gifts from others;
  • Distinguishing career and/or civic accomplishments; and
  • The ability to add professional, geographical, gender, age, or ethnic diversity to the Board.

Advisors are appointed for a term of three years. Terms are renewable for two additional terms, limiting Advisor service to three consecutive three-year terms (or nine years). When new Boards are formed, appointments will be staggered to ensure that the terms of not more than one-third of the new members expire in any one year.

Boards of Advisors are limited to 30 persons and should include the very top School and Center volunteers. Board membership should at all times reflect the current needs and vision of a School or Center. It should represent a balance among practitioners, scholars, alumni, non-alumni, and knowledgeable men and women representing a broad range of expertise, as well as a broad range of ethnic identities. Ideally, there will be at least one University Trustee on each Board.

Term renewals (up to the three-term limit) are at the discretion of the Dean or Center Director. When evaluating whether a Board member's term should be renewed, consideration is given to the member's effectiveness, including an assessment of:

  • The direct impact of the member’s advice or participation in the success of specific projects;
  • Attendance at, and constructive participation in, Board meetings;
  • Attendance at other School functions (alumni activities, development events);
  • Direct financial contributions to the School or Center over the length of the member’s term; and
  • Total impact on fundraising over the length of the member’s term (i.e., help in connecting with prospects, leadership of fundraising efforts).

Chairs and Vice Chairs of all Boards of Advisors are nominated by the Chair of the Trustees and the President and elected by the Trustees for terms of three years, unless otherwise determined by the Trustees. The terms may be renewed. A Board Chair typically will serve two consecutive terms.

Although the School and Center-specific roles and responsibilities for Board Chairs vary, responsibilities may include:

  • Serving as the chief volunteer liaison between the University and the Board of Advisors;
  • Representing the Board at University meetings and events, including meetings with the President, Chair of the Trustees, and other Board of Advisors Chairs
  • When possible, participating in Penn ceremonial events, including Commencement and Inauguration; and
  • Delivering University updates at Board of Advisor meetings to apprise members of major University issues and activities.

The Vice President & University Secretary and Director of Boards and External Relations work with the schools and centers to ensure that new board members receive a proper introduction to their role, including, upon request, individualized orientation meetings. From time to time, the Office of the University Secretary also hosts an all-advisor update meeting with the President, Chairman, Provost and other senior University officers. This Advisor Overview provides an occasion for all advisors-new and seasoned-to have an exchange with Penn's principal leadership and to hear the latest University news.

Office of the University Secretary 
1 College Hall, Room 211
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6303

Phone (215) 898-7005
Fax (215) 898-0103

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