July 30, 2020
In the summer of 2019, Dr. Susan Pierce agreed to serve as consultant to the Board of Trustees of the American University of Beirut (AUB), which is the oldest and largest U.S. accredited university outside the United States. Her assignment: to help navigate the AUB Board of Trustees through an important but complex exercise to bring its governance fully into the 21st century.
Dr. Pierce admits that before she accepted her assignment she had not encountered a Board quite like the AUB Board, with its 45 regular trustees with no fixed term limits and distributed across the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, and with another dozen emeriti trustees who participate fully in its deliberations. Nor had she worked with a university obliged to respect both US law and the law of its host country, or that exists in such an unstable region of the world.
The AUB Board leadership has at different times in the past twenty years hired consultants to help it become more deliberately strategic in the pursuit of its mission. They came to the Board with national reputations and served us well. But, none has been as creative, thoughtful, and deliberate, or as patient, as Dr. Pierce in advancing us to our stated goal, and in line with best practices in not-for-profit American universities. What has allowed her to advance so ably the Board’s goal of revamping its organization is her vast knowledge from years of consulting on Board governance, about which she writes so intelligently, and her on-the-ground experience from serving with distinction as a university president; that experience required her to learn from the inside how to enable the very board that hired her to perfect its own governance system. Dr. Pierce’s credentials are impeccable.
Dr. Pierce did an enormous amount of homework before she began to roll out for the trustees’ Governance Review Committee a viable restructuring plan. She attended full Board meetings and specific committee meetings to observe close up Board behavior. She met with many trustees and the university leadership, and she has been fully engaged in the Board’s deliberations on proposed governance changes. She advanced the Board’s main goal: to become far more nimble and strategic in the pursuit of its mission and at the same time allow the daily management of the university to remain where it belongs, in the hands of the AUB president and his senior management team. Throughout her work Dr. Pierce also made certain to respect the best aspects of the Board’s culture and traditions.
Dr. Pierce has moved the AUB Board to the point where it will shortly vote in a major Board restructuring plan and begin to implement it on an accelerated timetable. By November 2020, the Board will begin to test the plan in its different dimensions. That all this has been accomplished is extraordinary, and especially because Dr. Pierce has had to work with the completely unexpected: a global pandemic and, in Lebanon’s case, the rapid decline of its economy and financial system, which has required exceptionally difficult and painful changes at AUB itself. At a time when it is easy to become distracted, Dr. Pierce kept our Board moving forward and always with sensitivity to the prevailing conditions and constraints we face. She continues to work closely with our Governance Review Committee and our full Board.
If new needs arise from within our Board or from our senior leadership team in Beirut that require external advice, I would first turn to Dr. Susan Pierce for her input. I know our president feels the same way. As a consultant to university boards on matters of governance and much else she is sui generis. I feel privileged to be working with Dr. Pierce.