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Across the country, members of the boards of trustees of independent universities are getting older and may not be becoming more diverse, as they have in decades past.

The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges recently released its survey of the boards of trustees of 494 independent colleges and universities.

Among other findings, the survey noted that the average age of board members of independent institutions has increased.

Also, mandatory retirement is on the wane and there are more retirees serving on boards.

And while the percentage of female trustees on boards has increased by 40 percent over the past two decades, this figure has generally been flat since 1997, at about 29 percent.

"Each of the governing boards ... has to wrestle with policies to make their board more effective, but they don't necessarily have information on how other boards do this," said Merrill Schwartz, one of the authors of the report.

"Having more information gives them a point of reference. It helps them to have a perspective on their own institution," she said.

While Schwartz said that these findings do not provide an ideal for boards, she did say that "boards still need to make it a priority to include more diversity."

However, she said that having more retired members and members who are generally older "means that there are more people able to contribute to the institution in terms of time and dollars."

University Secretary Leslie Kruhly discussed how Penn's Board of Trustees stacks up.

"Among our voting board members, the age groups are about the same as they have been, largely comprised of individuals in their 50s," Kruhly said in an e-mail, noting that some other members are in their 40s or 60s.

She added that no current voting member of Penn's Board is a "retiree."

University bylaws stipulate that trustees must step down from the board at age 70, at which point trustees who qualify -- by meeting a number of criteria -- may be named "emeritus."

"It is among these emeritus trustees that we have a number of retirees," she said.

The survey also revealed that the percentage of minorities on trustee boards has increased over the past two decades from 9 percent in 1985 to 12 percent in 2004. However, when minorities on boards of institutions that historically serve minority students were excluded, that rate actually decreased over the 19-year time frame.

Yet these numbers do not correspond to the student bodies that trustee boards represent, which are much more diverse, the authors of the study said.

"Students had nearly twice the representation of women and minorities as did trustees," they said.

"It's hard to give the reasons behind these trends," Schwartz said.

But she added that many boards are often self-perpetuating because current members choose the boards' new members.

Members of Penn's board vote to approve new trustees.

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