Robert F. White ’77 P’15 has been elected unanimously to serve as the chair of Bowdoin’s Board of Trustees. His term will begin on July 1, 2019. White succeeds Michele G. Cyr ’76 P’12 who served as chair for three years and will continue to serve on the Board.
The Board of Trustees, which consists of 42 members, held its annual meetings on campus last weekend. A major topic of discussion was the future of higher education in the face of polling data that shows that Americans, and particularly conservatives, see less value in a college education than they used to. White, though, is optimistic about the future of the College.
“There are lots of headwinds that face higher education but I have confidence that we will continue to thrive in the future,” White said in an email to the Orient.
White is familiar with overcoming the odds. A first-generation college student, White was able to attend Bowdoin because of a generous financial aid package. While here, he studied economics and mathematics and was the starting goalie on the 1974-75 men’s ice hockey team that won the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championship.
Since his graduation, White is likely known best for his chairmanship of Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential bids. Close friends from when they founded Bain Capital together, Romney refers to White as “TQ” for “The Quail,” given that the “bobwhite” is a type of quail.
White, who joined the Board in 1993 and has served under three College presidents—Robert Edwards, Barry Mills and now Clayton Rose—is clear-eyed about the priorities of the institution.
“I don’t assume the role until July. Between now and then, I plan to do a lot of listening,” he said. “But our priorities include maintaining our commitment that students who earn a spot can come regardless of their family’s financial situation and ensuring that the experience is transformative while at the College and beyond.”
Now a lecturer at Harvard Business School, White has gotten the chance to better understand the difficulties of teaching in the last half decade.
“My experience at Harvard has given me much greater insight into what it takes to be an effective teacher,” he said. “It’s really challenging, and Bowdoin is blessed to have so many great teacher-scholars.”
White stressed throughout his correspondence with the Orient that he is honored to have the role. For his part, Rose believes that Romney’s former confidant can serve with a similarly steady hand at Bowdoin. Describing White as “very different” from his predecessor, Cyr, Rose also noted that “from a governance perspective, there are very few people who know the College as well as Bob.”
“Bob’s educational background, his success story as a first-generation financial aid student, his academic and athletic success here and then the work that he did in building one of the great firms in the world and being involved in two presidential campaigns, very few people have had that kind of panoply of experiences,” Rose said.