Saturday, April 25, 2009

Measuring the Board of Trustees by their own standards

A friend of mine happens to be the president of a college on the west coast and put me on to the website of an organization known as the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges It provides good reading for anyone interested in what trustees at public institutions should strive to be. I've excerpted a few sections here.

The complaints over the past two months about Chicago State's Board of Trustees are not without foundation. If you are still unconvinced by the arguments that have been put forward in this blog or by the students and the more vocal members on campus or by the resignation of the Search Advisory Committee or the petitions by the faculty and the resolution by the Faculty Senate, try applying some of these qualities outlined by the AGB to our current Trustees. See how they measure up by these outside objective standards.

Re: "Public institutions" [note to the BOT: you do not "own" Chicago State University, it is not yours to give away to friends or political allies who think they are entitled to it].

Public trustees serve colleges and universities that are “owned” by citizens (not government bodies or officials); they are responsible for acting on behalf of the public as their individual consciences and judgment dictate. The citizen board--regardless of whether its members are appointed or elected--has emerged as the best alternative to governmental control of higher education. Public institution trustees stand at the center of a system of checks and balances that permits them to delegate their authority--but not their responsibility--to their chief executives, faculty, and students “Public Institutions”

Regarding "Governance at Public Institutions" [n.b. consultation]
Trustees should understand three important values and traditions within the academy: academic freedom, institutional independence, and consultation with affected parties in institutional decision making. It ultimately is the responsibility of the trustees, with the help of their chief executive and other academic leaders, to define each value or tradition as it applies to their institution in contemporary society. "Governance at Public Institutions"

Apply the following points from the AGB's discussion on "The Commitment of Trusteeship" to CSU's Board of Trustees. Do you think they measure up? Have they scrupulously put aside conflicts of interest (like friendships with the 2 presidential candidates?) Have they led the university with large contributions of money? Most notably, look at item #6. Have they truly consulted the university constituencies in their conduct of campus business? Have they understood the idea emphasized here that a university is not a corporation that can be ruled in a heavy-handed, top-down, authoritarian manner, like a business corporation?

The following questions have been adapted from “The Commitment to Trusteeship," an essay written for AGB in 1990 by governance expert and retired college president John W. Nason.

3. Have you any conflicts of interest? Trusteeship today is more vulnerable to potential conflicts of interest than in the past. Boards have ways of addressing and resolving conflicts of interest—chiefly by recording them in advance and by allowing individual trustees to excuse themselves from decisions that may present potential conflicts of interest. Such conflicts may lend themselves to misinterpretation. Prospective trustees must calculate all risks.

4. Are you prepared financially to support the institution, and are you prepared to ask others to give money? This is a double-barreled question: Trustees must be prepared to carry out both tasks effectively. The board must provide leadership in fund-raising. Independent college and university trustees should give according to their financial means. Capital campaigns especially must begin with the generous donations of board members.

5. Are you prepared to be a public advocate for the institution? Sooner or later, a chief executive will need the public support of his or her board; trustees must be prepared to defend their institutions. Trustees must support controversial or unpopular policies, decisions, or actions. Institutions must be free to decide what and how to teach; who will teach; whom to admit; what research to conduct; and what values the institution embraces. Trustees must be prepared to use their personal status and goodwill to defend their institution’s integrity and reputation.

6. Are you prepared to work within the conventional framework of academic governance? The academic world differs from the corporate world in several important respects. Most notably, important policy decisions are the result of consultation among the board, the chief executive, and the faculty, among others. This process can be unsettling to executives who are accustomed to unilateral decision making. Nevertheless, most institutions operate under some rubric of shared governance, and trustees must learn to accommodate decentralized decision making.

Additionally, presidents have less authority than the business CEOs. Rather than dictating orders, academic presidents often lead by persuading others to follow. Trustees need to recognize the importance of the president’s role as mediator and provide sufficient support. Further, boards of trustees remain more actively engaged in the institution than boards of most for-profit enterprises. Trustees must ask questions, challenge recommendations, and explore alternatives.

Finally, trustees must be prepared to accept group decisions, even when they disagree with them. And while trustees should not shy away from voicing strong convictions and independent judgments, once a group decision has been made a good trustee will support it. If not, he or she should be prepared to resign.

7. Do you understand the full range of college or university trusteeship?In general, three personal qualities identify the successful trustee. First, a trustee should be curious about every aspect of the institution’s operations and be willing to ask questions. Second, a trustee must tolerate ambiguity and be able to function effectively in an environment where complex questions preclude simple answers. Third, a trustee must have a sense of humor—that is, a sense of proportion and perspective, and a realistic view of one’s own limitations. It’s a great job.

So, at the most basic level, by the standards of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, do you think CSU's Board of Trustees understands what a public institution of higher learning is and their role in it? Or, have they failed? Call or write Governor Quinn and let him know.


  1. Problems at CSU did not and do not Start wit Governor Quinn. Both the board and the candidates are trying to stop the bleeding. Faculty at CSU have a 16% graduation rate. Inciting students to fight hometown leaderships to right years of wrong is shameful. Should STAFF and FACULTY continue to feed the miserable statistical evidence that continues to prevail years of failure and flawed student deliverables- focus will shift directly away from the board and on to you. Students graduate with no ability to qualify for jobs...the surrounding comunity is discouraged from on campus participation..diversity is almost extinct with an 85% Caucasian populated staff...all of the attention and the publicity including the Tribune editorial seems to be a set up to the people state funds pay you to serve. It keeps the attention away from you. No demands are made on you. Your checks keep coming and the students keep failing at life. How dare u defend that? How do you sleep at night? How can u look in yourself in the mirror with a 16% graduation rate? Any professorial statement (Gomberg) that promotes rudeness by it's student body, instead of respect and excellence is playing games with the responsibiity of teaching excellence. Then again, looking at the dismal statistics of CSU that seems on par with your incestuous, below average results.

  2. Here is a challenge to our addict friend: organize a rally to support the BOT. I will come to observe your turnout. Do you think you could stop smoking whatever you smoke long enough to organize something?

  3. Based on the quality of her/his writing, hairaddict provides an excellent example of educational failure. If students are unable to perform at the college level upon admission and if the admission standards at CSU make it available to large numbers of students who are inadequately prepared, what will the graduation rate look like? Remember, this graduation rate only applies to students matriculating at CSU then graduating within six years. If transfer students were figured into the formula, the school's graduation rate would rise dramatically. Anyone who uses the so-called "graduation rate" as a club with which to attack CSU is displaying willful ignorance.