I think that one of the mistakes that
individual trustees make, and that is speaking with people and giving the
impression that somehow they speak for the board. It is really the chair of
the board who is really the primary spokesperson unless someone
else is so designated. So one of the mistakes that trustees often make is to
enter into conversations, or dialogue, or even negotiations as though they’re
representing the entire board. I think it’s of utmost importance for a trustee to say, if you’re speaking, to say these represent my views not necessarily those of the entire
board and to indicate that we have a policy or procedure and a protocol for
dealing with issues of whatever nature, if it’s a purchasing issue, if it’s the
procurement of a service of some kind, or that kind of thing. And so I think it is
very important for trustees to make that distinction if they’re going to engage in those conversation. But the most effective way to handle it I believe is to refer it back to the university administration, more specifically the
president or the chancellor of the university of the individual that the president may have designated as
one to receive information, input, engage in those conversations with
external entities. But attempting to speak and giving the impression that somehow
you represent the board can be problematic, and can be harmful. It’s unintentional often, but for the person
on the other side of the table entering into the conversation, they assume that
“well, I spoke with a member of the board and this is what she or he had to say.” But in terms of the board itself, the full board, common mistakes and that is
attempting to direct the actions of the administration without fully
understanding and appreciating the rationale that got the administration to
that point of making a particular recommendation for their consideration. I think there’s a lot of
background work that’s required and the administration has a responsibility to
make sure they provide that information. One of the things that I found as a
three-time chancellor was the fact that administrators will sometimes view
trustees in an adversarial relationship. And I’ve learned in my 40 years of
experience that you need strong leaders and strong boards in order for the
institution to achieve the level of excellence and effectiveness that it wishes to achieve. That excellence is really all about a collaborative effort, it’s not a solo act. No matter how
experienced the president may be, or the chancellor, or the board chair may be, at
the end of the day the institution cannot move forward in a consistent,
sustainable way unless there is a collaborative kind of effort in spirit and
relationship that exists between the president, the board chair. Not only that
but the entire board and the president. I think one of the most effective ways
to achieve that kind of collaborative working relationship of which I speak is to get to know each other. You know, what are your goals? What are your aspirations as president or chancellor, or as a board? What do you see as really
important priorities for the university, individually as board members but
collectively as a board. So taking time to get to know each other. And secondly, I
think to be responsive in a timely matter to requests that come from
board members or that come from the entire board is
to be responsive in a timely kind of manner. But perhaps most importantly is to make sure that you respond to the entire board as opposed to just an individual board
member. I think it is really dangerous when individual board members request
information and they are the only recipients of the information. I think
it’s clear that all members of the board should have access to the same
information so when there’s a discussion everyone is looking at the
same thing and speaking from the same perspective as opposed to one board
member going, “give me X information,” that kind of thing.