Overhauling Our Boards of Trustees

John Zipp, the president of the AAUP chapter at the University of Akron, recently contributed an op-ed, titled “University Board Selection Process Needs Shake-Up,” to the Columbus Dispatch.

After opening with a range of examples of how the Boards of Trustees of Ohio’s public universities have recently made ill-considered decisions–often despite very vocal concerns expressed by faculty and students–Zipp presents several proposals for overhauling the appointment process for those Boards of Trustees:

“Trustees are well-meaning individuals who commit a considerable amount of time and energy to our institutions, but the current system of selecting them is not serving Ohio well. On Nov. 3, Ohio voters approved the creation of a bipartisan redistricting commission to replace what has now become widely seen as one of the most extremely partisan redistricting processes in the nation. The same problem is true with regard to the selection process for the boards of trustees of our colleges and universities. Currently, board members are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Ohio senate.

“Boards of trustees appointed in this way tend to be unbalanced, composed mostly of business leaders, partisan political activists and major campaign donors. This narrow range of experience and perspective needs to be broadened so that the wider interests of Ohio are represented in the governance of our state institutions.

“I, along with my fellow American Association of University Professors chapter presidents from Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland State, Kent State and Wright State, have identified three concrete ways to reduce this kind of ‘group-think’ and to improve board accountability to Ohio taxpayers.

“First, have all eligible state public colleges and universities in Ohio include at least one voting current or retired faculty member on its board. A 2010 study by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges emphasized the growing number of faculty members on boards, with 13 percent of boards having a voting faculty member and an additional 10 percent having a non-voting faculty member.

“According to the report, faculty participation provides additional perspectives on what is in the best interest of the university: ‘Trustees are generally more familiar with decision-making processes in a traditional business environment of managerial authority. Frustrated by the pace of decision-making in the academy, they may expect the president to make decisions quickly with other administrators and “get results.”’ Voting faculty members would help provide valuable input on curriculum-related issues and would better understand the important role of research in all disciplines for the success of the university.

“Second, expand the size of the board to make room for more diverse perspectives. Except for Ohio State, Ohio universities boards have nine voting members. The West Virginia University board of governors has 18 members, including two voting faculty members. Kentucky state universities have 11-member boards, each with a voting faculty member and a voting student member.

“Third, change the process by which trustees are appointed. Again, we can learn from the experience of other states. In Michigan, Colorado, Nebraska and Nevada, at least some board members are elected by the voters. At Indiana University, one-third of the board members are elected by alumni. Alumni-selected board members who are not beholden to political appointments and who have a deep connection to the university help to ensure better education, not politics, is at the heart of higher education. Ohio should consider similar ways to broaden board perspectives and to remove important higher-education decisions from the partisan politics of the moment.

“Changing how trustees are chosen can increase the diversity of viewpoints needed to guide universities through what is a challenging landscape in higher education. We believe these changes will not only improve the relationship between the faculty and the administration, but also better serve the diverse interests of Ohio residents in the critical task of maintaining a first-class state system of public colleges and universities.”


The complete op-ed is available at: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/editorials/2015/12/08/1-university-board-selection-process-needs-shake-up.html



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