In previous blogs on challenges faced by members of higher education and nonprofit boards, I’ve addressed selecting the CEO, communications among trustees and the CEO, and succession planning for the CEO. This week, I address the various processes employed in selecting trustees.
Among the nation’s public universities, considerable variation exists in how one becomes a trustee (appointed or elected), as well as how higher education is organized and governed. In Georgia, there’s a single higher education system, including all 2- and 4-year campuses, as well as the medical school campus; in Arkansas, California, and Texas, as examples, there are multiple systems. However, in each of the four states cited, the governor appoints trustees. Michigan, on the other hand, is unique; it has three flagship universities (University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University), which are autonomous and trustees are elected by the public; in the remaining public universities, trustees are appointed by Michigan’s governor.
Not unlike Michigan, different approaches are taken in selecting trustees for public universities in South Carolina. The University of South Carolina has 21 trustees, one of whom is selected by the state legislature from each of 16 judicial districts and serves a 4-year term, two are appointed by the governor for 4-year terms, and three are ex-officio voting members (governor, superintendent of education, and alumni association president). Clemson University, on the other hand, is governed by 13 trustees, 6 of whom are elected by the state legislature and serve 4-year terms; the remaining 7 trustees are “successor members” as stipulated in the will of Thomas G. Clemson. Vacancies for successor trustees are “filled by the currently sitting successor trustees.”
The trustee selection process for Penn State’s governing board is unusual. Including the ex officio members, the 39-member board includes 6 trustees appointed by the governor, 9 trustees elected by alumni, 6 trustees elected by delegates from agricultural societies, 6 trustees elected by the board representing business and industry; 3 at large trustees elected by the board, a student trustee, an academic trustee, the immediate past president of the alumni association, and 6 ex officio trustees, including the president, governor, secretary of agriculture, secretary of conservation and natural resources, secretary of education, and a non-voting representative appointed by the governor.
Lest you believe politics plays no part in governing boards for public universities, consider the governing board for the University of Colorado. It consists of nine trustees serving staggered six-year terms. All are elected, with one from each of Colorado’s eight congressional districts. The remaining trustee is elected from the state at large. Colorado’s constitution includes the following regarding the chair and vice chair of the governing board: “Unless seven or more [trustees] are members of the same political party, the chair and the vice chair shall not be members of the same political party.”
On the role of politics in higher education, I won’t attempt to describe what is happening in Florida. It has generated considerable media coverage nationally and internationally. The governor clearly does not adhere to the “noses in, but fingers out” approach that George W. Bush adopted when selecting trustees while serving as the governor in Texas.
Adding to the confusion in understanding higher education governance, some states have higher education coordinating boards and others don’t. Also, the titles of CEOs vary among public institutions; in some states, such as Georgia and Texas, the CEO of the system is chancellor and the CEO of a campus is president; whereas, in other states, such as Arkansas, the titling is reversed. In California and Mississippi, both approaches exist, with the University of California system and the University of Mississippi having the same titling as Arkansas and the California State University system and Mississippi State University having the same titling as Georgia and Texas. (I clarified my duties and responsibilities many times during my 11-year tenure as chancellor; the higher education title of chancellor is not understood by many people outside the higher education community.)
Next Week’s Blog: Higher Education Boards—Part 4