The Role of the Board

The annual Board Evaluation, presented on July 3, 2013 made it clear that the Board would focus, over the coming six months, on defining the role of the Board. Two of those six months have passed, but I haven't seen any greater clarity on the role of the Board nor any overt effort to reach consensus on it. But Seattle isn't the only Board seeking clarity about their purpose.

The University of Texas Board of Regents is asking itself the same question, but with the added drama of an impeachment motion in the state legislature. Here is a link to a story in the National Review about the pending impeachment of UT regent Wallace Hall, appointed by Governor Rick Perry to the University of Texas board in 2011. Mr. Hall, acting as a regent, has investigated three separate scandals at the University, which has upset the Texas state legislature. In particular, they appear upset about the investigation that revealed that some legislators pulled strings to allow admission of their favored students into the UT Law School. Some petty oversight - which had been pre-excused and since corrected - is being used as the legal justification for the impeachment, but the article states that:
The real objection, as spelled out in the state-house document establishing the impeachment proceedings, is that as a regent Mr. Hall “abused that office by making numerous unreasonably burdensome, wasteful, and intrusive requests for information.” A trustee asked for information — lots of it. Given the university’s mismanagement of everything from admissions to compensation to accounting standards, the fact is that the regents should have been — and should be — more aggressive in monitoring how the university’s administration conducts its business on the public’s behalf.
Hmmm. Sound familiar?

The question comes down to this: What is the role of the Board? Again, from the article in the National Review:
the fundamental question presented by the case of Mr. Hall: Is a university’s board of trustees to act like a corporation’s board of trustees, taking an active role in policy, management, and fiduciary issues, or is it to be a rubber stamp, a prestigious sinecure in which to park political cronies and campaign donors, one more stop on the cursus honorum for the charity-ball set? “It’s the classic university issue,” says Mr. Ryan. “Is the board a genuine check on the strong president of a university, or is it something else?” Mr. Hall believes that as a regent he has a duty to investigate wrongdoing and potential wrongdoing, and for that he is to be impeached.


Jon said…
Seems like this should be easy. The board should carefully audit the budget and ensure legal and policy compliance. When there are legal or financial problems, there should be real accountability, including dismissal.

I could see the argument that there is more they should do, such as serve as a communication channel with their constituents, but clearly their core job is improving financial efficiency and regulatory compliance? And they aren't doing that very well at the moment, so shouldn't that be their primary focus?
Charlie Mas said…
Board members are very fond of saying that they are supposed to focus on doing policy and governance work.

Next time one of them says that, ask them to name three or four governance tasks. The awkward silence should be fun.

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