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New Ideas for Innovative Boards

New Ideas for Innovative Boards

With the arrival of spring comes a sense of renewal. Boards of trustees may well use this time of year to consider adopting some innovative governance practices. The following are a list of a few ideas we’ve seen over this past year. We choose this specific time of year to compile them.

  1. Hold a single board meeting each year. With the pressures on colleges and universities to cut costs and make serious strides toward efficiency, boards may want to condense all of their work into a single meeting. While it may extend beyond the boundaries of an eight-hour day, a single meeting starting early and lasting well into the night can keep costs down and increase productivity.
  2. Make strategic planning a 24-7 activity. A common criticism of college and university strategic plans is that they “sit on a shelf.” To keep the plans fresh and alive, and in constant use, they convene daily (often on speaker phone). Spending time on the same discussion regardless of intended outcome may serve some boards well. Of course, this strategy will have to be balanced against the first suggestion.
  3. Don’t rotate board leadership. Developing the skills and knowledge (and social capital) to be an effective board leader takes time – maybe even decades (or longer). This strategy works well when institutions are faced with the same challenges year after year, exist an environment that remains constant, and when presidents remain in office well past the national average of approximately seven years.
  4. Hold board retreats in exotic and distant locations. It’s best to disconnect the work of the board from the activities of the campus. Such approaches minimize the amount of time trustees need to engage students, faculty, and senior campus staff. Instead, they can rely on social media for real time, “factual” information.
The above activities might be effective ways to stir up the work of the board and change its course. However, a caveat: best to check the calendar before pursuing any of these. The date should show April 1, 2014.*

*Really, these are jokes, intended to entertain on April 1 as part of that annual tradition of April Fools Day. Do not attempt (or possibly even consider).

Pranks aside, boards do need to continually revisit how they work, to what they give their attention and how best to understand the realities of the college, university, or system they govern. The above are likely ineffective, but hopefully posing them here provides a starting point for how boards can and should be more intentional about their work.  Want some real ideas?  Consider attending the National Conference on Trusteeship.
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