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What's on a Board Professional's Mind at the End of Summer?

What's on a Board Professional's Mind at the End of Summer?

Irene Birrell is the university secretary for Western University in London, Ontario, and she serves as vice chair of the executive committee of the AGB Board Professionals.

With summer officially over, some of us are wondering where those months went. Of course, many assume that summers on campus are easy: "You must be having a relaxing time at work with all the students gone, right?" I’m sure you have had similar questions or comments put to you!

So, what do you do all day when "the university is closed?" A quick scan through NING from June through August shows a wide range of issues being discussed: board work plans, confidentiality agreements, trustee recruitment, care and feeding of policies, governance committees, bylaws, trustee assessment, board development, board retreats, just to name a few! These are all issues that you might expect as a board professional.

But there are also issues that you might not expect would be on a board professional's mind—things that our board members have to consider in the months and years ahead. Here are just a few questions I’ve been reflecting on:

  • How can the university sustain excellence in the face of budgetary restrictions?
  • What are the risks our institution needs to think about and mitigate in future?
  • In Canada, we're in the middle of a federal election campaign. What are the implications for research support (a federal responsibility here) for the sector, and what might the impact be on our institution?
  • Our provincial government has a number of pieces of legislation in the fire that will have impact on our institutional autonomy. How will our university respond and what is the role of the board in that response?

What do these have to do with my role as a board professional?

My view: if it's on your trustees' minds, it should be on yours.

You can't provide effective support to them if you don't understand the questions! At my institution, these are not just "academic" questions—they are real issues that have implications for our board, its work, and its relationships with the administration and the university community.

I urge other board professionals to pick an issue, learn all you can, and talk to your chair about the role of the board and what you can do to help move discussions forward.

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