One of the key responsibilities of a public university’s governing board is the determination of the institution’s strategic directions. This responsibility requires a governing board and its chief executive to function as a team. To have a governing board wanting the institution to move in one direction while its president envisions a different direction will inevitably lead to difficulties.
The mission of most public institutions is statutorily defined; however, envisioning what a university will be five, ten, or twenty years ahead is a responsibility which requires careful consideration by the governing leaders of the institution. The governing board represents the “public interest” in higher education—the needs and expectations of the state’s citizens who pay the taxes and tuition and who, in turn, reap the benefits of a thriving university. The president understands not only the strengths and weaknesses within the institution, but more importantly the capabilities inherent in its faculty and staff. Working together, the board and president can define realistic, aspirational goals.
Irrespective of whether new strategic goals are determined or existing ones reaffirmed, this important work requires an effective partnership between a governing board and its chief executive.
Determining strategic directions should not be confused with the strategic planning exercise. The former envisions where the university should be going; the latter details how that vision is to be realized. The former is ultimately the responsibility of the board but exercised in partnership with the president. The latter is the responsibility of the president working with the campus community in a shared governance partnership.
Board approval of the strategic plan presented by the president is important in that it legitimizes institutional decision-making while simultaneously strengthening presidential leadership. The primary considerations in the board’s review of a proposed institutional strategic plan are twofold:
- Is the plan congruent with the stated strategic directions?
- Does the plan advance the realization of the envisioned university five, ten, or twenty years hence?
There should not be surprises when a strategic plan is presented to the board. A strong partnership between the board and its president will facilitate this important work.