Some risks do not fit neatly within the charter and purview of the standing committees and can be the work of the full board. Community relations is one such example.
Community relations, often referred to as town/gown relations, are as old as campuses themselves. Wherever it is located, each campus exists as part of a larger community, be it urban, suburban, or rural. And, towns and cities develop around institutions of higher education. This symbiotic relationship can carry risks for colleges and universities when not given the appropriate thought and attention. Campuses bring significant economic benefits to their communities and, often, added costs for emergency response and event management. Because they may not pay corporate, real estate, and other taxes, hosting a college or university may also be seen as reducing tax revenue for the municipality.
Developing and implementing a strong, cohesive community relations program is the administration’s responsibility, but the board has a role in supporting community outreach and engagement initiatives and asking questions that reflect the importance of the relationship. To preempt views by some community and elected officials that the institution is a resource drain rather than a vibrant part of the local economy, boards can encourage the institution to take a strategic and active role in working with business leaders to find ways to support regional and state economic development. Institutions can identify opportunities that will best leverage campus resources, including faculty subject-matter experts, facilities, and students to support economic development efforts of the community. Boards can ensure that the proposed initiatives support the institution’s strategic plan. Local board members, in particular, can play an important role in communicating and advocating on the institution’s behalf.