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Governing in the Sunshine: Tips for Board Chairs at Public Meetings

Governing in the Sunshine: Tips for Board Chairs at Public Meetings

Public colleges and universities are required to follow "sunshine laws," which provide transparency in decision-making. These laws present challenges and opportunities to institutional leaders across many dimensions, but effective institutional governance depends on deftly balancing the need for transparency with the obligation to ensure an institution achieves its public purpose. Below are tips for board chairs to help them adhere to the spirit and the letter of sunshine laws. 

BEFORE THE MEETING
At appropriate times, such as board orientation or during introductory remarks, board chairs should...

  • Summarize or have legal counsel summarize open meetings/records requirements
  • Remind board members that the board is responsible for conducting its work in public and for doing so with civility between board members and presenters
  • Prompt board members to be clear in expressing their questions and concerns
  • Encourage board members to avoid “gotcha” questions or comments that are demeaning to other board members or staff
  • Save personal criticism for private conversations outside the meeting

AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MEETING
At the beginning of full-board meetings, board chairs should...

  • Welcome board members, staff, and members of the public
  • Mention the presence of journalists or other media representatives
  • Describe the purpose of the meeting, note relevant laws or regulations pertaining to it, and affirm the public nature of the event
  • Outline the agenda for the meeting, including a likely adjournment time
  • Explain timing and guidelines, if public participation is allowed
  • Note if and why the board plans to go into executive session

DURING THE MEETING
During full-board meetings, board chairs should...

  • Briefly provide context for each agenda item
  • Remind staff presenters to be brief and allow time for questions/discussion
  • Manage conversations in a manner that ensures that a full discussion ensues and that all sides of an issue are heard
  • Strive for neutrality during discussions—especially ones preceding a vote. Board chairs should not express an opinion until all have spoken
  • Model civil behavior by posing thoughtful questions and saving conclusions for the end of the conversation
  • Explain the significance of the discussion or action— following a presentation or vote

AT THE END OF THE MEETING
Before adjourning full-board meetings, board chairs should...

  • Summarize the major points in the board’s deliberations and discussions with a focus on next steps
  • Indicate who, if anyone, will be available for questions from the media after the event
  • Thank all for participating

(Note: Board chairs should remind committee chairs to follow these guidelines in committee meetings.)

For more about governing in the sunshine, download Sunshine Laws in Higher Education, which reviews the critical issues associated with these laws and provides institutional leaders and state policymakers with recommendations that address the important need for transparency while recognizing the challenges of board governance and leadership in the sunshine.
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