Last week, we visited campus to talk with students, faculty and staff members about a number of issues, including President Tom Rochon’s leadership, campus diversity and inclusion and college governance. Participants asked many questions about the role of the board of trustees in addressing these issues. How are trustees selected? What responsibilities do trustees have? How does the board conduct its business?
It was clear from our meetings that for far too many people, college governance is a mystery. We want to begin to shed light on governance issues by answering some of last week’s questions.
Through the charter that New York grants to Ithaca College, the state requires that a board of trustees act as “the ultimate authority over the College.” This does not mean that the board operates without collaboration from the entire college community. The faculty has the responsibility for making decisions and policies about curriculum, and the president and administration oversee the day-to-day management of the campus.
Today, there are 24 trustees, including 17 who are alumni of the college. Trustees, who among other things must demonstrate a personal interest in Ithaca College, talents relevant to the office and a willingness to devote adequate time and effort to their responsibilities, do not receive compensation for their board service. They travel to attend the board’s meetings at their own expense. Although many trustees contribute financially to the college, doing so is not required.
Trustees come from diverse professional backgrounds, ranging from higher education and business to law, government and nonprofit management. However, the board has work to do to achieve stronger gender balance and racial diversity. We have made this a priority in recent years: The last two trustees to join the board are women.
Unlike most college and university boards, the Ithaca College board includes faculty, staff and student representatives (one for each group) with the same rights and responsibilities as other trustees. To choose the student trustee, every two years the Student Government Association recommends three student candidates to the board’s governance committee, which interviews each of them and selects one. The selection of faculty and staff representatives follows broadly similar procedures.
Along with two trustees who represent alumni, these campus trustees bring invaluable insights, experience and expertise to the board. They are full and equal partners. Student trustees serve two-year terms, and faculty, staff and alumni trustees serve three-year terms.
The process for identifying and electing the remaining members of the board is straightforward: The governance committee recommends a slate of candidates; those who receive a 2/3 vote of the trustees join the board for a four-year term. After serving the initial four-year term, trustees can serve for two more consecutive terms of three years each, after which they must step down from the board for at least one year. The board elects a chair and vice chair to serve three-year terms.
As is customary, the president of the college serves as an ex officio member of the board. It is routine for the board to meet in executive session, without the president, to discuss matters related to the college or the president.
Standing committees carry out much of the board’s work. Along with an executive committee, the committees are: educational affairs; enrollment and communications; finance; audit; institutional advancement; governance; investment; buildings and grounds; and compensation/assessment. Each trustee evaluates the board’s overall performance and effectiveness each year. The board holds three regular, formal meetings per year, lasting two and a half days each, but committees meet much more frequently.
As we move forward, we hope this context is helpful. We will thoroughly brief the full board of trustees on everything we have learned over the last couple of months. We will be working
actively on these issues; the board will meet, by phone and in person, to discuss them in depth. We intend to have an update on our discussions and progress early next semester.
The last couple of months have brought to the forefront issues that are complex and difficult. The trustees are committed to working with the Ithaca College community to address them in a comprehensive way, so that together we can bring lasting and positive change to campus. As always, we invite you to share your thoughts with us by emailing [email protected]
Tom Grape is the chair of the Ithaca College Board of Trustees and David Lissy is the vice chair. Email them at [email protected]