The Roles of the Board and the Academic Governing Body

AuthorCheryl Foy
 
The Roles of the Board and the
Academic Governing Body
In the previous chapter, you were given an overview of university legislation,
its components, and the challenges that university board composition pre-
sents. In this chapter, we will step back a little to view the roles of the uni-
versity board and the academic governing body generally before returning
to examine the powers given to both within university legislation. We will
review the relationship between the board and the academic governing
body, and conclude by looking at the challenges to bicameral governance
arising from the eectiveness of the academic governing body.
I have learned a lot since I began writing this book, one of the most
important things being the signicant role that the university board
plays in preserving institutional autonomy and the institution’s right to
self- governance. As much as those working for universities (scholars and
administrators) may sco and chafe at being overseen by a body whose
membership includes individuals from outside of the sector, universities
are public bodies, supported by public funds, and they must act in the
public interest. As Peter MacKinnon says, “[s]elf-governance is possible
in public institutions only if its mechanisms and behaviours are compat-
ible with sound governance principles that adequately protect the public
121e Roles of the Board and the Academic Governing Body
interest.” Both the board and the academic governing body must be mind-
ful of the important connection between institutional autonomy and good
governance. It is only if the governing bodies of the university demonstrate
eectiveness in protecting the public interest that governments will entrust
continued oversight to them. While it is true that this responsibility pri-
marily falls to the board, the board cannot govern eectively without a fully
functioning academic governing body also committed to good governance.
As all those employed within an institution are fundamentally in a
conict of interest, good governance demands external oversight. If an
independent board of governors does not have supervision, then who? e
likely answer is the government. As discussed in Chapter  and again in
Chapter , governments are becoming increasingly involved in universi-
ties by making policy decisions that eectively usurp the role of the board.
Tuition controls and the imposition of performance-management metrics
are but two examples. ere are many more.
So how do boards preserve institutional autonomy and the continued
right of institutional self-governance? In the rst instance, boards (and all
key stakeholders) have to appreciate that preserving institutional auton-
omy is the rst order of business. Eective governance demonstrates that
an institution is soundly and responsibly run, and is the most important
means to preserving institutional autonomy. Achieving and maintaining
highly eective governance has to be a top board priority.
Best Practice Tips: Some Suggestions for Maintaining Highly Eective
University Governance
Employ an experienced governance professional reporting to the presi-
dent and the board chair.
Conduct annual board practices assessments in which specif‌ic questions
are asked about all aspects of governance.
Benchmark: Look both outside and inside the sector for governance
best practices. Although those inside the sector are highly suspicious of
corporate governance best practices, universities are not models of good
governance generally, and many corporate governance best practices
are principles-based, and as such transcend sector.
1 Peter MacKinnon, University Leadership and Public Policy in the Twenty-First Century: A
President’s Perspective (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014) at 92.
    122
Use benchmarking information and the results of the board practices
assessments to develop long- and short-term governance plans. Act-
ively work on these plans — measure and report on them.
Take steps to promote an eective working relationship with the aca-
demic governing body and encourage that body to understand the
importance of its role as a governing body within the institution, and to
adopt good governance practices itself.
Engage your board members and create a culture in which high per-
formance is expected. Use self-assessment tools to continually improve
the culture. Oer board members peer mentoring, educational oppor-
tunities, and reinforce their f‌iduciary obligations. Ensure that board
members have opportunities to learn about your institution.
While governing in the interests of the institution, ensure that your
board understands and considers its stakeholders and their interests
each time signif‌icant decisions are made.
University legislation will include a list of board responsibilities. You should
familiarize yourself with that list. It’s also important to understand the
broad categories of responsibilities of university boards. Primary functions
of a university board include:
establishing and maintaining a relevant mission and keeping the
mission alive by ensuring that strategy and planning align with
the mission
ensuring that the mission reects and protects the public interest
hiring and managing the president
overseeing the establishment of a sound strategic plan and monitor-
ing and measuring it
ensuring that there is a university risk-management program and
keeping the board apprised of risk-management activities at least
ensuring that there is a compliance program and keeping the board
apprised of compliance-management activities at least annually
taking steps to understand and promote a positive university cul-
ture — from employee morale to ensuring an equitable, diverse, and
inclusive environment
ensuring nancial sustainability

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