Reality TV Worth Viewing
Message from the ASCSU Chair
Okay, maybe it’s not technically “Reality TV,” but I do encourage all members of the CSU family to take some time to watch the video of the Board of Trustees workshop on November 4, 2013. There are links to four parts, and the parts total to just over five hours. Like some reality TV shows, there are confessions, and you can learn the little-known penchants and predilections of many of the trustees in Part 1. Who likes thrill rides? Fantasy golf? Performance cars? Who’s working on a book about treachery and the fall of Napoleon’s empire? Who is an aspiring farmer, extols the benefits of “gastrodiplomacy,” or met his/her spouse on a park bench outside Paris? You can learn about the trustees as people in the first hour of the video. Watching this video will help you see the “cast” as individual people, and when paired with the official biographies of the Trustees on the BOT website can give you a better sense of those entrusted with oversight of the CSU, the nation’s largest system of higher education.
More seriously, you can also learn about the rewards and frustrations inherent in the role of Trustee, through the eyes of both the “first year” and the more senior Trustees. Many of the Trustees are CSU alums, and they comment about the transformative effect of higher education on their own lives. Not surprising is their affirmation that the most satisfying reward of their role, is seeing students succeed, especially as evidenced in the joy and pride of graduates and their families at commencement.
Also evident is their passion for the CSU, as exemplified by one Trustee: “I think the California State University is probably the most important institution in this state. It offers the opportunity to every capable student no matter how humble his or her origin to take responsibility for their own lives, to support their families and communities, to participate in the state’s workforce and the economic development of the state, and to be a compelling and active citizen. Those are the most important callings that any of us can have as members of a society.”
The drama of “Reality TV” is also present in Part 1, where many Trustees report, with candor and passion, the frustrations associated with their role. How candid will they be, when they know their comments are being recorded? Quite candid. Chancellor White shared his concerns about the lack of access and the erosion of academic quality. At one point, he asked for clarification on the meaning of “undue influence” in a public university, including political influence versus interference. An experienced Trustee stated: “…The disinvestment in this system is despicable and disserves the state, and that’s what we have to turn around. We’ve got to turn this around, because we are an investment. We’re not just an expenditure of additional funds. We make so much of what is given to us. My greatest source of frustration is this disinvestment.” Her view is that the legislature (and at times the Governor) have consistently failed to understand the significance of investing in this system.
In the second hour of Part 1, the discussion focuses more on the responsibilities of the Board, and the facilitator does a good job of delineating the role of the “citizen” or “lay” board versus others in shared governance. You will hear comments about SB 520 (although not specifically named) and MOOCs, and I think faculty will find the comments affirming their views. Also emerging in the second hour are issues that the Board will develop plans to remedy.
In Part 2, the “Board-Chancellor” relationship and the importance of establishing clear, mutual expectations are discussed, as well as the results of a survey completed by the Board on its functioning.
In Part 3, the best practices of high-performing boards are reviewed, again with the goal of identifying issues for the members to discuss in a breakout session for the purpose of establishing a set of action items.
The recommendations of the breakout groups on the action items identified during the workshop are discussed in Part 4. Some of the action items discussed include the following: (1) Chancellor evaluation process and metrics; (2) Board review of WASC accreditation reports; (3) Information needs of the Board in reviewing academic programs; (4) Orientation and continuing education needs for Board members (this is especially a concern now with rapid turnover of members); (5) Communicating with the Chancellor; (6) The Access to Excellence Strategic Plan, and how the Board should use it in decision-making; and (7) Board involvement in budget development prior to the September information item.
Viewing the four sessions of this Board retreat reminds those of us in higher education about the steep learning curve of new members of the Board, who almost exclusively are drawn from professions other than higher education. At one point, the terminology (“What is a Provost?”) and acronyms that we all take for granted are mentioned as challenges (a feeling I’m sure we have all experienced in taking on a new service activity!).
After watching the Board workshop, I have a better sense of the time commitment required of Trustees to serve on the Board. Remember, 16 of the Trustees are appointed by the Governor to serve for terms lasting eight years, and these are unpaid positions. Clearly, this is a tremendous personal commitment, and their dedication to the CSU in taking on these roles should be appreciated. The Academic Senate identified academic quality, internal/external communication, and shared governance as concerns when Chancellor White first met with us in January 2013, and his comments throughout the workshop reflect an awareness of these issues. Jill Durbin, the facilitator, also impressed me with her knowledge of shared governance processes and current issues facing higher education.
Finally, it is clear that the Board of Trustees, like many of our campus administrations, is in a state of transition. There are many relatively recent trustee appointments, and also several vacancies. The reinstatement of the Academic Conference (or Academic Retreat) by Chancellor White at the request of the Academic Senate provides an important opportunity for members of the CSU family to develop relationships and have earnest discussions about the future of the CSU. This event is scheduled to follow the Board of Trustees meeting in November 2014.