The Complexities of Board Appointments

By Bill Thorndike    //    Volume 26,  Number 2   //    March/April 2018

Coordinating terms and appointments on an ongoing basis for 105 members of Oregon’s university boards is a bit like a game of three-dimensional tic-tac-toe. The process can be lengthy and complex. A candidate submits interest forms to the governor, who vets the potential appointee and sends the name to the Oregon Senate for review and confirmation. More than 250 boards in our state are subject to this process, and Southern Oregon University (SOU) relies on the assistance of its board secretaries to work with the governor’s office on our executive appointments.

One significant challenge comes in working with the Gregorian, academic, and legislative calendars—any of which can hinder action and generally present timing issues that affect appointments. In an era of transparency and feedback loops, it is very easy to get out of sync with the process and force the appointment into another approval cycle. Unfortunately, any delay in appointing a new trustee means we have one fewer member in our brain trust to help plan for and respond to developments affecting the future of higher education.

Oregon’s seven public universities transitioned from a central governance structure to a site-specific governance model beginning in July 2014. One year later, Oregon’s Office of the Chancellor and State Board of Higher Education closed, and the 15-member boards of trustees at each of the seven universities were empowered. More than 250 governance policies created over the preceding 80 years moved from the Oregon University System to the boards and presidents of Oregon’s public universities.

On each board, as many as 11 at-large trustees are appointed to four-year terms, and three ex-officio voting positions are in place for student, faculty, and staff members who serve two-year terms. Trustees are limited to serving two consecutive full terms. The university president serves in a non-voting, ex-officio position. Southern Oregon University’s board size is desirable and offers an effective means of overseeing the needs of our university. But the relatively small size of our board means that unfilled positions put additional work on the current board members. Unfilled ex-officio positions also reduce input from identified interest partners in our shared governance model. For advancing the work of the university and addressing the challenges of setting tuition and other fees, having a full team is highly desirable.

Transformation on our campuses cannot happen in a vacuum and will not happen without the full participation of every faculty member, staff member, and trustee doing his or her part for students. Many believe higher education is and must remain deeply rooted in tradition. But this presumes that the world for which we are preparing our students will remain the same. As we do the work of ensuring our campuses are future-ready, we must welcome and promote creativity and innovation. Our board adopted a strategic plan that embraces flexibility and innovation by transforming curriculum; serving different types of learners; offering different teaching and learning methods; more vigorously engaging our region; and integrating equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout. Advancing this plan will take the strength and presence of every member on our board, advocating for every student on our campus. We have heard the call to advocacy of AGB’s Guardians Initiative, and are actively engaged in legislative, community, and national efforts in support of SOU and higher education writ large.

It is in the best interests of the SOU board of trustees to work with the governor, legislature, and campus community in supporting process improvements, helping to identify strong candidates, and promoting the timely appointment of trustees.

We thank those who weather the sometimes arduous appointment process and who serve our university as trustees.