Presidents and Trustees in Partnership. ERIC Digest.
by Iwanaga, John
While much has been written about the roles of presidents and trustees
in governing the nation's community colleges, comparatively little research
has focused specifically on the relationship that ideally exists between
them. This relationship is important to the successful operation of community
colleges at all times, but is especially critical during times of change
Weisman and Vaughan (1997) assert that developing an effective relationship
between the board and the president depends on the honing of personal and
professional skills by both parties in order to form a clear understanding
of their job duties and expectations of their constituents. In a summary
of the volume of New Directions for Community Colleges edited by Weisman
and Vaughan, this Digest discusses the functions and professional needs
of the community college governing board and presidency and offers suggestions
on how to improve their relationship.
CLEARLY DEFINED ROLES DURING CRISES
Certainly most college leaders would agree that the responsibilities
of both the president and board should be precisely delineated, well in
advance of an impending crisis. Typically, there is an understanding that
the role of the board is to create policy, while the president is primarily
responsible for its execution. Especially important in a crisis situation
is the existence of a clear plan for the dissemination of crisis information
among campus constituencies and to the general public. Two researchers
(Fanelli, 1997; Kenney, 1997) agree that the board and the president have
a mutual responsibility to inform one another in a crisis; however, since
the president is closer to the institution than the trustees, it is the
president's responsibility to direct the communication and planning processes.
Once the board supports a position or plan regarding the crisis, the
president can then inform the college community of the issue, describing
the planned response and the board's support for the plan. The president
usually serves as the spokesperson for the college; however in the event
that the president is too close to the crisis to be effective, it is appropriate
for the board chair to speak on behalf of the college.
NURTURING BOARD FLEXIBILITY
While interaction between president and board must be governed by clearly
defined responsibilities in a crisis situation, this does not mean creating
an inflexible or overly rigid relationship. Presidents, trustees, and key
administrators cite the importance of establishing institutional processes
and programs that help to maintain trust and open communication between
board and president during times of change (Boggs and Smith, 1997; Davis,
1997; Nielsen and Newton; 1997.)
Davis also emphasizes that professional development programs for trustees
can aid the new trustee in several important areas, such as:
developing an appreciation of the college's context and history,
inspiring curiosity about campus programs,
encouraging effective group decision-making techniques,
helping trustees to engage in careful analysis of issues,
facilitating communication with key college constituencies, and
developing an appreciation of strategic planning.
PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP STRENGTHS
Community college presidents can be encouraged to think of their work
as requiring not only specific sets of skills, but also two essential qualities
of strong leadership: adaptability and sound personal judgment. These two
attributes, according to Pierce and Pederson (1997), can help community
college presidents face a number of new challenges, such as the need to
capitalize on innovations in technology, and cope with increasingly complex
issues surrounding access and mission. Gaskin (1997) argues that new challenges,
such as searching for alternative funding sources and maintaining an active
role in the political and civic arenas, will help define community college
leadership of the future.
FACILITATING COMMUNICATION BETWEEN PRESIDENT AND BOARD
Other programs and processes that may facilitate effective communication
between the president and board include presidential evaluations and process
improvement teams (PIT). Nielsen and Newton (1997) point to presidential
evaluations as a means for the board to communicate its expectations clearly
to the president, and suggest six guidelines for designing an evaluation:
Evaluation should enhance and strengthen presidential performance.
The basis for evaluation should be a shared vision between the president
and the board.
Evaluations of the president also reflect the effectiveness of the board.
Evaluation should be in writing and conducted separately from contract
renewal and salary adjustments.
Consistency is the key; a specific, thorough, and objective evaluation
instrument with adequate room for discussion can minimize confusion.
The board should never ask the staff to evaluate the president.
Boggs and Smith suggest that presidential and board evaluations be used
to articulate expectations as well as to maintain objectivity in assessment,
especially during board changes. Their research found that presidents who
were successful in dealing with board changes made annual presidential
objectives the basis for their evaluation and took the lead in developing
a list of presidential objectives for board review.
According to Martin (1997), PIT concepts can aid communication and may
facilitate effective trustee leadership if:
The mission and goals of the team are clear.
The roles and responsibilities of individual team members are understood.
Regular meetings are scheduled and meeting times published.
The team's process for arriving at decisions is clearly stated.
Methods for obtaining feedback from customers are devised and used.
Desirable communication practices are defined and then practiced.
Data gathering is conducted using appropriate methodology and tools.
The organization's definition and degree of empowerment is clearly stated.
The team builds in an assessment component of its own activity.
Clear communication is the key to developing an effective relationship
between the president and the board. The literature indicates that even
in times of crisis when leaders operate under narrowly defined roles to
interact with various constituents, they should maintain an open dialogue
among themselves. This can best be achieved through establishing processes
and programs that allow for a flexible relationship in which the president
and the trustees can clearly articulate their expectations of one another
and their goals for the college.
This Digest is drawn from New Directions for Community Colleges, Number
98, edited by Iris M. Weisman and George B. Vaughan, published in Summer
1997: "Presidents and Trustees in Partnership: New Roles and Leadership
The cited articles include, "When Boards Change: Presidential Response,"
by George R. Boggs and Cindra J. Smith; "Orientation and Professional Development
of Trustees," by Gary Davis; "When a Crisis Occurs: A President's Perspective,"
by Sean A. Fanelli; "At the Millennium," by Fred Gaskin; "When a Crisis
Occurs: A Trustee's Perspective," by Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney; "Opportunities
and Challenges for Boards in Times of Change," by Montez C. Martin, Jr.;
"Board-President Relations: A Foundation of Trust," by Norm Nielsen and
Wayne Newton; and "The Community College Presidency: Qualities for Success,"
by David R. Pierce and Robert P. Pedersen.