The Corner

Culture

Be Very Careful in Choosing University Board Members

Late last year, I wrote about a case in Texas where a member of the University of Texas Board of Regents, Wallace Hall, was trying to get access to information that was embarrassing to top administrators, who wanted it (and Hall) to just go away. Sadly, the Supreme Court of Texas sided with the administration in a strange and ominous decision that Jon Cassidy discusses here.

It’s strange and ominous for Texans who’d like openness and accountability in their university system, anyway. For those who like to wield power and influence covertly, the decision is most comforting.

At least Hall fought a good fight. If he hadn’t been on the Board and someone who was a reliable rubber stamp for whatever the administration wanted to do had been there in his place, much skulduggery at UT would never have come to light. That’s why it’s very important for a university system to carefully consider people who are being considered for places on its board. If it’s possible to identify people who won’t just enjoy being on the board for the nice perks but who will take an active role, choose them.

In her latest article for the James G. Martin Center, Jenna Robinson looks at this problem as it relates to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. “Although almost everyone who wants to be on the board is qualified ‘on paper’ (with significant business or government experience and a record of volunteer service), it doesn’t follow that they are necessarily the right fit to address North Carolina’s unique and challenging higher education problems,” she writes.

So, when members of the legislature are considering candidates, what should they ask about? Robinson suggests several key questions including the candidate’s views on the role the Board should have played in the ugly UNC athletics scandal, how the Board should involve itself in important academic issues such as minimum admission scores for applicants, and how to deal with administrative bloat.

Similar questions will pertain at other colleges and universities. Governance is too important to be left to those who are content to let the administration run the ship while they enjoy the wine and cheese parties.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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