The New York Sun has an important editorial on a recent article by Judge José Cabranes, who has served as a trustee of several major campuses for more than three decades. Cabranes argues that university trustees actually exercise very little authority, and have almost no influence, on campus affairs. Should trustees take a position at odds with the will of faculty, Cabranes rightly says, they would throw the university “into turmoil” and “make the president’s own position within the university untenable.”
The Sun highlights Cabranes’s suggestions for restoring trustee oversight:
Trustees should meet at least once a year “to evaluate top executives and set their salaries” . . . if the trustees themselves can’t do that, “then perhaps Congress or the state legislatures should impose the requirement” . . .
“Benefactors . . . should carefully target their donations to programs they admire and which can be reviewed from time to time” . . . [and] “legislatures might be well-advised to modify their nonprofit corporation statutes to provide private rights of action for donors to enforce the terms of their gifts.”
In an earlier speech (which I cited in “Raise High the Towers: A Call to Good Governance”), Cabranes — more controversially, but again, rightly — opined that “potential board member liability will help ensure board member’s diligent performance of their duties.”
Whether such efforts to reinstate trustee responsibility have a prayer to succeed is another story.