Board of Trustees: Everything You Need to Know

Board of Trustees: Everything You Need to Know

This is a ruling body that is responsible for managing a university’s activities. Also known as a “board of visitors” or a “board of regents,” a “board of trustee” acts as the owner or the legal agent of the college or university. As a collective body, the trustees hold the responsibility and authority to ensure the fulfillment of the school’s mission. They’re also ultimately responsible for the fiscal health of the institution. A board of trustees’ governing role is usually limited to policy approval and the selection of the president, with the management and daily operations of the school vested in the president.

An institution’s bylaws and charter define its board size. The institution’s tradition, history, and needs inform these governing documents. A board of trustees can range from a small number of individuals to more than fifty persons. Trustees are appointed or elected to the board for a defined term, which may be renewable. While the majority of trustees belong to the for-profit corporate world, many schools work diligently to gather a diverse representation of leaders on their board to broaden support for the school. In the case of public schools, the governor generally makes the appointments. For religious universities and colleges, the affiliated organization either approves or selects the trustees. Occasionally, independent universities and colleges make an individual a life trustee. Life trustees typically have displayed an exceptional level of commitment to the college or university. Other constituents that may become a trustee in an ex officio capacity include faculty, staff, students, and alumni. In some cases, these trustees have full voting rights, while in other cases, they’re just a representative voice.

Many states have established consolidated or coordinating boards that oversee institutional boards of public schools. Consolidated boards within a state generally take the form of a single board for all postsecondary schools. However, these may take the form of multiple boards, with each one carrying out responsibilities for one institutional type (e.g., two-year schools, four-year schools). A coordinating board may perform in a regulatory or advisory capacity. While an advisory board’s role is limited to review and recommendation without any legal authority to approve or disapprove institutional actions, a regulatory-type coordinating board has program approval. It isn’t uncommon for states to utilize both consolidated and coordinating boards.

The board chair is typically responsible for setting the board’s agenda. Most of the time, this agenda is established jointly with the college president. Beyond the basic responsibilities, the majority of boards are involved with strategic planning, institutional fundraising, and ensuring sensible management.

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