At its mid-winter retreat late last week in Colorado Springs, the University of Colorado Board of Regents sought ways to improve how it operates as a board and governs the university, in addition to discussing how it would go about presidential searches.
The board commissioned a study by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems to review its reporting relationships and decision-making authority. It heard from the study’s authors, NCHEMS Senior Fellow Aims McGuinness and President Emeritus Dennis Jones, who reviewed the board’s guiding documents and interviewed board members, President Bruce Benson, system administration vice presidents, campus chancellors and other key campus administrators.
McGuinness said they set out to provide guidelines to help the regents and the senior administration as they discuss roles, clarify their obligations and responsibilities, and prepare for future transitions.
“The question is, how do you clarify roles within your system,” McGuinness said.
He suggested the board and administration needs to recognize that the role and mission of system administration is distinct from the role and mission of each campus, but that there is a complementary relationship. Still, he warned against dangers of regents reaching too far down into the organization.
NCHEMS recommended finding clarity around the system’s mission, goals and priorities to provide a framework for distinctive campus missions, goals and priorities.
“It is at the campuses, not the system, where the core missions of education, research and service take place,” according to the NCHEMS report.
“How do you get clarity of institutional roles within your system,” McGuinness asked the board and administration.
The report recommends that the Board of Regents be more future-focused, rather than being reactive and solely addressing operational concerns. “The regents need to agree upon and remain focused on a limited number of strategic priorities,” according to the report.
However, the task does not fall to regents alone. Priorities should “take into consideration the major external and internal risks and opportunities facing the system and the campuses. In developing these strategic priorities, however, the regents should not operate autonomously either as individual regents or as a board and should both gain input from and align their discussion with the senior system and campus leadership.”
McGuinness and Jones also addressed relationships among board members, as well as those with the president and other administrators.
“The system and president and board must add value,” McGuinness said. “There has to be a process where the president and administration are working with you.”
NCHEMS also addressed relationships and how they may hinder effectiveness and urged greater focus on a big-picture level and less on issues that may be important to a single regent or two.
Developing a consensus on priorities will help avoid the issue and lead to effective policy implementation.
The regents and administration spent the better part of the second day of the retreat discussing how best to conduct a presidential search. While recognizing that Benson has no plans to depart soon, the board agreed it is prudent to conduct as much of the groundwork as possible for the inevitable presidential search. Benson also encouraged the board.
He played an active role in the discussion at the request of the board, providing some insight into his job.
“This is a massive operation to run,” Benson said. “It’s a complex organization. You better be ready to delegate and you better have thick skin.”
He said the board would be well-served by finding someone from Colorado who has a familiarity with the state, its legislature and higher education landscape.
Much of the discussion centered on the role and composition of a search committee. Its makeup is proscribed in Regent Law and Policy, but the board also has latitude in who is on the committee. A regent must chair it.
Some of the discussion was how many regents should be on the search committee, with some advocating more regents while others urged letting a committee fulfill its advisory function. As it stands, the committee will recommend a number of candidates to the full board, which will determine how many it wants to interview and ultimately, bring to campuses.
As a parting comment to the board, McGuinness of NCHEMS suggested that the board will be under pressure to find someone who more appropriately fits the profile of a chancellor of an AAU campus. He suggested that the job of a system president is different and distinct from that of a campus leader, particularly at CU. He said the board should consider someone with the ability to work with legislators and donors, as well as the skills, experience and abilities to manage a complex, multibillion-dollar enterprise.