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Watching the Trustees at work

Summary: The university’s Trustee governance structure works on a management model that doesn’t seek a lot of input from students, faculty, or the voting public. 

For the first time I attended all the open or public* sessions of the Trustees of Indiana University over the two days of their June meeting, held this time on the South Bend campus. Much good work was introduced and approved there, including new buildings and renovations of older buildings, improvements to programs, that sort of thing. There was an admirable, positive spirit of public service throughout, and I was pleased to have witnessed it.

As a faculty member, I noticed, though, that faculty voices and roles were not very much in evidence. (I think faculty spoke for about ten minutes over the course of the two days of meetings.) Thinking further about that, I noticed that student voices, though present, were also not much involved through most of the two days. (There is, though, one elected Trustee who is a student, as required by the structure of the governance of IU, and that Trustee seemed very capable. That Trustee was, however, perhaps among the quieter members of the nine-person group.) Thinking further, I realize that the general public was not a speaking presence at this meeting, though I believe there are sometimes protests at these sessions.**

What does that mean? Impressed as I was by what I saw, I walk away realizing that this is a management system and not, say, a collaborative system or a democratic system.
Whether or not the university’s future would be improved by the voices of faculty, or students, or the general public, this particular two-day meeting did not look very much in that direction. The university is managed, it seems–often, I thought, managed well***–but managed in a way that minimizes the input of three vital groups: students, faculty, the voting and tax-paying public. If those groups want to have an impact on the governance of the state’s leading public university (sorry, Purdue), they can’t rely on the normal format of a Trustees meeting to make that happen. Fair enough, and point taken.

____________________

*The Sunshine Laws, as they are called, for Indiana, leave room for the Trustees to have some private meetings, and two sessions last week were closed, each amounting to about an hour. Possibly, though, these were just the lunch breaks for the group–not sure.

**There was a microphone stand set up in the public seating area, but there was never an invitation to those attending to use it. There was also a press table, often occupied, but no invitation for the press to ask questions during the two-day meeting either. I don’t know if this is typical or not.

***One item for future consideration, mentioned in passing, seemed quite wrong-headed to me. It was, however, the kind of management-oriented proposal that will not be thoughtfully considered unless those largely-missing voices are heard, I believe.

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