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How to Conduct an Effective Nonprofit or Public College Board Meeting

The rising costs of higher education are leading today’s young adults more in the direction of nonprofit or public colleges as one of the least costly alternative ways of attaining a higher education. As the governing body of educational institutions that serve the public, boards of directors of nonprofit and public colleges have considerable responsibility for conducting board business in an effective and efficient manner. The board of directors represents the ownership of the college, and as such, also represents the public interest in the institution and the common good.

Boards of nonprofit and public colleges must be keenly aware of their purpose and work collectively to establish and achieve their college’s goals.

Who Attends Nonprofit and College Board Meetings

In addition to the board chair and board directors, the college attorney, college auditor, and college president or chancellor typically attend the board meetings. Special guests or presenters may also attend as part of official board business. The board chair and the board directors have specific duties in governing the college.

Role of the Board Chair in Conducting an Effective College Meeting

The role of the board chair is important in all board meetings, and it has particular importance for nonprofit and public colleges. Because of the public nature of nonprofit and public colleges, board chairs must set a positive and welcoming atmosphere for board meetings. They also need to make sure that the board and the public are clear on the rules and procedures, and the board chair must follow them consistently. Board chairpersons sometimes have to manage disruptive comments from the public and board members. Skilled board chairpersons know the policies on how to handle disruptions and personal attacks on college personnel and board members.

The board chair is the gatekeeper of the agenda, the facilitator of the meetings and the spokesperson for the board. The board chair is also the liaison between the board and the college president.

While the board chair has notable responsibilities, the board needs to effectively support their board chair. They can best do this by fulfilling all of their board duties to achieve the board’s goals.

Role of the Board Directors in Conducting an Effective College Meeting

The college’s bylaws outline the board’s authority and procedures. Board directors have a responsibility to conduct the flow of the governing business of the college. Their responsibility includes establishing and setting the direction for the college’s policies. Typically, they start with broad policy statements and work toward refining them.

The board doesn’t directly manage the college, which is the responsibility of the college president or chancellor and staff. However, the board monitors the staff performance and the reputation of the college against specific policy criteria.

The board follows the board chair’s lead in utilizing parliamentary procedures to conduct the meeting appropriately. As part of the board’s governance duties, board directors must know and follow the applicable laws of the state.

The agenda serves as the format for the board director to work toward the college’s goals. The agenda includes items for information, discussion and action. Using parliamentary procedures with fidelity ensures that the board uses time limits for agenda items and participation that support conducting board business efficiently. Adhering to fidelity also means not allowing discussion of items that aren’t listed on the agenda.

College boards often use a consent agenda to approve multiple agenda items for routine items that require approval. The board can pull certain items out of the consent agenda for discussion and approval, as needed. Agenda items include discussions, debates and actions that focus on student success and that represent the college’s mission.

Like corporate boards, college boards set up committees according to their needs. In addition to the standard nominating, governance and finance committees, college boards may also have committees for personnel matters, student services and academic affairs.

Board directors, along with the board chair, have fiduciary responsibilities for duty of loyalty and duty of care. As part of their responsibilities for setting goals, they must analyze the issues and consider all implications. Directors need to know the applicable laws. At times, they will need to reference policy and law, and support their decisions with facts.

Open Meetings Act

Many states have some version of an Open Meetings Act, which applies to legally constituted federal and public bodies. Open meetings acts were enacted to create greater transparency in government. The wording of the open meetings act in most states says that college board meetings should be open to the public, although boards may close meetings for the purpose of executive session and a few other limited reasons.

Open meetings acts typically require boards to post adequate notice of the meeting and to keep meeting minutes. The open meetings acts are enforceable under law and violations may be subject to penalties.

Managing Public Comments at Nonprofit and Public College Board Meetings

Board members are required to consider the best interests of the public during board service. Board agendas generally list an item toward the latter half of the agenda for public comments. The board chair, directors or board president may add an item to the agenda by request of a member of the general public, and they usually require at least 72 hours’ prior notice.

The board directors and the board chair don’t comment or deliberate on the public’s comments, although they should consider any implementations of the content. The board chair should avoid any back-and-forth questions and discussions with members of the public.

Nonprofit and public colleges don’t have to abide by the same legal and regulatory requirements as for-profit colleges do; however, they must fulfill their duties with diligence to avoid legal liabilities and loss of reputation, which would affect attendance and the common good.

The boards of nonprofit and public colleges work best when they use best practices for corporate governance that are ethical and that are applied consistently. Board service for colleges that serve the greater community requires that board directors do their best to work collectively and collaboratively to uphold the college’s mission and achieve strategic goals.

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