In a recent article on the Inside Higher Ed website, "Academic Fantasies: Open Trustee Meetings," John Lombardi examines a polished pillar of board leadership: the open board meeting (or, as Lombardi describes it, that "theatrical forum where talented individuals play ritualized parts according to well prepared scripts"). The theatrical descriptors are often apt, and outside observers may be disappointed by meetings with an apparent lack of serious discussion, votes on important issues that seem mere formality, and a blanket of cordiality that covers even the most contentious business of the day.
Lombardi argues that public university boards need this kind of open meeting. The presence of reporters requires trustees to hash out business in informal settings if they want to "control the message," as they say. The interplay between education and politics at the state level does require trustees to exhibit a bit of PR savvy. But what about the board of a small seminary? Politics often play a role, but not the kind that pits donkeys and elephants. And certainly not the kind that attracts the local paper, let alone the media at large. Do these boards need a dress rehearsal before the big show?
There is, of course, still a message that needs to be controlled, and perhaps because the channels of information are less formal, the message needs to be held even tighter. On the other hand, maybe the lack of a media presence means that seminary board meetings can offer something even more transparent than the sterile theatrics of a public university board meeting.
I'd love you hear your thoughts.
Photo by James Cridland