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A guest post from Timothy Lincoln, Associate Dean for Seminary Effectiveness, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
 

 

Board members at theological schools receive many reports, ranging from institutional plan progress reports to annual budgets and including, I imagine, reports on the proposed menus for gatherings of graduates. Boards need to be informed about all aspects of the mission of the schools that they oversee.

 

Standard 8, the section of the Association of Theological Schools accreditation standards addressing institutional governance, makes clear that the governing board has broad authority over the work of a school and must exercise fiduciary responsibility. The board must require institutional planning and evaluation so that it is a good steward of the institution. A board can only exercise its responsibilities when there is a good flow of written and oral communication -- in both directions -- between the administration and the board.

I sometimes wonder, though, about the quantity, contents, and format of the reports that pass before the eyes of board members. I speak as one who sits on the board of a professional library association and whose day job is an educational administrator. I have been on both the giving and receiving ends of presentations and reports.

Consider the following hypothetical extracts from an academic dean’s report to her governing board:

Extract 1

For the past few years, we have made a concerted effort to encourage our faculty to take seriously their vocation as scholars. Specifically, we have encouraged them to write more journal articles for their respective guilds, as well as being attentive to the need to write for broader constituencies. There have been some gains and losses. Two years ago, our faculty had six articles published in academic journals. Last year, four articles were published. Two years ago we also had five popular articles published. Last year another two were published. In short, the faculty has been working very hard.

Extract 2

The following table shows faculty publishing for the past two years.

Academic year

Scholarly articles

Popular articles

2012

6

5

2013

4

2

Both extracts contain the same facts about faculty publishing productivity. As a board member, I would prefer the table with four data points to the 99-word paragraph which contains (somewhere!) the same four data points. Extract 2 also makes it obvious than more articles were published in 2012 than in 2013. The dean and the board may wish to have a conversation about this result.

The Carver model of board governance places a high value of limiting the amount of incidental information that boards receive so that board members can focus on institutional mission and think about the future. There is hard-won wisdom in this value. Sometimes the rich texture of detail is distracting.

In your governance setting, how much information is too much?  Are reports produced in ways that hide more than they highlight? All reports are not created equal.

Timothy Lincoln
Associate Dean for Seminary Effectiveness
Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

 

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