Art by Trevor Brighton | Art Director

Art by Trevor Brighton | Art Director

Absorb the Board

A breakdown of the Ohio University Board of Trustees

Published March 9, 2023

By Claire Schiopota | For The Post

Correction appended.

The Ohio University Board of Trustees serve as OU's governing body, making some of the university's most transformative and monumental decisions.

The Board of Trustees' decisions includes everything from tuition costs to holding the president of OU accountable. Its role is essential to keep OU. Although the Board has existed at OU since its conception, it is not commonly understood in depth by those most affected by its decisions.

According to the Board of Trustees' website, Manasseh Cutler proposed that a university be governed by a Board of Trustees in 1800. The first Board of Trustee members were appointed in 1802 with the establishment of American Western University, and the first meetings were carried out henceforth. By 1804, the Ohio General Assembly passed an act for the university's corporate and political body to be led by the governor of Ohio, the president and vice president of the university and 10 to 15 member trustees.

Building the trustees

Now, the Board of Trustees consists of 15 members, with nine voting trustees, two national trustees, one regional trustee, two student trustees and one Alumni Association representative. Executive Secretary David Moore serves as an officer to the Board; he is also a professor of educational studies at the Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education.

"(The governor's office is) trying to make a group of people—a citizen group of people who have enough general background and from society to make some helpful decisions for the university, but they're not academics," Moore said.

The current trustees and the OU president can make suggestions to the governor of Ohio, but it is up to him or her—with the advice of the Ohio Senate—to appoint trustees. Anyone can apply to be an OU Board of Trustees member on the Ohio governor's website. These individuals go through a formal application process before being appointed by the governor. The terms are staggered to ensure a revolving door on the Board.

The nine voting trustees serve nine-year terms and are appointed by the governor. They must wait four years before applying for re-election after their term. All of these trustees must live in Ohio and five must be OU alum. Currently, eight of the nine voting trustees are alumni. The voting trustees vote on resolutions, while the other six serve as a sounding board alongside the OU president.

Two of the six are national trustees who do not have to live in Ohio; they serve three-year terms. One is a regional trustee—a new role established last year—from one of the counties where OU has a presence. The regional trustee also serves a three-year term. One is an Alumni Association representative, its current president. This term goes in accordance with the association's bylaws. Lastly, two are student trustees who are elected in two-year terms. The OU Student Senate leads a nominating process and presents five nominees to the president's office, which are then referred to the governor for selection.

Each trustee is assigned to serve on two subcommittees while on the Board. The chair of the Board, who is elected by the Board annually, will assign committee chairmanships. There are four subcommittees: Academics and Student Success, Resources, Facilities and Affordability, Audit and Risk Management and Governance and Compensation.

There is also an executive committee that meets when emergency decisions need to be made quickly. This committee comprises the chair, vice chair, chair of resources and chair of academics.

The trustees and the university

Once in their roles, the Board members may speak with community and university entities to make judgments and decisions. Still, the university's president acts as their main point of contact with OU.

"The trustees and the president work together to try to figure it out. Ultimately, the trustees are the president's boss," Moore said. "A successful president isn't going to resist a group of trustees and a consensus of the trustees to do something, if they really want it … (The president) can certainly advise them and say, hey, here's the challenges of doing that."

The trustees serve as a check for the president to ensure he or she is doing their job effectively, from adhering to the institution's values to carrying out university plans and functions. In an email, current OU President Hugh Sherman said that he's enjoyed working with the trustees and has appreciated their support and friendship over the past two years.

"Our trustees bring together a wide range of experiences and perspectives as students, alumni, community members, business leaders and much more," President Sherman said in an email. "Our trustees spend a lot of time and care deeply about our students, staff and faculty."

While the Board of Trustees is meeting on campus, the university tries to maximize its contact with other groups, Moore said. The trustees have previously met with student athletes and the athletic director. In another instance, they met with a team from the engineering college working with Intel.

One must follow a path of communication to interact with the Board. Anyone can suggest changing a policy, but when proposing ideas and presenting to the Board, everything goes to the president. Moore works with the trustees and the president's office to organize what information is needed and how it will be presented to the Board.

University Communications and Marketing takes the lead on many communications between the Board and the OU community. UCM acts as a brand strategist for OU, including developing and distributing OU Board of Trustees-focused communications. UCM provides news updates and on-site media support, including a media availability session for members of the press to engage with OU trustees and university leadership directly.

"Our team is proud to support OHIO's Board of Trustees and to serve all of our campus partners," Dan Pittman, the interim senior director of communications, said in an email. "We look forward to continuing to work collectively to help drive awareness, enhance visibility and deepen engagement across the OHIO community and beyond."

Carrying out duties

The standard trustee meetings happen for a week in January, April, June, August and October. Most happen in Athens, but the meetings occasionally occur at a branch or regional campus. During COVID-19, the meetings were online, but Moore said they're returning to in-person meetings again.

The agenda—sent out to the trustees two weeks before the meeting—sets what will be discussed. Sometimes items will pop up, but many meeting practices are standardized. For example, each April includes the Board's annual ethics training. The Board will have a budget and finance report at every meeting session. Additionally, a college will be invited to present to the trustees and showcase its school.

The changes made at OU come from the resolutions passed by the Board. This goes back to the committees, who will present to the full Board, introducing a topic and resolution. Recommendations may come from the president or other entities, but a trustee must introduce the resolutions. The last thing during a meeting session is voting; Moore said it usually occurs on Fridays. Minor decisions may only take one meeting, but the feedback process can change how long it takes to pass a resolution.

"There's some things that could take a lot longer. It just sort of depends on what it is," Moore said. "If there's any sort of controversy about what anyone says … generally that stops it before a vote and it is weakened, either pulled all together or it is reproduced at the next meeting."

The trustees are not compensated for their work and act as volunteers. When in session, lodging and meals are provided for the trustees, but travel expenses are not covered, Moore said.

When the Board isn't in session, its members are off living their lives, working or being with their families. When the trustees aren't in session, they have little correspondence. The chair of the Board of Trustees will most likely spend the most time out of session communicating with the president, Moore said.

The future and the past

The next Board of Trustee meetings will fall during the first week of April. They plan to vote for the Chair of the Board at this upcoming meeting. No other meeting details have been released at this time.

The next Board of Trustee meetings will fall during the first week of April. They plan to vote for the Chair of the Board at this upcoming meeting. No other meeting details have been released at this time.

Everything from the Board of Trustees since 1949 has been recorded on the trustee's website through minutes and agendas. For a comprehensive deep dive into the decisions made by the Board of Trustees since 2019 and its impact at OU, here is a timeline of Post articles to learn more:

A pervious version of this article stated the incorrect spelling of Dan Pittman’s first name. This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

ILLUSTRATION: Trevor Brighton
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