Monday, September 13, 2010

Effective Governance

I’ve always loved Yogisms from the famous New York Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra. His statements of the obvious and his wordplay bring a smile to my face – “just slice that pizza into four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six” or “nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.” The closest thing I’ve said to a yogism is, “when you work at a college, you get to work with a lot of smart people.” The notion of being around a lot of smart people at MVCC drives me in my hope for making our collective decision making process better. As the new year gets rolling with our monthly College Senate meetings and the more than 30 or so Senate committees, college councils and workgroups commencing their work, my thoughts have turned to what makes an effective governance system.

In the summer of 2009, the President’s Cabinet (Administrative Leadership) and the Senate Advisory (Senate Leadership) met for the better part of two days in a retreat format to review all committees of the College Senate. We reviewed the by-laws of each committee and transitioned all committees to charters that more simply stated the role, purpose and membership of each committee. We also looked at groups outside the Senate and determined that some standing groups with a college-wide impact should be called Councils (Grants Council, Enrollment Management Council, etc.) and others that didn’t fit in either category would be called workgroups, think tanks, design teams, or other names. Membership on governance groups is a blend of elections (primarily in the Senate committees) and appointments. Over the past two years, the committee appointments designated to come from the Senate Chair and the President have been integrated through a new process. The current Senate Chair, David Katz, and I jointly review each committee’s composition and the election results. We then collaborate to make informed decisions in an attempt to maximize the talent and perspective for all appointments.

My hope is to have an effective governance system where the charters for all groups provide clarity of roles, responsibility, and membership. We need a healthy collaborative process of information exchange from the bottom-up and the top-down. If the Senate committees do not engage in meaningful work or fail to make informed recommendations, it begins to feel like the Senate is just being “talked to” by the administration without having any meaningful impact on its decisions. Conversely, if no information is being shared by the administration and the only action is the cabinet’s receipt of Senate committee recommendations, disconnects and frustration will emerge on both ends. Additionally, if no information by senate committees is shared with the whole senate, or if the committees are inactive, the Senate is reduced to having endless discussions with weak connections to decision-making – increasing friction and frustration. Finally, Senators must understand their role as elected representatives. With the agenda published in advance, Senators have the responsibility to actively seek the opinions of those they represent and inform their own opinions so that they can fully participate in the Senate discussions and add to the overall effectiveness of our governance system.

Over the past few years, the Senate has increasingly become the heart of our governance system. Elections are very competitive and attendance at Senate meetings has grown and remains strong on a monthly basis. However, the discussions are intermittently active and the committees are inconsistent in their effectiveness – some are very active and strong while others are lucky if they meet a few times a year. Additionally, the newly established Councils and workgroups are ironing out their charters and finding their focus, with many of them already yielding tangible results that are helping MVCC improve. An effective governance system in a place with so many smart people relies on everyone having a means to add their two cents – after all, “a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” If you have any thoughts on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.