High ethical principles must guide the
CEO and the board in all they do.
When a CEO has to work with a split
board, it is important that the CEO
not become politically aligned with
one faction over another. Political
winds change, and a majority faction
might find itself in the minority after
the next election or appointment. A
CEO can get trapped by these political
shifts. Political turmoil among trustees
or between the CEO and the board is
not healthy for any college.
The most effective college leaders
facilitate the participation of people
in making the decisions that will
affect them. Faculty, staff members,
students, and community members
often serve on advisory or participatory governance committees. Because
of the size and complexity of the
organization, CEOs must delegate
many decisions to others. Neither the
delegation nor the participation of
others, however, relieves the CEO or
the board of responsibility for proper
administration and governance of the
college. The CEO and the board must
retain the right to send a recommendation back to a committee or an administrator for further consideration or to
make a decision different from the one
CEOs face conflicting demands, insufficient resources, hectic schedules,
and long hours. Progress toward some
college goals may take longer than expected when other priorities emerge.
Although maintaining a positive
institutional climate is an important
responsibility for CEOs and boards,
constituents will not always agree
with a decision or a position that the
CEO or board takes. CEOs, in particular, often come under attack.
Confidence and trust between a
board and a CEO must be built on a
long-term relationship and cannot wax
and wane with the immediate concerns
of the campus community. The board’s
evaluation of the CEO must be more
than a reflection of current popularity.
Boards can do a great deal to support,
Keys to a Healthy
1. No surprises. CEOs and trustees need
to make expectations known and keep
lines of communication open.
2. Recognize the distinction between
policy-setting and operations.
3. Prepare adequately for meetings.
4. Be visible on campus, in the
community, and at statewide and
5. Recognize college, student, and
6. Regularly review the CEO employment
contract to be sure provisions are
clear, fair, and competitive.
7. Regularly set goals and evaluate the
CEO and the board itself.
8. Develop an ethical spirit of harmony,
cooperation, and commitment among
the board members and the CEO.
9. Base decisions on what is best for the
college, not a special interest.
10. Advocate for the mission of student
For more, see the Handbook on CEO-Board Relations and Responsibilities by
George R. Boggs.
both publicly and privately, a CEO
under fire for making an unpopular,
but correct, decision.
Boards have a lot invested in their
CEOs. It is important to protect and
develop that investment by making
sure the CEO has the support to attend
conferences and institutes and to serve
on professional boards, commissions,
and committees. The American Association of Community Colleges’ Presidents
Academy, for example, schedules
professional development institutes for
both new and experienced CEOs.
Likewise, it is important for trustees
to attend conferences and to engage in
professional development and advocacy
activities. Board members can improve
their skills, become better informed,
and learn from their colleagues at other
colleges. Cutting board and CEO travel
budgets may be a symbolic money-saving gesture, but it can prove costly
in the long run.
When colleges have effective CEOs,
boards should do what they can, within
reason, to retain them. The correct
match between the skills of the CEO
and the leadership needs of the college
is not always easy to find. Moreover,
CEO searches cost time and money.
No matter how successful, all relationships eventually end. It is important for
a CEO to communicate plans to leave a
leadership position in a timely enough
manner for the board to plan for the
transition. If the majority of the board
determines that it is necessary to make
a change in CEO leadership, the board
should communicate this to the CEO in
a closed session early enough to allow
the CEO time to plan for the future.
The board will need to decide whether
to employ a search consultant, what
characteristics would be desirable in a
new CEO, and how the college employees and community will be involved in
College leadership changes are often
accompanied by controversy. Newspaper articles and contentious lawsuits
focus negative attention on the college,
the board, and the CEO. Barring evidence of unethical conduct by the CEO,
the board’s responsibility to protect the
CEO does not end until the CEO leaves.
Community colleges are complex
organizations requiring capable and
stable governance and leadership.
Ideally, the board and its CEO should
be viewed as a team whose members
share common philosophies and
objectives. Each has an important and
complementary role to play.
GeorGe r. BoGGs is president emeritus of
the American Association of