March 1, 1999
At its February meeting, the Tulane Board of Administrators approved a package of recommendations that will have a significant impact on the way the board governs itself. The recommendations, which were drafted by the Ad Hoc Committee on Board Governance, address a wide range of issues, from how the board operates to its composition and membership.
"It speaks so highly of our board members that, through this ad hoc committee, they have conducted this self-evaluation," said Tulane President Scott Cowen. "What you are seeing is an introspective look that has taken place over the last two years," said John Koerner, chairman of the board of administrators. "The board looked back, contemplated its modes of operation and did something that will make it more effective."
Among the most notable changes adopted by the board is one to "include the individual who serves as president of the university as a member of the board with all of the voting privileges of membership." Cowen is now the first president in Tulane's history to sit on the board of administrators.
"I clearly report to the board and am responsible to the board," said Cowen, "but this formally recognizes the president as a member of the board and allows that person to stand up and vote like everybody else."
Also significant is the board's decision to expand its size from 25 to 35 members. Cowen said he expects that most of the additional membership will be solicited from around the country and perhaps internationally.
"We want the composition of the board to mirror the kind of institution we are," he said. Suggesting that board members act as ambassadors for Tulane, Cowen added, "we want to have footholds in all the major cities and countries where we have a critical mass of alumni."
"We now have aging graduates from other parts of the country and world," said Koerner. "They now can participate at a board level. The board has been made larger not only to reflect this larger community but also to get more work done, help recruit potential students, help development and aid in job placement."
Other changes seem directed at enhancing the responsiveness and knowledge of the board of administrators. One adopted recommendation suggests that the board "devise strategies that will enhance its relationship with the entire university community."
Another calls for "'continuing education' [to be] part of the regular board meetings by including presentations on critical issues facing Tulane and higher education. . . ." On more internal matters, the board has adopted a provision to "evaluate the overall committee structure to determine if current committees. . . are appropriate to achieving the board's purpose and the university's needs."
Another provision limits board membership to three 3-year terms while also limiting the term of the chair and vice chair to three years. According to Koerner, the board's reforms are consistent with the sense of renewal embodied in the process of evaluation and strategizing initiated by Cowen.
"One of the first decisions we made was to choose a president from a business academic environment," said Koerner. "Institutions of higher education are becoming increasingly complex. You have to blend the interests of the academic community with the fact that you have to run a large institution. Scott has done a great job in doing both of these."
Despite the changes in the way it operates, the board will continue in its role as an "oversight committee," said Koerner. "The board should be involved in broad policy issues. If it gets too involved in day-to-day issues there is something wrong." "The board has done what so few boards do," said Cowen, "and that is to really engage in self-reflection, do some benchmarking and come up with a set of recommendations and change itself."
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