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WCC Trustees need to take governance role seriously

If you look at other Michigan community colleges and how their Trustees operate, you begin to see some significant differences between them and Washtenaw Community College. Many of the differences highlight what real governance looks like, and what the taxpayers of Washtenaw County don’t get.

About half of the community college boards in Michigan have subcommittees that operate as subsets of the Board. Notably, they have subcommittees with names like “Finance Committee,” “Personnel Committee” and “Audit Committee.” These Trustees also meet in working sessions – either of the full board or as a subcommittee. In these working sessions, the Board does stuff like review its policy manuals; examine the finances of the college in detail; and help prepare for the annual audit.

This is what an actual working session of a functional Board of Trustees looks like – from Jackson College.

These are the notes from a 90-minute meeting of the “Personnel Committee” from Mott Community College.

Trustees ask substantive questions in these subcommittee meetings about expenditures, personnel requests, and other issues of importance to the institution. They do not simply swallow whole whatever their institution’s administration puts in front of them.

This is missing from the Board of Trustees of Washtenaw Community College. Legitimate governance. Actual work. Trustees who take responsibility for creating institutional policy all by themselves. Like they’re supposed to.

Governance doesn’t involve being spoon-fed

At Washtenaw Community College, the Administration spoon-feeds select policies to the Board of Trustees. Not surprisingly, the Administration has not voluntarily committed itself to taking care of the College infrastructure as a condition of continued employment. Equally unsurprising is the absence of a policy that limits the size of the Administration. Or a policy to reduce the consumption of utilities on campus. Or a policy that establishes minimum standards for the maintenance budget, or a mandatory rotation of the auditing firm.

Also not surprisingly, the Trustees haven’t updated some policies on the books in 25+ years. Like the policy that requires all 24-hour liquor license applications to designate the “Job Skills and Campus Events Building” as the location for an event featuring liquor.

WCC hasn’t called the facility the Job Skills and Campus Events Building since 1994, because the College renamed it to honor Morris Lawrence.

Really, it’s not too much to expect our elected trustees to develop their own policy manual. Especially when they have the audacity to publicly proclaim that they’re a “policy board.” For a “policy board” they don’t interact with their own policy manual very much. Worse, they don’t seem to know how to make institutional policy.

Somehow, our Trustees think that they fulfill their responsibilities to the taxpayers by attending Board Meetings. We need Trustees who understand, accept, and fulfill the governance responsibilities the taxpayers and the institution need and expect.

It is time for the voters to start making changes.

WCCWatch: Martin Thomas | WCCWatch: David DeVarti | WCCWatch: Christina Fleming | WCCWatch: Ruth Hatcher

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski , via Flickr