What kinds of decisions does UST’s Board of Trustees make?

Three times a year, members of the University of St. Thomas Board of Trustees arrive on campus for two days of meetings on a wide variety of issues.

And three times a year, faculty, staff and students regularly ask me questions like, “So just what does the board do in these meetings? What kinds of decisions do they make? How many trustees attend?”

Those are good questions. And my intention, beginning with this column, is to provide answers. After each board meeting, I will provide a summary in a Bulletin Today column.

Background

First, though, a little background on the board.

Collectively, the board has the responsibility to oversee the general well-being of the university. Trustees are expected to support the university’s mission, champion its reputation in the community, attend meetings regularly and contribute financially as appropriate to their circumstances. The board also selects the president, as it did in 1991 with me, and evaluates my performance each year.

The St. Thomas board has 38 members at this time (click here for a list). The Most Rev. Harry Flynn, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, serves as chairman. Father Kevin McDonough, vicar general of the archdiocese, is vice chairman. Trustees serve five-year terms, and can be re-elected to subsequent terms.

The board and its eight committees – Academic Affairs, Audit/Finance, Board Affairs, Executive, Institutional Advancement, Investment, Physical Facilities and Student Affairs – meet in February, May and October. The Executive Committee conducts business of the board between these meetings.

Committees typically have meetings of up to two hours throughout the day on Wednesday. The full board convenes for dinner on Wednesday evening and has a plenary session on Thursday morning. Each board member serves on at least one committee.

Members of my staff attend the board meeting and individual committee meetings, as appropriate to their duties. In addition, selected faculty, staff and students attend committee or board meetings for specific presentations and discussions. There are faculty and student non-voting representatives to the Academic Affairs, Audit/Finance and Student Affairs committees.

St. Thomas is recognized as having one of the strongest university boards in this part of the country, and we have evolved into such a strong, comprehensive university because of the leadership of our trustees. They come from many backgrounds and interests, and include corporate executives, non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs, presidents of other Catholic universities, and members of the judiciary and the legal community.

May 3-4 meeting highlights

The board and its committees had full agendas when they met May 3 on the Minneapolis campus and May 4 on the St. Paul campus. About 30 trustees were in attendance.

St. Thomas, as you know, has spent the past year discussing strategic priorities for the future. The board has been involved throughout those discussions, and several committees spent time on May 3 reviewing the priorities. The board approved a resolution accepting the priorities of access, excellence and Catholic identity as a platform for developing a strategic plan for the next five years and for our fund-raising efforts. To read the strategic priorities document, click here.

Other resolutions or action items approved by the board included:

  • A request to rename the Jay Phillips Center for Jewish-Christian Learning as the Jay Phillips Center for Inter-faith Learning. The center, a cooperative venture between St. Thomas and St. John’s University, favors the new name because it reflects an effort to broaden outreach to include Islam and other world religions. Rabbi Barry Cytron, director of the center, discussed the name change with the board.
  • A resolution giving unanimous support to the policy that a faculty or staff member who accompanies students on university-sponsored off-campus programs will not share a room with an individual with whom he or she has a romantic relationship, and to whom he or she is not married. The trustees found the policy to be an expression of the university’s mission that conforms with our non-discrimination statement.
  • The election of Mark Vangsgard, our new vice president for business affairs and chief financial officer, as treasurer of the university.
  • The selection of Cambridge Associates as the investment consulting firm for St. Thomas. The recommendation from the Investment Committee came after its review of several firms that had indicated interest in providing counsel on where and how St. Thomas invests its assets.
  • The election of Al McQuinn, founder and former owner of Ag-Chem Equipment Co., as a trustee. He will join the board this fall, as will Timothy Flynn, a 1979 alumnus who is chairman and CEO of KPMG; Flynn was elected in February. Re-elected to the board were trustees Michael Ciresi, Stanley Hubbard, John Morrison, Diana Murphy and John O’Shaughnessy Jr.

During its plenary session on May 4, the board heard presentations on several issues, including undergraduate enrollment planning, shared governance, technology and study abroad programs. Highlights of those presentations:

  • Enrollment – Marla Friederichs, associate vice president for enrollment services, and Kathy Dawley, president of Maguire Associates, a consultant to St. Thomas since 1993, outlined demographic challenges that St. Thomas and other schools will face over the next decade. The number of Minnesota high school graduates will decline by 10 percent between 2003 and 2013, and steps must be taken to maintain a stable enrollment. Ms. Dawley continues to conduct and analyze research on demographics and prospective students, and will return to the October board meeting for further discussion as we develop a long-range enrollment plan.
  • Shared governance — Neil Hamilton, a professor in our School of Law, gave a presentation on shared governance, academic freedom and the rights and responsibilities of a faculty as it governs itself. Trustees were intrigued by the discussion and engaged in a lively dialogue with Mr. Hamilton.
  • Technology – Dr. Sam Levy, vice president for information resources and technology, updated the board on technology enhancements at St. Thomas and trends such as “my media vs. mass media,” more-mobile computing, and the growing popularity of blogging and online gaming. Our challenge, he reported, will be to determine the value of various forms of technology as teaching and learning tools. Rachel Wobschall and Liz Zupfer of our Alumni and Constituent Relations Department discussed a new online program that will provide better networking and communications connections between St. Thomas and its alumni.
  • Study abroad – Dr. Sarah Stevenson, director of International Education, and Ann Hubbard, associate director of our study abroad programs, reviewed St. Thomas’ study abroad programs for the trustees. Two students – Erik Barner and Allison Johnson – described their study-abroad experiences in Central America, Africa, Europe and the South Pacific.
  • Finally, it should be noted that our VISION (Volunteers In Action Internationally Or Nationally) program gave an outstanding presentation, including a video, to trustees who attended the May 3 dinner. Trustees heard from VISION director Jacob Cunningham and students Jonathan Maurer and Keirsa Johnson, who had taken VISION trips during January Term and spring break – Jonathan to Guatemala and Pennsylvania and Keirsa to Venezuela and Colorado.