Academic Senate

Looking Back: A Perspective from the Past Faculty Trustee


article image
This Month's Issue
Front Page
Message from The CSU Chancellor: Timothy P. White
Message from the ASCSU Chair
Looking Back: A Perspective from the Past Faculty Trustee
Reports from Standing Committees

Academic Affairs
Academic Preparation &
   Education Programs
Faculty Affairs
Fiscal & Governmental
   Affairs

Op-Ed: Shared Governance
Letter to the Editor
Resolution Summaries

Bernadette Cheyne (Professor Emerita, Humboldt)

(Note: the following is excerpted from Bernadette Cheyne’s address to the January plenary.)

Obviously there’s a great deal that could be said regarding service on the Board of Trustees, but I’ve decided to focus in upon what I deem as a number of significant overlapping areas that proved to be particularly interesting/challenging during my time in the position.

The Bagley-Keene and Brown Acts (and their impact on Board operations)

Going into the Trustee job, I knew that with only a few exceptions (primarily personnel-related) actions of the Board had to occur in public and that, by and large, policy conversations could not occur in private.  But it is fair to say that I was not fully prepared for the reality of what this meant. My many years in governance had been focused upon collaborative decision-making, grappling with issues from their inception through a sometimes lengthy process of discussion and evolution until finally reaching a place of consensus, or of going back to the drawing board and starting from scratch, and so on.  These conversations might occur in committee meetings, via the Internet, in phone conferences, over a cocktail, in a cab or whatever.  I’m sure you all know the drill.  But there was no requirement or expectation that this process had to be public and as a result I usually had a fairly complete understanding of all aspects of the given issue before a decision was made.

The requirement for absolute transparency and the necessity for public access represented a significant change in how issues are addressed and the degree to which the Board is involved in formulating the policies and other decisions that it makes during its bi-monthly meetings.

Three former Faculty Trustees—Harold Goldwhite (Emeritus, CSU Los Angeles), Bernadette Cheyne (Emerita, CSU Humboldt), and Kathy Kaiser (CSU Chico)—and current Faculty Trustee Steven Stepanek (CSU Northridge) pose together during the ASCSU plenary in January, when Cheyne’s service was honored, and when the presence of all four was a powerful reminder of a continuing legacy.

Three former Faculty Trustees—Harold Goldwhite (Emeritus, CSU Los Angeles), Bernadette Cheyne (Emerita, CSU Humboldt), and Kathy Kaiser (CSU Chico)—and current Faculty Trustee Steven Stepanek (CSU Northridge) pose together during the ASCSU plenary in January, when Cheyne’s service was honored, and when the presence of all four was a powerful reminder of a continuing legacy.

Decision-making Process

In order to complete its work in a timely manner, the Board essentially relies upon others—primarily the Chancellor’s Office staff—to do the background investigation, sift through the information, and present to the Board recommendations for action with supporting arguments.  As you know, with the exception of the Faculty Trustee, almost all other Board members have other employment or are engaged in other time-consuming activities in addition to what is required by the CSU Board.  The idea of increasing the number of public meetings—without even considering the added expense—is not really an option.  So although very time-efficient for members of the Board and cost-efficient for the CSU, this approach also means that the information received by Board members is incomplete.  By and large, it essentially has been sifted and shaped to support a particular conclusion or course of action.  Much of my time and energy was spent digging into issues to gain a better understanding of their broader context and, at times, to offer alternative perspectives to the Board which might contradict the proposed course of action.  Although I found members of the Board very willing to listen to alternative perspectives, it almost always felt like an uphill battle to contradict a position that already had been published, sometimes with extensive supporting materials, and then presented at the meeting (usually with visual aids such as PowerPoints and often a number of individuals speaking in support).

Selection of Individuals to Fill Major Leadership Positions: Presidents/Chancellor

Many trustees consider this to be the most important Board function.  I certainly would agree that it is among the most important of Board functions in that these individuals lead our campuses and the CSU system as a whole. Among their many other responsibilities, they set a tone, a way of doing things that can have significant impact on both campus and system-wide operations.  Although I know this occurs at the campus level as well when there is new leadership, it has been particularly interesting to experience the shift in tone that has occurred since Tim White assumed the Chancellor’s position.  To reference my previous point, I have noticed a difference in the manner in which issues are presented to the Board, a shift in Board deliberations that includes significantly more discussion and debate on the issues, and an overall sense of a more inclusive communication and leadership style.  It was very exciting to experience this shift as a member of the Board and I am very hopeful and optimistic that this is a harbinger of more positive changes to come.

Board Commitment to the CSU and Higher Education in General

When listening to some of the commentary offered to the Board during the public comment section of the Board meetings, and at other times when public input is offered, it is clear that there are those who believe that the Board is “out of touch,” and/or does not care about educational quality and the student experience, and/or is insensitive to the needs of students, faculty, and staff…and the list goes on

Although there have been a number of occasions when I and others have disagreed with the course of action favored by a majority of the Board members, I was, without exception, continually impressed by the extraordinary commitment, care and dedication of each member of the Board in ensuring that the CSU is and remains the finest system of higher education in the United States.  This is not to dismiss the fact that sometimes they are not in possession of the entire spectrum of information relative to the matter under discussion; but it also must be acknowledged that in some matters their decisions may be based upon information that is not available to other stakeholders. I have enormous respect and appreciation for the Board members with whom I have served, and their exceptional commitment of time and energy with very little compensation, even though I know that there will continue to be times when I and others do not agree with the course of action that they may choose.

Clearly I had a very rewarding experience on the Board, and I wish to thank the ASCSU for making my appointment possible.  I also treasure the almost 10 years that I have spent either as a member of or interfacing with the ASCSU as Faculty Trustee.  It has been a truly exceptional experience.