Jan. 4, 2008
By Joe Brennan
An ad hoc committee of the Board of Trustees charged with revising the board's procedures for evaluating the university president finalized its work Thursday.
After examining the practices of dozens of universities and hearing from a national expert, the panel crafted procedures for the annual performance review as well as a comprehensive evaluation to be done in the next-to-last year of a president's contract. The full board will discuss the recommendations at its meeting in Athens on Feb. 8.
The current university policy, adopted in 1979, specifies that the president and other "major administrative officers" will receive a performance review annually and a comprehensive review every five years, but it does not offer detailed procedures.
"Our proposed policy puts more specifics on this skeleton," said Trustee Sandra Anderson, who chaired the ad hoc committee. "This process is both more open and more inclusive than that of any other university in Ohio and any of our peer institutions."
Among the specifics recommendations are:
- Making the president's self-assessment the start of the annual review process;
- Preserving confidentiality to the degree possible under Ohio's laws on public records and open meetings;
- Authorizing the retention of external advisers to assist in conducting the comprehensive review;
- Seeking input from a broad array of internal and external constituent groups during the comprehensive review.
The committee spent considerable time discussing whether the policy statement should specify which constituent groups are to be consulted. First-year Student Trustee Tracy Kelly argued that the document should require the board to gather input from the heads of the five senates and from the chairs and directors group.
However, several committee members expressed reservations about going to that level of detail. "Listing constituents is not such a good idea -- not because of who you leave in, but because of who you leave out," said interim Board Secretary Tom Davis.
"Spelling this out would exclude external stakeholders as well as other internal stakeholders, and leaving them in would make it a comprehensive review," Anderson said. "We could do a comprehensive review every year, but I would vote strongly against that."
Anderson said she believed the proposed comprehensive review process would allow for significant input from constituent groups, while involving these groups every year is contrary to the best practices spelled out by the Association of Governing Boards. "The AGB says that there are different purposes for the annual and the comprehensive reviews. There's no university in Ohio that solicits the views of stakeholders on an annual basis – and none of the peer institutions (do so)."
Anderson also pointed out that communication is important on many subjects other than presidential reviews. For this reason, the proposed policy states that the reviews "are in addition to regular and ongoing communication that should and is expected to take place between the president, the board, university constituencies and other stakeholders in support of Ohio University's mission."
The committee decided to present the board with language allowing it to consider "other sources of information" but not to specify exactly what those would be. "We don't want to tie anybody's hands into a process that's too limited," said second-year Student Trustee Lydia Gerthoffer.
The committee also discussed a request from the heads of the senates that the board accept written comments concerning the president's performance.
Trustee Ned Dewire said he believed that by asking for comments to be delivered verbally rather than in writing, previous trustees were trying to preserve the confidentiality of the process.
Anderson said there is nothing stopping people from expressing their views to the board in writing, although best practices for personnel evaluations require employers to maintain confidentiality. "Confidentiality promotes candor, and that works to the best interests of the university," she said. Anderson noted that dialogue and deliberation, rather than committing initial opinions to writing, can lead to more informed views and more valuable and honest input from stakeholders.
Anderson will send the committee members a final draft and ask them to review it for accuracy by Thursday. She said the final report and recommended procedures would be posted on the board's Web site soon afterward.
If you would like to speak with a media contact about this story, contact Joe Brennan, executive director of university communications and marketing, at 740-593-2563 or firstname.lastname@example.org.