In many ways, the government has tied Trinity’s hand when it comes to the rejigging of its College Board.
Trinity is being forced to reform its most senior governance structures in what appears to be an attempt on the government’s part to get underperforming and chaotic colleges in order.
This is unfortunate and College will have to make compromises.
However, some of the compromises that Trinity’s Board Review Working Group is proposing are worrying and contradict what makes College great: its democratic spirit.
To start, though, its suggestion to separate the positions of chair of the Board and the Provost is a much-needed one.
It never made sense for a structure in place to hold the Provost to account was controlled by that very person. The adverse effects of this dynamic are well documented, and separating the roles would make it difficult for a Provost to ride roughshod over meetings.
Where the review falls down is the actual composition of the Board. While stressing the importance of a “diversity of perspectives”, the working group said that Board “should be small enough that focused and interactive discussions are possible”.
A 27-member Board may be cumbersome – and the government will clearly force Trinity to reshape its Board – but a large Board is certainly more representative of College than a smaller one populated by the most senior members of College and outsiders.
What is the point of “interactive discussions” between a group of Board members without boots on the ground?
Furthermore, the focus on “competencies” is worrying. It goes without saying that having intelligent, qualified people on Board is a boon, but competencies limit the scope of who can be elected.
One has to ask, who is deciding what competencies are necessary? And does this in itself not affect conversation around who should or shouldn’t be elected to Board?
The Board review contains sage suggestions, but College decision makers must ensure that they are not mistaking limiting representation on Board for making it easier to run meetings.