Posted October 23, 2012 by Timothy Reed 

A Deliberative Board

In my last post, I asked you to consider the perspective of the Board of Trustees from 30,000 feet. I want you to take an even larger perspective this time. Consider how and why we change what we do in our association.

We’re nearly 100 years old—older than many higher education associations. That seems old. But if you compare us against higher education institutions of Harvard or William & Mary, we’re not even a third their age. What about the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge? We’re about one tenth their age.

As I review our history, I believe the professionals who have led this organization, both volunteer and paid, have shepherded a sound process of deliberative change. It has not always been smooth, but at each milestone in the journey, the strength of the Association is bolstered by a board that is thoughtful, deliberative and, in some cases, slow to act.

Look at the recent events by a university board when it did not act with deliberation but sought change without fully weighing the consequences and ensuring that the community which they represent had been given ample opportunity and voice. The debacle that followed could and should have been avoided, but those who wanted quick change for short-term gain failed to understand the culture of their own organization.

Our board and our association is deliberative one. Whether the issue is changing financial systems, regional boundaries, or our name (no, we are not changing our name), we follow a model that allows us to gain the insight of our membership in whose wisdom we trust. As a board, we will not all agree on all decisions. Many times, we reach consensus, but other times we do not. That is why we vote. The result is a board that makes critical decisions for the Association based on what a majority of those believe is in our best interest. Not all members will agree on the decisions made, but in any representative governance organization, the members must accept that not all decisions will be popular with all members. The hope is that enough thought, research, deliberation, and consideration is given to each issue for the board to have thoroughly examined the course of action that must be taken. The slow and sometimes arduous process of critically assessing our decisions only increases the quality of the decisions, which in turn increases the quality of our association.

One of my favorite musicals is 1776. For all its historical inaccuracies, the one thing I believe it shows—as only theatrical art can—is the struggle of representatives to make meaningful decisions within restricted timeframes without compromising discourse. It is a messy business sometimes, but the best decisions are deliberative.

How do you and your staff make decisions in the daily work of the student union? Are you deliberative or indeterminate?

Timothy Reed

Timothy Reed is the Associate Executive Director for Business and Membership Services at Omicron Delta Kappa.

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