Proposed Muhlenberg Board of Observers Questions & Answers
Q: Will Observers and Visiting Committees be empowered to make decisions about policies, staffing, or programs?
A: Members of the Board of Observers function in an advisory capacity only and Visiting Committee recommendations, while they will be seriously considered, are not binding on the department visited, on the President, or on the Board of Trustees.
Q: What sort of planning and assessment will Visiting Committees provide?
A: Visiting Committees will be comprised of interested and accomplished laypeople combined with carefully selected Outside Experts; they are responsible for reading carefully the briefing materials provided by the subject department, for asking questions about departmental programs, staff, operations, and plans when on campus, and for summarizing their observations and advice in a brief written report. The Visiting Committee does not conduct planning for a department (though it should review and comment on existing departmental plans) nor does it function as a professional audit of the sort conducted by specialized consultants.
Q: Who are the "Outside Experts" and how will they be chosen?
A: Outside Experts will be professionals with full-time employment and distinguished reputations in the field being reviewed. For example, the Outside Experts for a review of the Chemistry Department might be the chairs of Chemistry Departments at two colleges similar to Muhlenberg. The Outside Expert for a review of Development and Alumni Relations might be the Vice President for Development from a comparable institution. Outside Experts will be nominated by the Department Head in consultation with the appropriate Dean, Provost, or Vice President, will be approved by the President, and will be invited to serve by the Dean, Provost, or Vice President.
Q: What sort of briefing materials are departments expected to provide in advance of an Observers' Visit?
A: A typical briefing book would contain: a departmental mission statement, organizational chart or list of personnel, job descriptions and curriculum vitae of faculty or staff, quantifiable information on recent trends (e.g. enrollments and number of majors for academic departments, other quantifiable trend data as appropriate for administrative departments), copies of any recent departmental plans and self-assessments, and an overview of recent developments and future challenges prepared by the department head in consultation with colleagues in the department.
A: Typically, a visit will begin with a working dinner with the President, Department Head, and appropriate Dean, Provost, or Vice President. The dinner will provide Visiting Committee members with an opportunity to ask general questions about the briefing book, and for the President, Department Head, and Dean/Provost/Vice President to raise particular issues that they would like the Visiting Committee to explore during their visit.
The following day's schedule will include private meetings with department members (individually or in small groups), with students involved in the program, with other academic or administrative departments that depend upon or interact with the program, and with other individuals or offices that members of the Visiting Committee think would be helpful to their work. The day will conclude with a working dinner at which the Visiting Committee will agree on major themes and a draft outline of their report.
The final day of the visit will provide time for Visiting Committee members to meet with any offices or individuals who could not be seen the previous day, and to begin a first draft of their report. The visit will end with a working lunch at which the Visiting Committee will privately debrief the department head on major observations and recommendations that are likely to be included in their report. This will provide an opportunity for the department head to clear up any misunderstandings, and provide any last minute insights that might be helpful to the Committee's work.
Q: Will the Board of Observers dilute the authority of the Board of Trustees, or create a buffer between the Administration and the Board?
A: No. Because the Board of Observers has a purely advisory function it does not affect in any way the powers, prerogatives, and duties of the Board of Trustees to set policy for the College and to monitor the performance of the administration. Because Visiting Committee reports are presented to the appropriate Trustee Committees as well as to the President, the Visiting Committees do not function as an intermediary between administration and Board of Trustees. However, it is important to note that the recommendations of Visiting Committees may often involve matters that are appropriately the responsibility of the administration or faculty to determine. In such cases, it will be important for Trustees to consider such reports and recommendations as informational, rather than as invitations to intervene directly in the administration of the College.
Q: Why can't the Trustees themselves fill this function?
A. There are several reasons why it is not appropriate to ask Trustees to fill this function. First, the current responsibilities of Trustees are already considerable and represent a significant demand on their time. The addition of Visiting Committee responsibilities would be onerous. Second, the College is best served by Trustees who take a broad view of the institution and the complex relationships among its various components, rather than becoming specialists in or partisans for particular departments and programs. Finally, it would be difficult for Trustees, who represent the ultimate authority in the College's governance structure, to function simply as Observers and advisers. Inevitably, the programs and departments being visited would feel that a visiting Trustee's "advice" was more along the lines of a directive or management decision.