The ongoing process to restructure College Board could potentially see just one student representative appointed to Board rather than four, according to a document published by College today.
College has opened submissions on proposals to reshape Trinity’s Board following the publication of a consultation document that outlines significant potential changes to Board’s structure, which could include the reduction of Board members by almost half, the introduction of an external chair, and a decrease in student representatives from four to two, or one.
Under the working group’s proposals, Board would consist of between 11 and 15 members instead of its current 27.
If a 15 or 13 member model is implemented, only two student representatives – Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President and the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) President – would sit on Board under the group’s recommendations.
Currently, four student representatives are members of Board, including the TCDSU President, Education Officer, and Welfare Officer, and the GSU President.
An 11 member model would see just one student representative elected to College Board.
Speaking to Trinity News, GSU President-elect Gisèle Scanlon said that she doesn’t “believe that the actual structure of the Board should change”.
“Not only the four student voices which currently sit on Board but all of the members have a mandate that comes from within the College and their primary accountability is to the College, that may not be the case for somebody external who’s put on Board from industry for example,” Scanlon outlined.
She suggested that instead of introducing external members, Board could consider holding more sessions in which it invited external experts to offer input, but that “fundamentally those making decisions on the governance Board must come from the College”.
“This is by no means a definitive plan, it’s a submission process where feedback is sought from many stakeholders including students for the restructuring of the Board. It’s an opportunity for the postgraduate community to contribute valuable feedback,” Scanlon said.
“It’s also very important for the postgraduate community that we have an elected postgraduate Sabbatical Officer representing the postgraduate taught and research community,” she added. “A student representative who can add value to the Board by bringing that unique postgraduate global perspective,” she said, emphasising that she is committed to “having the postgraduate voice represented and that it’s very important that we continue to be represented at the Board”.
The changes have been proposed by a Board Review Working Group established in late 2019 to review the Board’s operation and effectiveness and made available to staff and students through a consultation document published today.
Submissions on the proposals are now being accepted by College until September 16. College has outlined that submissions must be signed by an individual or a group of individuals, and should be “no longer than 3,000 words (but ideally much shorter)”.
Speaking to Trinity News, TCDSU President Laura Beston said that the submissions stage is “an opportunity for students to engage with the process” and that students who felt strongly about the process could contact incoming TCDSU President Eoin Hand, who is due to take up the office next week.
“I have sat on the Board Review Working Group as a member since it started in October. As a result we have continued to engage in the process, voicing the student concerns,” Beston said.
The Board Review Working Group was established late last year following both a self-evaluation by the Board in 2018 and a government proposal to significantly change the governance of College within two years.
Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor originally proposed a change to Trinity governance in September 2019 that would reduce the membership of Board from 27 to 15, which was opposed by academics who felt that College would lose its autonomy under the proposed measures. Fellows warned that the changes could have “grave consequences for the College’s autonomy and identity if the Government’s proposals were to be implemented”, according to the Irish Examiner.
A self-evaluation process by the Board in 2018 identified areas in which members felt Board could operate more effectively. These included a shift in focus from operational tasks to “strategically significant issues” for College, as well as considering whether the Board should appoint an external Chair.
The self-evaluation process also identified that fewer members could “allow for a more dynamic exchange of ideas and a more thorough discussion of issues”, and that the Board may “benefit from a greater number of appropriate external members” with relevant financial and organisational experience.
In addition to reducing the size of Board’s membership, the working group has suggested the introduction of three to four external members to Board, who would be nominated through a new Nominations Committee.
The Nominations Committee would have “a mandate to search for and nominate new external members based “on the competency framework setting out the specific experience and expertise required by the Board at that point in time”.
“It is the Working Group’s view that such an approach would have value in allowing Trinity to identify and ‘headhunt’ specific individuals bringing necessary and distinctive expertise to the work of the Board.”
The working group has advised that it may be advantageous to Board to separate the role of Provost and Chair of the Board, a recommendation which was also made Board’s 2018 self-evaluation process.
“In those circumstances, the responsibility of the Chair would be to conduct the business of Board, so that an atmosphere of frank engagement enables each member of the Board to contribute to well considered policy decisions and effective oversight,” the working group has outlined.
“In doing so, the Chair would respect and support the Provost’s leadership and representative role within and outside the College community, while upholding Board’s collective responsibility for the discharge of its responsibilities to the College community and to external stakeholders.”
The Board’s responsibilities include College’s affairs including “education, scholarship, ethics, discipline, finance, and external relations”.
The Board is currently made up of the Provost, Vice-Provost, Senior Lecturer, Registrar, Bursar, six fellows, five non-fellow members of the academic staff, two professors, three non-academic staff, four students (one of which must be a postgraduate), one non-employee and non-student, and one representative from the Minister of Education.
Additional reporting by Shannon Connolly.