Think about it. It is the primary duty of each Board member to be familiar with all aspects of the Board's mandate. Board members are expected to be informed on all issues and to take part in meaningful discussions and debates on the key areas of their responsibility. Committees, for their part, often undercut this process. Typically, committee members discuss issues in detail and then present their findings and recommendations to the full Board. Other Board members are immediately at a disadvantage with regard to the depth of their understanding of the issues involved. As a result, they will often simply "rubber stamp" the views of the committee. In effect, decisions that should reflect the views of the entire Board are often effectively made by a group of two or three members.
At another school, the Finance Committee reported glowing numbers to the Board at each meeting in spite of the fact that two audit reports raised red flags about the fact that the school was failing to pay its deductions at source to Revenue Canada. When things finally hit the fan, the Finance Chair admitted that he had not really been paying much attention and resigned. The school closed for good a year later.
Aside from these apocryphal stories there are also the day to day concerns like: the Development Committee that fails to engage the whole Board in fundraising efforts; the marketing committee that launches expensive and ill-conceived advertisings campaigns; or the Executive Committee that acts like a de facto Board and merely reports its actions back to the larger group. In all of these cases, it is critical to remember that as a director, you are liable for the actions of the Board and its committees whether you understood what was happening or not.
Finally, probably the greatest minefield that committees often run into is the temptation to drift into assessing the effectiveness of operational areas such as programme, personnel, and student conduct. The principle of non-interference will be the topic of tomorrow's entry.