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College Quarterly
Summer 1995 - Volume 2 Number 4
A Governance Review Process: Alliances as an Outcome of Effective Governance
by Kaia Beaudry

Within the last number of years the issue of college effectiveness has generated a great deal of interest. Discussion of this topic has not been limited to the academic community, but has involved all major stakeholders from government agencies to the general public. Much of the discussion has focused on developing a working definition for effectiveness and identification of criteria or approaches that could be used for the measurement of effectiveness.

The literature suggests that there is no distinctive definition or set of measures that can be universally used, but that each institution must develop its own. Effectiveness is context specific.

This paper outlines the process which was undertaken by the Board of Governors of Confederation College, Thunder Bay, Ontario, to begin to review its own effectiveness as a board. Included in this discussion is a review of board mandate, of relevant literature, and of current contextual issues that affect boards today. Finally, it will focus on the process initiated by the board to review its philosophy of governance and develop a model of governance to foster alliances and increase board effectiveness.

Purpose of the Project

In Ontario, college boards are clearly accountable to the provincial government for their effectiveness but accountability criteria are somewhat vague. Effectiveness measures currently in place are quantitative in nature, ensuring that various components are in place, such as: the college's mission and purpose, by-laws for internal administration, the college's annual report to the Minister, a balanced budget, and so on. Qualitative criteria such as customer and community satisfaction, quality of education, and quality of alliances with employers are much less evident.

The project undertaken by the Board of Governors of Confederation College - from Spring 1993 to Spring 1995 - had two overall objectives. The first was to explore how board effectiveness is defined in the literature, at the government level, and at Confederation College. The second was to then use the outcomes of that developmental process to identify and develop a model of governance to ensure accountability for effectiveness.

The subsequent process focused on developing qualitative measures of board effectiveness, in particular, of those related to governance. The board believed that in reviewing its philosophy of governance, mission and guiding principles in relation to the college, it could then develop more complete accountability and improve alliances.

Defining Board Effectiveness

The salient literature related to how other institutions measure effectiveness conveyed the following information.

Most sources suggested a three point check system, implying a process or movement from one check point to the next. For example,


The second area that appeared in most articles had to do with statements related to the purpose, commitments, mission and goals of a given institution.

Emphasis was placed on the importance of effectiveness being measured in accordance with core beliefs.

In the area of board effectiveness specifically, authors also emphasize the role of core beliefs in relation to good governance. For example, Carver (1990, p.25, 27) states that “the essence of any organization lies in what it believes, what it stands for, and what and how it values… These values and perspectives form the bedrock on which the more mechanical and visible aspects of an organization are based… Excellence in governance begins by recognizing this central, determining feature”.

The review of salient literature might best be summed up by acknowledging that effectiveness requires an evaluation and assessment mechanism, a planning framework and process, a vision for the future, adequate resources, and ongoing attention toward college clientele.

Government Mandate/Ministry Measures

In the Ontario publication, Guidelines for Governors1 (1991), two broad areas of responsibility of board members are presented, namely, corporate responsibility and individual responsibility.

In a corporate capacity, board members are responsible for the following: ongoing evaluation of the college's direction and mission, description of the position of college president, selection and evaluation of the college president, establishment of the governing structure and college-wide policies, evaluation of college operations and effectiveness, maintenance of the financial integrity of the institution, establishment of mechanisms that review programs and services on an on-going basis, establishment of by-laws for internal board administration, assumption of “corporate status” powers, creation of a climate for innovation and progress within the college, and finally, regular assessment of the board's own performance and the performance of its standing committees.

In terms of individual responsibility, board members are required to discharge the corporate responsibilities named above, recognize and conduct themselves according to the distinction between corporate and individual authority, keep appropriately informed about major aspects of the college, take an informed position on all board matters, respect the internal administrative authority of employees, and evaluate annually their own effectiveness as a governors.

The authority of boards of governors comes from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities Act and accompanying regulations. The Ministry of Education and Training defines the scope and roles of boards of governors, and sets specific provisions regarding composition and appointment of boards, internal board administration, appointment of college presidents, and board responsibilities.

In regards to composition and appointment of board members, the aim is to have a broad and diverse representation of both community and college views. Ideally, members bring with them complementary talents, unique perspectives, a commitment to the college and a willingness to contribute with energy. Members are appointed by the Council of Regents, “external” members from nominations from the community and region, and “internal” members after elections within institutional constituent groups.

Current Context

A number of contextual issues and factors are shaping the role of governing boards, and have the potential to change old models of governance dramatically. Effective governance therefore needs to address the following issues.

The mission of colleges today is in flux. Various internal constituent groups seem to be at cross purposes. The external economic environment, needs and expectations are all changing rapidly.

The college campus is becoming more politicized as students and other groups lobby for their interests: “Faculty members and support staff...increasingly view their participation in college matters as an inalienable right to challenge the role of trustees”. (Konrad, 1993)

External authorities are exercising more and more authority over higher education so institutions have less independence.

Due to the increasing costs in all social services, the battered economy, and large cutbacks in public funding there is an increased demand for accountability.

Through the process of reviewing relevant literature, Ministry guidelines for governors, and current issues affecting college leadership, the board at Confederation College recognized that it needed to organize and conceptualize all that belongs to the board. The board came to realize that a model of governance was needed - as the vehicle for developing a values-based framework, and comprehensive criteria (both qualitative and quantitative) to evaluate effectiveness.

The Review Process: The Steps

Once the decision was made to focus on aspects of governance, the board identified three goals: to review its philosophy of governance, to clarify governor roles, and to develop a model of governance. The following outlines the steps undertaken by the board:

Spring 1993

  • reviewed and responded to Abe Konrad's Green Paper on Governance

1993/94 Academic Year

  • studied the Carver Model, by participating in governor training sessions, attending February '94 ACCATO Conference (theme - college governance), reviewing Carver videotape
  • established a sub-committee of the board, to identify priorities and define a critical path
  • participated in governance review workshops, and responded to Council of Regents' Governance Review Recommendations
  • drafted a Board Mission Statement
  • reviewed new governor orientation needs and issues
  • identified values and principles underlying our philosophy of governance

Spring/Summer 1994

  • reviewed our progress to date
  • set goal of finalizing and adapting board mission statement, values and guiding principles, and governor job description

1994/95 Academic Year

  • planned and participated in a board retreat focusing on issues of governance, by participating in:
  • training session with Abe Konrad
  • Myer's Briggs Personality Type assessment
  • strategic planning
  • focused on recommitment, dedicated part of each regular board meeting for developmental session
  • attended a training session with Richard Alfred on Transforming Community Colleges at ACAATO Conference (Feb/95)
  • developed a first draft of our Governance Model by:
  • drawing from the Carver Model, integrating issues from Konrad's Green Paper and Alfred's framework for institutional effectiveness
  • categorizing areas of policy
The Model

The first step in framing the model of governance was to establish the board's mission, goals and values. Values and perspectives underscore all board and staff activity, and when recognized and appropriately used, offer the key to effectiveness. Thus the “Board of Governors Mission Statement” and “Values and Guiding Principles” were developed. See Figure 1.

Figure l

Board Mission Statement Goals

Given the challenges posed by our unique Northwestern Ontario environment and the diverse communities we serve, the Board of Confederation College shall:

  • provide leadership in creating a direction and mission for the college which promotes a learner-focused environment and excellence in education and training
  • establish college-wide policies to guide the administration and employees of the college in delivering quality education that is responsive to internal and external environments
  • allocate resources in a fiscally responsible manner and in keeping with government guidelines
  • adopt a proactive governing style which emphasizes collaboration, diversity, visionary leadership, and clear distinction between policy and operation
  • promote the college within Northwestern Ontario, with all levels of government, and within the municipal, provincial, national and international communities

Values and Guiding Principles

The Board shall strive to anticipate and address the changing needs in a changing world through the fostering of:

  • vision
  • risk-taking
  • open communication
  • accountability
  • integrity
  • flexibility
  • responsiveness
  • dignity and respect
  • excellence
  • creativity
  • continuous quality improvement

The second step was to develop a “Governor Job Description” for governors at Confederation College, one that included both provincial accountabilities and institutional context.

The next step - the final one in the two-year review process - focused on developing categories of board policies. The board created three categories, as follows: Strategic Visioning, Outcomes, and Governance Process. The first includes such aspects as mission of the college, changing college direction, and priorities. “Outcomes” policies address quality of graduates and education/training, and process (benchmarks) to evaluate these. Finally, “Governance Process” as a category includes policies regarding board/staff relations, and executive limitations.

Tricks and Traps

No developmental process occurs without challenges. This two-year review became bogged down more than once; the subcommittee members steering this effort felt overwhelmed at times; external events and processes resulted in some digression at times; confusion between governance and orientation issues surfaced periodically, and motivation was challenged by the pressures of regular board business in a time of rapid change. However, the board was able to maintain its commitment by focusing on the goals of the project.

It became clear that certain variables are very important to the successful completion of such a review process. First, the process needs to be formalized and given priority. Second, it is possible, even desirable, to accomplish goals step by step, in modules or “chunks”; the process does not have to drag on and on. Third, the process has to have a champion, or as one member of the board often said, “a monomaniac on a mission”. Last, the process requires administrative support.


One of the primary goals of this project was to improve alliances. Although formal evaluation has not yet occurred, there are numerous indicators that this improvement is occurring. There is no doubt that internal alliances such as governor to governor, board to president, and board to senior management team have improved. External alliances such as those with other colleges and umbrella organizations have also improved. For example, a few colleges have provided input into this process; others have expressed interest in the outcomes, and a presentation at the ACCC Conference in June 1995 was very well received. There is a subjective sense that other alliances are strengthening, however, as noted above, this needs to be evaluated systematically.

Other positive outcomes of this developmental process include: a clear definition of the board's role, greater understanding and acceptance of the board's role by governors, management team and internal constitutentices, and improvement in board effectiveness (in strategic visioning, and decision-making).

In Summary

This two-year exercise enabled the board of Confederation College to explore board effectiveness and identify a model of governance, to begin reviewing (and evaluating) its own effectiveness. Much was accomplished. The mission, goals, values and guiding principles of the board now serve as the foundation for further development of the model.

It is important that the board now use the outcomes of this project to organize specific board policies under the three categories, to establish criteria and methods for evaluation of effectiveness, and finally to engage in a formal process of evaluation. A new process is about to begin.

  1. The 1991 Guidelines for Governors has recently been replaced by a 1995 publication, a collaborative effort among the Ministry of Education and Training, the Council of Regents, and the Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario (ACAATO).

Carver, J. (1990). Boards That Make a Difference: A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit and Public Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Konrad, A. (1993, April). A Green Paper on Board Governance of the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology in Ontario. University of Alberta, Edmonton.

Ministry of Colleges and Universities and Ontario Council of Regents. (1991, January). Guidelines for Governors. Ontario.

Kaia Beaudry has taught at Confederation College in Thunder Bay since 1981 and has been a member of its Board of Governors since September, 1993.