By Jared Fields, Editor in Chief
C.E. “Doc” Cornutt, like many Americans, receives numerous credit card mailings. And like the majority, he throws them straight away.
The second-year chair of the Abilene Christian Board of Trustees knows mass marketing tells a story. A member of the board since 1989, he co-chaired a fundraising campaign that raised $114 million for ACU at the turn of the century.
But the story Cornutt wants to tell is more personal.
“The real story is one-on-one relationships with people,” Cornutt said.
An unprecedented restructuring of the board, which began last year, focuses on just that idea.
-Board to change-
The board’s role is to set policy for the university – policy that is carried out by administrators. The board’s lone employee is the president of the university.
Trustee members contribute their time, money and energy to the university and usually are unknowingly nominated and selected to be on the board.
Dr. Royce Money, president of the university, describes his motto for a good trustee that sounds more like a description of the hokie-pokie, “Nose in, fingers out.”
After extensive research and examination, the board then decided to reduce the number of members over a five-year period to about 30 from the current 54.
“Fifty to 55 members is an unwieldy number to govern properly,” Money said. “It’s too many to have any efficiency.”
The reduction will take place by cycling current members in and out of the board based on a seniority process.
“Those who elected to come back could come back for one, two or three year terms, depending on years of service,” Money said. “If they’ve served a lot, they come back for one year. If they’ve served a little, then three years.”
The move coincides with the board’s direction of making it function more effectively and efficiently, Cornutt said.
“We need to downsize our board somewhat so we can get more people involved instead of too many people involved,” Cornutt said.
Getting more people involved means increasing the accountability each member must maintain. The purpose committee, which is in charge of new member selection, monitors accountability.
The committee measures accountability, which the board voted for, in three parts. First, a member must attend three of the four yearly meetings. Second, a member must read literature dealing with board governance and higher education. And last, he or she must uphold recruiting obligations and make campus visits. And as always, a board member is expected to be a regular donor to the university.
“It’s a good move to help the board stay more relevant,” Money said. “We’re moving too fast to not keep the board more involved.”
Cornutt said he wants to ensure the board members contribute with their individual gifts.
“Everyone on the board has their own talent or gift,” Cornutt said. “What we’re really trying to do, from the board’s
standpoint, is to be efficient.”
-Not the only way-
A 30-member board doesn’t necessarily mean a small board. And ACU’s board functions much differently from others around the nation.
F. Scott Dueser, chairman, president and CEO of First Financial Bankshares, has served as Texas Tech University’s chairman of the Board of Regents since July and was on the board for five years previously.
A large, state-operated university, the Texas Tech system functions opposite ACU’s board in almost every way. Instead of 54 board members, Texas Tech has nine, and one is a student.
“The difference between us and ACU’s board, because we are a state school, is we go under the Open Meetings Act,” Dueser said.
The Tech board meets five times a year and cannot conduct a meeting without posting it to the public.
“I’m probably up in Lubbock at least once a month, and I’m on the phone two to three times a day,” Dueser said. “We really don’t e-mail each other, especially if it’s a sensitive issue. The media can come in and get anything we correspond with.”
A far cry from Tech’s board, members here spent many hours researching the organizational formats of other university boards before committing to a change.
“It was great to see how we compare against other universities,” Cornutt said.
Part of the ACU board’s restructuring involves creating a separate, non-governing board, called the national board, to replace the senior board.
Don Crisp, former chair of the board and current board member, said the national board’s meetings this weekend began establishing its part in the ACU body.
“We’re really more of an advisory, volunteer organization,” Crisp said.
Crisp said he hopes to have one more meeting in May when the governing board meets and to be operational by the end of the year.
“Today we had 10 national board members,” Crisp said. “We currently have 13 members, but over the next three to four years we anticipate the group will have probably 50 to 60 people.”
-A balancing act-
All the energy and time put into the board takes great commitment to the university. But the extra work put into the reorganization of the board to see its progression match that of the world around it takes balance.
“What we’re really trying to do is to make sure that we keep the balance,” Cornutt said after Saturday’s morning meeting marked the end of this weekend’s gathering. “That continues to have us carry momentum on everything we continue to do.”
The board resizing isn’t about numbers, Cornutt said, but about having broad collaboration with committee members, administrators and staff.
Cornutt said that collaboration and the skills of the board members allow the board to accomplish its goals.
“That’s why we met our campaign goals; that’s why we met our endowment goals,” Cornutt said. “We have people like that who came together with staff, who came together with the administration and made it happen.”
With the heightened accountability, Cornutt said the weekend’s meetings had a good turnout.
“I can safely say that this board is committed for the next 100 years and is certainly excited about it,” Cornutt said.