University trustees watch over billions in taxpayer dollars throughout Ohio and the governor’s office is struggling to find people to take up that responsibility.
In Southwestern Ohio alone, trustees at public universities oversaw nearly $2.2 billion in spending last year. While that may seem like a daunting duty, the state is actually looking to shorten term lengths which have been a hurdle for recruiting trustees.
A trustee currently serves a nine-year term on a college board but a proposal from Gov. John Kasich would shorten terms to six years.The idea to shorten terms has been discussed for years, Kasich spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach said in an email.
“It has become increasingly challenging to recruit senior executives to terms that are nearly a decade long,” Kalmbach said. “Slightly shorter terms allows us to recruit the high-performing leaders that Ohio’s universities need to succeed.”
The proposal was part of the governor’s budget proposal and has been approved by the Ohio House but still needs approval from the state senate. If it’s signed into law, the proposal would not impact trustees who are already on a college board.
The governor appoints around 132 trustees to boards at Ohio’s 14 public universities. All state universities have nine voting trustees, with the exception of Ohio State University, which has 15 members and two voting student trustees.
Private colleges are allowed to select trustees themselves. At Wittenberg University in Springfield, trustees are selected by current board members, a spokeswoman said.
While the governor and local officials appoint trustees at community colleges, they would not be subject to the change in term length. A spokesman for Sinclair Community College said the school has had one Warren County trustee position open for around a year while a spokeswoman from Clark State Community College in Springfield said the board has no vacancies.
Just one university in the Dayton region has recently been impacted by a long-term board vacancy.
Wright State University has had a trustee spot open for around two years, said chairman Michael Bridges. If shortening terms means positions will be filled “in a more robust way,” then Bridges said he’d support the governor’s proposal.
“There is really nothing like that anywhere else,” Bridges said of the nine-year term. “That is, unless you consider the lifetime appointments to the supreme court.”
Bridges wouldn’t say whether he thought WSU’s board seat would have been filled by now if terms were shorter. Decreasing the number of years per appointment may prevent people from leaving their posts early though, Bridges said.
Bridges and vice chairman Doug Fecher both said they understand why being a trustee is considered a big commitment and a challenge. Keeping that commitment for almost a decade may be what’s kept Wright State’s seat open, Fecher said.
“I think they’re having trouble filling it,” Fecher said. “I think closer to four or five years would be good.”
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