PROVIDENCE – University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley told lawmakers Monday that URI urgently needs its own board of trustees, arguing that the state’s governing structure for higher education will soon be “holding the university back.”
Dooley appeared before the House Finance Committee to testify in support of legislation that would create a 17-member board of trustees for URI, allowing the state’s flagship school to be governed independently from the R.I. Council on Postsecondary Education.
The council now oversees URI, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island, but Dooley said URI is a “very, very different higher education institution” from the other two state schools and it needs a dedicated slate of trustees for effective strategic planning and nimble management.
Dooley called it the “most transformative proposal for URI in decades.”
Such a move has been discussed for about 10 years as URI has grown in enrollment, research capacity and global reach, but Dooley insisted the legislation in the House and Senate (H-6180 and S-0942) needs to be passed now “at a time when national competition and international competition has never been greater.”
The creation of a trustees board, a system used by other state flagship schools in the region, would allow URI to make governing decisions “much more effectively and efficiently” than it does now, Dooley said. In addition, he said, trustees focused solely on URI would allow the university “to remain affordable and maintain its quality.”
Dooley said the dedicated board could help raise the national and international profile of the university and could boost fundraising efforts for scholarships, endowments, research and capital investment. At the same time, the General Assembly and the governor would maintain their existing authority over URI, Dooley noted.
While affirming URI’s accreditation in 2018, the accrediting group New England Commission of Higher Education cited the lack of a dedicated board of trustees as a concern, Dooley said.
According to the legislation, 17 trustees would be appointed – with Senate approval – to staggered one-, two- or three-year terms by the governor. After the initial terms, the governor would then appoint six members to staggered terms, with the remaining 11 trustees being “self-perpetuating” and appointed by the board members. The trustees would be unpaid volunteers, according to Dooley.
The URI president would also appoint a faculty member and a full-time student as nonvoting members.
In response to questioning by the Finance Committee, Dooley said a new board of trustees would require the creation of two paid positions: a staff member who would be a liaison between the trustees and the university, and an attorney who would serve as legal counsel for the board. Dooley said the costs could be covered without additional money.
Several committee members sought assurance that the board would include people of diverse backgrounds and include people of color. Dooley said that’s the plan, if the legislation is approved. “The goal is to get a diverse, informed group of individuals who are willing to commit the time,” he said.
Dooley said he’s interested in having a board made up of people with experience in higher education management and governance, as well as people experienced in the private and nonprofit sectors. He said he’s already had some strong candidates contact him about serving on the board.
William Hamilton is PBN staff writer and special projects editor. You can follow him on Twitter @waham or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.