Rob Cohen’s friends, upon learning that he was assuming the chairmanship of Metro State’s Board of Trustees last month, asked what he could possibly have been thinking. Amid the state’s budget crisis, with more cuts looming, the student population growing at a time when there are already space challenges on campus, and the unpopular prospect of raising tuition, why would Cohen seek to lead Metro State’s governing board?
“When I start to tell people more about what we’re doing on this campus—our 24,000 students, the master’s programs, the quality of our faculty, the Hospitality Learning Center and Student Success Building –they start to understand,” he says.
Cohen believes, fervently, that “The opportunity that we have to make a difference—in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years—has never been better.” He hopes to start realizing that opportunity by facilitating critical leadership discussions at the board retreat, set for October 8 and 9.
Retreat to address key College issues
“Anyone coming in to lead a group has their own vision,” Cohen says. “My job as board chair is not to implement my vision, but to help the board to come up with its own agenda and vision.” To that end, Cohen says he’s tried to arrange the retreat to be structured and focused, and to allow ample time for discussion and debate. He worked with President Stephen Jordan to identify a number of primary topics:
- Board engagement
- Capital campaign
- Climate survey results
- Faculty evaluation
- Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center
- Name assessment
“And I’ve built in plenty of time for other items as well. If there’s something a board member wants to address that’s not on the agenda, we can discuss that and prioritize,” he says, adding that he left slots open for additional items.
Engaging the board in new ways
One of Cohen’s goals is to “use the board in a different way,” engaging members to take a more active role beyond attending board meetings and doing committee work.
“The management challenge is to allow the board members to play to their strengths… For example, Dawn Bookhardt has expertise in real estate law, and she’s done a lot of great work with our bond financing.” Cohen wants to “find things that people are really good at and want to engage in, and let them go do it.”
Being more involved, Cohen believes, will create a more active and thoughtful board.
“Even as board chair—and I’ve been there 10 years—there’s more I’m learning about Metro State every day. I had no idea (about some of the programs), and I am sometimes blown away by everything that Metro State is doing,” he says. “The more we can get all the board members engaged and active to understand all the programs and everything Metro State is doing, the better.”
Strength in diversity
Of the composition of the governor-appointed board, which by statute must adhere to certain rules as to the political affiliations of its members, Cohen believes there’s great strength in the board’s diversity.
“I think a mistake that a lot of boards make is having members who are too much alike. Then the board isn’t really having real debate,” he says. “This is a higher-ed board, and higher ed is about intellectual challenge, thinking, debating, reasoning, analytics. The more diverse and different the board is, the more that becomes a strength, if it’s managed in the right way.”
Increasing community awareness
Cohen says he hopes to work toward more public awareness of and appreciation for what Metro State does to educate the community. “The time is good to really get people to understand Metro State better, to believe in and invest in Metro State. The outreach campaign is part of this. It all fits together.”
[Read more about Cohen in this April 2008 @Metro profile.]
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