Role of Subcommittees

September
2005
Wheeler North, Area D Representative

A colleague recently asked whether or not a standing shared governance committee could make, rule, and un-make its own sub-committees autonomously of the reigning shared governance body. Certainly this is going to depend on the existing policies and bylaws of the board and shared governance body(ies).

In most cases to change the shared governance structure of a college requires some due process that is outside the scope of any single committee. But the question in this case is when is it appropriate for a committee to autonomously form a smaller internal group for the purpose of accomplishing a lesser task assigned to the committee?

There seems to be several issues relating to this.

One is the obligation for any committee to meet its charter, and to remain compliant with all laws, codes and policies governing it-for example the Brown Act, as it applies to standing committees. The other obligation is for the committee to function as intended by the creators of the original committee.

In the first obligation there are a number of legal reasons why a committee must actively seek open public access to all its affairs except those where private confidentiality is required. in this case to autonomously create a lesser, "sub" committee that conducts business without officially changing the published model or governance process can severely challenge the public's ability to access that process or even know that it exists.

But is it viable for a committee to assign one or more of their tasks to a few of the members for the purpose of efficiency in a divide and conquer plan of action?

It should be viable and probably legal if several conditions exist. The first would be if, for the most part, the performance rules that apply to the larger committee are applied to the smaller group. The second is the role of the smaller group must be to accomplish a specific non-continuing, non-chartered task. So an appropriate example would be a curriculum committee assigns the task of producing a one time list of courses that are currently due for review to three of its members.

In the second obligation if a shared governance body forms a standing committee to accomplish certain on-going tasks, and that committee then forms an on-going smaller internal "group" to do some of those tasks, then they may have circumvented the intent of the original body.

Example: the Academic Senate feels the academic affairs Committee should have twice as many faculty as administrators for specific reasons and so this is negotiated and agreed to as the formal structure for this committee. But after some turnover and time several members of this committee convince the other members that a continuous series of student reviews should be done with a smaller group that is now a 50/50 ratio. They will then do the work and make a recommendation to the whole committee who will then bless the work. Well, this really changes the originally intended composition such that to do so without the college and senate's consent is problematic.

So the test of this is partially about the permanence of the formed sub-group, the continuous nature of its subrole, and partially about ensuring process happens as intended by the whole body.

when at all possible it is wise for any formally established committee to have these rules and limitations documented in their scope and procedures definition, or bylaws. in most cases it is appropriate to divide some duties and tasks within a committee, but it is our constant obligation to ensure that such delegation doesn't fail our legal and ethical standards.

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