The Nature of Trusteeship

The Board of Trustees is Indiana University's governing board, its legal owner and final authority. The board holds the university's financial, physical, and human assets and operations in trust for future generations.

Individual trustees have no legal authority, nor are they entitled to special privileges. Rather, their authority and fiduciary responsibilities arise exclusively from their participation with other members of the governing board when it is officially convened.

The Board of Trustees was created in 1820 by the General Assembly at the same time as the Indiana Seminary, predecessor to Indiana University. Its membership, terms of office, responsibilities, powers and electoral procedures are governed by the Indiana Code.

The Code has been amended, changed and recodified over time. Today, most of the provisions that apply to Indiana University are in Title 21, "Higher Education."

The range of responsibilities assigned to trustees by state law covers all aspects of the university. Various chapters address the following:

  • The power to set tuition and fees and requirements to hold public hearings on same
  • The power to prescribe curricula
  • The power to enter into agreements with governmental units and other educational units
  • The power to determine admission standards for all students
  • The power to buy, sell, lease and determine the use of property
  • The power to invest funds
  • The power to award financial aid
  • The power to appoint a president and other executives
  • The power to  hire faculty and to approve its promotion and tenure
  • The power to determine codes of conduct for students, faculty and staff, and to prescribe disciplinary measures when codes of conduct are violated.

Occasionally, new responsibilities are added. A new section of the State Code, added in 2007, pertains to the establishment of diversity committees on each campus to make recommendations to promote recruitment and retention of minority students.

The State Code also determines how trustees are elected and/or appointed, how they are reimbursed for expenses incurred when they are acting in their roles as trustees, and whether they may participate in meetings via electronic means (e.g., teleconferencing). The code establishes quorums, provides for bylaws, and sets residency requirements.

Finally, as the board of trustees of a public institution, the Trustees of Indiana University are governed by state law on public meetings, public records, and conflict of interest, among others.

As Indiana University grew in size and scope, so did the responsibilities assigned to the Board of Trustees by the State Code. By the mid-1980s, trustees were spending inordinate amounts of time reviewing and acting upon managerial and administrative actions. In September, 1987, the board approved a resolution delegating authority to the president of the university, and his or her staff, to manage and administer the university.

Trustees said the delegation would permit them to become more actively and deeply involved in substantial policy issues affecting the University's educational and academic planning and programs.

In delegating to the president "explicit authority by the board to manage, and administer the university and establish routine administrative procedures of the University," trustees retained a number of responsibilities for themselves, including:

  • The organization of the board and selection of its officers and committees;
  • Appointment to membership upon corporate boards specifically providing for Indiana University representation, or to boards of advisors or visitors;
  • Adoption of any resolution of the board specifically required by statute (such as upon the sale of surplus real property), and of bond resolutions;
  • Appointment to positions as university officers, deans of schools, and titled professors; appointment and promotion to tenured faculty positions;
  • Approval of programs and other transactions of the university that require approval of the Higher Education Commission, governor, or State Budget Agency;
  • Adoption of a budget for the university, or of an appropriation request;
  • Statutory processing of conflict of interest disclosure statements; and
  • Such other matters as the board may from time to time adopt.

Trusteeship can impose significant demands on an individual's time. The board meets six times a year, usually on Thursdays and Fridays, on various IU campuses around the state, and attendance is mandatory. State law states: "The board of trustees shall declare vacant the seat of any trustee who is absent from two successive meetings of the board of trustees; or guilty of any gross immorality or breach of the bylaws of Indiana University."

In addition, trustees are expected to participate in special board meetings and committee sessions, and attend major university ceremonies (Commencement, honorary degree conferrals and dedications and groundbreakings. Many take a lively interest in the life of the university and choose to attend colloquia, celebratory events, athletic competitions and alumni activities.

The Indiana University board is small, which means that all nine members must become fluent in the vast array of issues pertaining to the institution. Many trustees have said that they devote several hours a week to preparing for meetings and mastering the details of governing Indiana University. The first year of a trustee's term can present a particularly challenging learning curve.

Most trustees say, however, that the rewards outweigh the challenges because the position provides an opportunity to give back to the institution that gave each of them so much.