Comprehensive Standard 3.2.4: External Influence
The governing board is free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies and protects the institution from such influence.
The University of South Florida (USF) Board of Trustees (BOT) and the USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Board are protected from issues arising from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies by Florida statute and institutional policy. Since 2011 when USF Sarasota-Manatee became SACSCOC-accredited, neither the BOT nor the USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Board have been unduly influenced by political, religious, or other external bodies.
USF Board of Trustees
The USF governing board is the Board of Trustees (BOT), a public body corporate of the State of Florida (FS 1001.72(1)). The BOT is vested with ample authority necessary to provide proper governance and the appropriate direction, operation, management, and accountability in accordance with state law and with Florida Board of Governors Regulation 1.001. The powers and duties of the BOT do not include any obligation to consult with any political, religious, or other external body and no such issues have been brought before the board of trustees for resolution. The Constitution of the State of Florida contains provisions protecting the University, as a public entity of the State of Florida, from religious influence: “There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing free exercise thereof. . .. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution” (Florida Constitution Article I, Section 3 – Religious Freedom).
The Legislature established University Boards of Trustees in 2001. To help ensure the independence of the boards of trustees, the thirteen (13) trustees include six (6) trustees appointed by the Governor and five (5) trustees appointed by the BOG. The Florida Senate must confirm each appointment. These eleven (11) members serve staggered five-year terms of office (Florida Constitution, Article IX, Section 7c) without compensation (BOG Reg 1.001(2d). The USF System Faculty Council President and the Student Advisory Council President also serve as ex-officio voting members of the Board. The members of USF’s Board of Trustees (BOT Members) and their professional and community service affiliations are published on the university’s public website. The General Counsel provides the Operating Procedures of the Board of Trustees to each Board member.
The Florida Statutes and the BOT Policies and Procedures contain provisions ensuring that the board is free from undue influence. As “public officers,” the members of the BOT are subject to the standards of conduct for public officers (FS 112.313 – Standards of Conduct). The code prohibits public officers, which includes members of state university boards of trustees, from soliciting or accepting gifts or anything of value that might influence them (Section 2). It also prohibits trustees from misusing their official position and prohibits them from having or holding any employment or contractual relationship with any entity that is doing business with the university, or from having any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between their private interests and the performance of their public duties, or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of their public duties (Section 6, Section 7). The law prohibits trustees from disclosing or using information not available to members of the general public for personal gain or benefit (Section 8).
As part of its obligation to protect the University from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies, the USF Board of Trustees’ Operating Procedures, Article VII, Code of Ethics, requires members to disclose conflicts of interest to the full Board “at the earliest practical time” and to “absent him or herself from discussions of, and abstain from voting on, such matters under consideration by the Board of Trustees or its committees.” In addition, the Code of Ethics defines “conflict of interest” broadly to include undue influences, regardless of their origin, as “existing or potential financial or other interests that impair or might reasonably appear to impair such member’s independent, unbiased judgment in the discharge of his or her responsibilities to the university.”
A review of the meeting agenda and minutes from a recent BOT meeting demonstrates that decision making is a function of the full Board (BOT Agenda March 5, 2015 and BOT Minute March 5, 2015). Article III of the BOT Operating Procedures describes how the work of the Board is accomplished by a series of committees: the Executive Committee, the University Strategic Priority Workgroups, the Standing Committees, and Ad Hoc Committees. The Executive Committee may act for the Board except in matters specified in the Operating Procedures. Occasionally, the Board may authorize a Strategic Priority Workgroup to take final action on a given matter. In such cases, the delegation of authority is recorded in the Workgroup minutes. All meetings at which Board action is taken are publicly noted and open to the public to observe (Operating Procedures, USF BOT, Article II).
USF Policy 10-050, Academic Freedom and Responsibility, contains a statement that further demonstrates how the BOT historically protects the institution from undue influence: “The University of South Florida (“University”) affirms the Principles of Academic Freedom and Responsibility. These principles are rooted in a conception of the University as a community of scholars united in the pursuit of truth and wisdom in an atmosphere of tolerance and freedom.”
USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Board
The above-mentioned Florida Statutes also pertain to members of the USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Board members. Article VII, Code of Ethics, of the Operating Procedures of the USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus Board further details the obligations of Campus Board members. The Campus Board members are not employees of the University; are not compensated for their service to the Board; and have no personal, familial, or financial interest in USF Sarasota-Manatee or the USF System.
To ensure awareness of legislation and policies that relate to undue influence issues, new Campus Board members attend a comprehensive Orientation (Campus Board Mintues September 19, 2013). During the Orientation, the General Counsel provides a presentation about the USF System and goes over the materials in the New Trustee Orientation Handbook and other legal requirements, including undue influence.
Additional information on the BOT and the USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Campus Board is provided in Core Requirement 2.2 (Governing Board).
SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION AND EVIDENCE