How to serve on or chair a committee

Committee work is an essential part of your service to the Centenary community and is a cornerstone of shared governance. Shared governance means shared responsibility—between faculty, administrative staff, and the board of trustees—for the smooth and successful management of the college’s curriculum, policies, processes, and resources. After your first year as a faculty member, you may be elected or appointed to a committee. You may even be elected to serve as chair or secretary, both of which are important responsibilities. For appointed positions, the Faculty Coordinating Committee (FCC) works with the provost to assign faculty. If you have a particular interest in a committee, mention your interest to the chair or other member of FCC.

As intimidating (or boring) as it may sound, committee work at Centenary can be hugely enjoyable and rewarding. The benefits include:

  • Getting to know your colleagues from other areas of campus
  • Gaining new knowledge and skills
  • Opportunities to share your knowledge and experiences to help shape policy
  • Opportunities to develop and demonstrate your leadership skills
  • Deepening your understanding of institutional values and practice
  • Broadening your understanding of issues impacting higher education
  • Making positive change for the benefit of the entire community

One important final point: please remember that you serve as a representative of the faculty and often of your divisional colleagues when you sit on a committee. While you are always thinking and deciding as an individual, reminding yourself that you have an obligation to represent the views of a larger constituency can guide your decision-making in valuable ways.


5 tips for serving on a committee

1. Know your charge.

It’s your responsibility to know the charge of the committee on which you serve, and you should be fully up to speed before the committee’s first meeting. Faculty meeting time is precious so the more informed you are of your committee’s duties, the more efficient and productive you will be. Information about Faculty and Institutional Committees can be found in the Faculty Handbook. It’s also helpful to review meeting minutes from previous academic years and maybe even ask advice from a colleague who has previously served. Committee meeting minutes are posted on the Centenary webpage here and requires your username and password.


2. Do your homework.

Prior to each meeting, your committee chair should send out an agenda, relevant documents, and any directives for committee members. It is very important that you review the agenda, review last meeting’s minutes, read any shared documents, and complete in good faith any assigned tasks prior to the meeting. During the meeting is a terrible time to try to get up to speed on an important policy discussion, a time-sensitive proposal, or complex personnel matter! Even worse: you come to the meeting without the relevant materials to look at and you delay discussion to track them down. Avoid using your phone to review documents. It appears unprofessional.

3. Be fully present.

Committee work isn’t always the foremost obligation on our minds, and the siren song of ungraded exams can be powerful. Still, it’s important to be fully present during committee meetings. This means showing up on time and prepared with a laptop or notepad to take notes and record any tasks you may be assigned. If you bring a laptop or tablet, leave it closed/off unless needed for the meeting. Avoid grading, checking email, posting to social media, or texting during the meeting.

5. Speak up but don’t dominate.

We’ve all been in the room with a dominant talker—a colleague who is well-informed, passionate, and has A LOT to say. Or someone who just likes to talk and ask questions without clear intention. Unfortunately, someone consistently dominating discussion can have an overall negative effect on a committee’s productivity and culture. Others may feel less empowered to speak, especially if they are new to the committee or tend to be on the quieter side. When opportunity isn’t given for all to speak, valuable insights and perspectives are lost. It is also draining to endure a committee meeting that only has one voice, especially a contentious or meandering one. It’s really important for you to speak up in committee. You’ve been given this responsibility because your insight and opinion are highly valued. But don’t answer for others, interrupt, talk over people, shout, grind an axe, ask questions just to show how smart you are, lecture, tell long stories, or pontificate endlessly.

5 tips for chairing a committee

1. Send information in advance.

Productive committee meetings require that all members are provided with a clear and manageable agenda and all relevant documents to support effective decision making. Be sure to provide an agenda and materials at least 3 days prior to the meeting (preferably a week in advance), either in the form of a shared OneDrive file/folder or as email attachments. Google Drive might be easier but it’s outside our single-sign-on and so is not secure. A committee handling sensitive or confidential information should only use campus email or OneDrive. Be sure to use searchable file names and email subject headings so that committee members can quickly locate necessary materials. If you are using OneDrive, be sure to update who the documents are shared with (remove old members and add new members), and make sure all members know how to access and create a “shortcut” to the folder.


2. Approve the minutes.

In the excitement to get to the more exciting agenda items, a committee can sometimes forget to review and approve minutes. Meeting minutes are an extremely valuable record of discussion and decisions. In fact, sometimes minutes are the ONLY record that individuals can refer back to for clarification on important institutional matters. Make sure the first order of business at every meeting is to review and approve minutes. Members don’t always remember to read minutes ahead of time so you may have to let them take a few minutes to peruse.

3. Stay on Schedule.

A meeting can quickly go off the rails if the chair doesn’t keep an eye on the clock, move discussion along when it gets stale, or remind committee members that a vote must happen after a reasonable period of discussion. An effective way to keep the meeting on track is to “time-box” agenda items. This simply means that your agenda includes an allotted amount of time for discussion after which the committee needs to move to a vote. Roberts Rules of Order does allow a member to request a postponement of a vote, but it’s rarely needed. Committee members are often more than ready to make a decision if the chair will just call for a vote. The key is not to rush deliberation, but to avoid endless discussion and indecision.

4. Be a leader.

Even if you don’t feel like it, when you are a committee chair, you’re the leader. Act like it. Start and end meetings on time out of respect for everyone. Model preparedness and collegiality, and hold committee members to their responsibilities. Stop contentious discussion if it gets out of hand (though a little heat is not necessarily bad). Always be democratic, and don’t press your own priorities against the will of your colleagues.

5. Communicate out.

Your responsibilities as committee chair don’t end when the meeting is adjourned. Schedule time after the meeting to send out necessary communications and make plans for the next meeting. Be sure to:

  • Schedule the next meeting and send out a calendar invitation, including location or zoom link.
  • Send a recap email to the committee reminding members of any tasks that need to be completed by the next meeting.
  • Send (or ask the secretary to send) approved meeting minutes to the Faculty Coordinating Council (FCC). You can find out at the beginning of the year from FCC what the preferred procedure is for submitting minutes.
  • If policy decisions have been made, be sure to communicate these to the appropriate individuals. These may include the Provost, the Registrar, a faculty member, or another committee. It can also be helpful to attach relevant minutes or include the decision date so that this information can be searched later in our archive of minutes.
  • Expect to be invited by FCC or the Provost to report the work of the committee and any major decisions to the full faculty at one of the monthly faculty meetings.
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