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A university’s senior leadership team meets regularly (often weekly) with the president/chancellor for what is often known as a cabinet meeting. Reports, updates and decisions surrounding protocols and events punctuating the academic and fiscal year occupy most of the allotted time. Alongside the routine, topics and issues of a dire nature arise—controversies, crises and gut-wrenching tragedies such as the challenges and ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic also play out.

Here’s a glimpse into what happens in cabinet meetings (plus some bonus material).

The president/chancellor, senior leadership team, the president’s/chancellor’s assistant and, on rare occasions, guests reporting on major projects and initiatives attend cabinet meetings. In this realm, the senior administrators concentrate on the best interests of the entire institution and the people it serves. Division head roles and responsibilities take a secondary position, even while considering or advising on the ramifications of decisions from various constituents’ perspectives.

An agenda, initiated by the president’s/chancellor’s office and amended by the leadership team, guides the meeting. The agenda topics usually fall into six categories: reports and updates, major campus activities and events, nominations and appointments, actions and decisions impacting the entire campus, communications, and other business.

Reports and Updates

Participants provide real-time information on admissions, registration, enrollment, fundraising, campus health and safety, capital projects, the budget, etc. Analysis including mitigating factors and, if necessary, actions to address issues and ameliorate concerning trends are also provided. Typically, budget meetings are held separately, and the cabinet receives briefings regarding processes, deadlines and recommendations regarding budget meetings. Other topics in this general category may include legislative updates and institutional strategic plan progress.

Major Campus Activities and Events

The bulk of these conversations detail event flow, content/messaging and the associated roles and responsibilities of the leadership team. For example, board of trustee and foundation board meeting preparations include reviewing and vetting agendas, reports, presentations and attendance requirements. Also, plans for major campus events such as convocation, commencement, campus move-in days, major fundraising and alumni and parents’ weekends are conveyed with similar detail. Debriefs following events and activities outline necessary improvements and follow-up tasks.

Nominations and Appointments

At prescribed times during the year, the president/chancellor receives nominations for members of presidential/campuswide committee membership, speakers for major events such as convocation and commencement, recipients of honorary doctorates and campus awards, and appointees for board membership. Cabinet members and their offices and/or special committees recommend nominees. Cabinet members discuss and advise the president/chancellor by considering previous choices; qualifications; tenets of diversity, equity and inclusion; symbolic messaging; and furthering the institution’s strategic initiatives.

Actions and Decisions Impacting the Entire Campus

Action or activities impacting the entire campus may include policies, procedures, systems and capital projects (i.e., construction and renovation projects).

For policies and procedures, senior administrators may:

  • establish standards and the approval process;
  • recommend developing new ones or revisions;
  • review and vet those set by responsible divisions;
  • discuss possible unintended consequences;
  • plan for the rollout of information, and
  • ensure compliance with systemwide policies (if a state institution), accreditation standards and state and federal law.

Examples include those related to human resources, information and data security, campus health and safety, and emergency management.

The cabinet also considers plans for new campuswide systems, initiatives and capital projects similarly to policies and procedures. Some of these projects may include new or updated admissions, registration, CRM, financial systems and building construction and infrastructure improvements.


Typically, the cabinet weighs in on the content and associated actions regarding three communication categories—campus messages, announcements and position statements; president’s/chancellor’s speeches and presentations; and crisis communication. The first category includes the rollout of institutional policies, priorities, values and vision. It also includes updates on initiatives, projects, planning and other noteworthy changes. The second category comprises key public speeches and presentations such as the campus’s opening and presentations to the community at large and other key stakeholders.

The last type may include campus deaths, controversial speech or actions, illegal activities, layoffs, program cuts, closures, natural disasters and other emergencies. In these instances, key talking points, roles and responsibilities, and briefings with attention paid to consistent messaging and potential litigation are discussed and developed.

Other Business

The heading “other business” is a placeholder on the agenda. It can provide an opportunity for general announcements such as noteworthy achievements by students, faculty and staff or engaging upcoming lectures, sports contests or performances. Other times and dependent on the president’s/chancellor’s style and preference, it may signal the need for a confidential conversation. A few examples might include pending and current litigation, freedom of information requests, personnel matters, threats of a no-confidence vote for the president, et al.

Bonus Material: 10 Things That May (Not) Have Happened During a Cabinet Meeting

  1. A discussion about a policy on policies.
  2. Someone falling asleep.
  3. The president sticking a full-length, puffy coat at the bottom of the door to make sure people in the adjoining staff kitchen can’t hear the discussion at hand.
  4. A vote to stop serving vegetarian lasagna at presidential dinners after a donor was observed depositing a mouthful of said lasagna into a napkin.
  5. Someone scrolling through the Macy’s sale online.
  6. Text messages between cabinet members arguing about who will drive the president to the state capital for legislative meetings. (Most often text: Can’t she drive herself?!)
  7. A ban on looking at cellphones during cabinet meetings.
  8. Arguments about the value of sending an email regarding campus safety after a vice president’s car was stolen because he left the keys in the ignition.
  9. The president refusing to talk about the budget.
  10. Someone doodling as a means of refraining from arguing with the president.

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