Unless great care is taken in talks on the future of college governance, the chair could just become a go-between in scraps between the principal and local learning and skills council. Worse, he or she will do little more than rubber-stamp decisions beyond their control.
There is a third way, envisaged by the further and higher education minister Alan Johnson. Launching the "national debate" on governance this week (page 3) he said he wanted chairs to be informed, persuasive arbitrators in direct negotiations with local LSCs over the college contribution to wider strategic planning - a very tall order.
Unfortunately, while God is omnipotent, She is not available to chair all 400-plus colleges. Besides, Alan Johnson would not permit it since this would not reflect the balance of community interests demanded under the articles and instruments of governance. Colleges are already struggling to find super-human beings to tackle demands, which promise only to get trickier.
A full review of governance is already under way, involving the Department for Education and Skills, Association of Colleges and Learning and Skills Development Agency. All indications are that the Government will have to relax the tight constraints it has imposed on membership. If a college has genuine difficulty finding someone with a specific community interest, it should be allowed to appoint from elsewhere.
Alan Johnson's additional dialogue with the governors - which will last three months - is a welcome new commitment from a minister. It should ensure the current review findings are fully implemented. When he announced the debate at the AoC's annual governors' conference in York, he recognised the formidable strategic role they have in deciding everything from the college's mission and development plans to equality and strong leadership.
Unfortunately, regulations have not changed to reflect the learning and skills agenda. All colleges would benefit from more flexibility to adjust boards at short notice and recruit people with specific skills, even if the balance offends Whitehall.
Refor: local LSCs will not wait to act on far-reaching strategic area reviews until college governors get their acts together. If Alan Johnson wants chairs to do the job properly, he must provide college boards with the tools to do it.