I believe that a nonprofit board has one employee and that is its exec. I also believe that a nonprofit board's role in human resource management should pretty much be focused on policy and also serve as the final arbiter on personnel appeals like firings assuming that's within the policies.
But nonprofit boards can do as they want when they want. They are after all, the nonprofit's caretaker owners. So when the nonprofit in question is National Public Radio and the human resource issue is the firing of a highly visible reporter, intervention by the board may not be surprising. In this instance of the highly publicized firing of Juan Williams, the NPR board did indeed get involved and, from what I gather based on NPR's own news report, hired a law firm to ensure the firing was legally conducted and, I assume, consistent with internal policy.
The hired law firm's report, noted as a news item on NPR, apparently found the matter was handled properly from a legal standard but also indicated that changes were needed. And the board in response said they weren't happy with their CEO and withheld her annual bonus. And, Juan Williams' boss, a 29 year NPR senior exec, resigned over the matter.
I must say I am curious about how this matter really moved the board to first hire counsel and second take such severe action as withhold the annual bonus, rather than issue the proverbial "slap on the wrist". Generally, one incident, no matter how momentarially publicly embarrassing, doesn't generate so much action. Yes, NPR is very public and reporters are very visible and there are many very high level people who care about what happens at NPR. But I beleive this "bump" in NPR's history would have been smoothed over with time. Why such extreme and immediate action?
I have to believe that there is more than meets the eye (or has been reported) and that the board's action, although apparently in response to the firing, has multiple reference points. Kudos to the board for taking its job so seriously. Many nonprofits would do well to listen and learn.