Governing boards should act effectively and ethically in their duties related to overseeing the institution’s mission, fiscal integrity, and educational quality, and to recruiting, supporting, and evaluating the chief executive.
Highly effective governing boards accomplish these tasks while maintaining a strategic focus.
Public boards have the additional responsibilities of maintaining the public trust and balancing the needs of the state and those of the institution they govern.
How does the board regularly assess the status of the institution’s various assets, including physical, human, and reputational assets?
How can the board appropriately engage in ensuring the educational quality of the institution’s programs without preempting the vital prerogatives of the faculty and administration?
Does the board understand its obligations to safeguard institutional autonomy?
Governing boards of public and independent institutions bear an abiding responsibility to preserve and enhance a legacy of learning, scholarship, and free inquiry that is unique to the college or university. As fiduciaries accountable for the public trust that’s placed in higher education, they must also exemplify the highest standards of integrity.
To accomplish these goals, a board is accountable to fulfill the following basic responsibilities.
Basic Responsibilities of Governing Boards
- Establish, disseminate, and keep current the institution’s mission. At public institutions, ensure that the mission is aligned with public purposes.
- Recruit, appoint, support, and evaluate the chief executive officer to lead the institution.
- Charge the chief executive with the task of leading a strategic planning process, participate in that process, approve the strategic plan, and monitor its progress.
- Ensure the institution’s fiscal integrity, preserve and protect its assets for posterity, and engage directly in fundraising and philanthropy.
- Ensure the educational quality of institution and its academic programs.
- Preserve and protect the institutional autonomy and academic freedom.
- Ensure that institutional policies and processes are current and properly implemented.
- In concert with senior administration, engage regularly with the institution’s major constituencies.
- Conduct the board’s business in an exemplary fashion and with appropriate transparency, adhering to the highest ethical standards. Ensure the currency of board governance policies and practices, and periodically assess the performance of the board, its committees, and its members.
Characteristics of an Effective Governing Board
A governing board will complete the basic responsibilities with these additional operational characteristics:
- The chief executive displays appropriate leadership.
- The board is focused on strategic priorities.
- The board chair and president have an effective working relationship.
- The chief executive’s cabinet is regularly welcomed into board conversations.
- The faculty are meaningfully engaged in institutional or system governance.
- The board operates in a culture of cohesiveness, candor, and transparency.
Distinctions for Public Boards
Public boards bear several universally shared responsibilities that deserve special emphasis.
- Respect the public trust: Board members should ensure that the public purposes of higher education are served through balancing the needs of the institution and the state, pursuing what is best for the public they serve and the institution they govern.
- Serve as advocates: Board members should serve as advocates for the value of public higher education and focus on enhancing the quality of life for citizens by providing needed educational services, access, and equity.
- Remain autonomous: The board should preserve the college’s or university’s autonomy, determining its needs and pursuing its interests by avoiding competing personal interests or the inappropriate dictates of a public official or body from which the board’s authority derives.
- Comply with applicable open-meeting and public-records laws.
AGB’s Effective Governing Boards for boards of both public and independent institutions contain more detailed discussions of each responsibility.