The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) today announced the formation of the National Commission on College and University Board Governance. AGB President Richard D. Legon has charged the Commission with reviewing current governance practices and recommending changes it believes could help boards better meet the financial, educational, and legal challenges that confront higher education today. Philip N. Bredesen, the former governor of Tennessee (2003-11), will chair the Commission, and education policy expert Jane Wellman will serve as executive director.
“America is justifiably proud of its institutions of higher education and their contributions to our nation’s success,” Bredesen said. “A robust system of self-governance has been an integral part of the strength of these institutions, but higher education is facing new and escalating challenges in its mission, environment, and public expectations.
“The boards of these institutions and their approach to governance need to respond to these challenges. This is far better accomplished within the system than by state and federal mandate or public pressure. The goal of this Commission is to provide a resource to boards of higher education to help them accomplish this.”
The new 26-member Commission includes current and former university board members and college presidents, as well as business leaders, faculty representatives, and national experts in finance, public policy, and nonprofit governance.
“Board members are loyal and tireless supporters who want to do the best thing for their institutions,” said Legon. “But with increasing pressure on boards to adapt to rapid changes, this Commission will evaluate whether boards are appropriately structured and charged to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
“This is a ‘how’ commission, not a ‘whether’ or a ‘why’ commission,” said Wellman. “Report after report, at both the state and national level, has confirmed the need for change in higher education to meet the public needs ahead. The challenges facing higher education are clear: the question is how to respond. Boards can be part of the problem; they must instead be part of the solution.”
The Commission is expected to publish its recommendations in September 2014. It plans to begin by identifying the preliminary set of topics that appear to be most worthy of attention, followed by the development of its proposed solutions. The Commission plans to consult widely with stakeholder groups and experts in governance as it works.
“We invited Phil Bredesen to serve as chair of this important initiative because his track record on education speaks for itself,” said Legon. “He left a lasting legacy in Tennessee by forging a bipartisan education agenda at all levels, from pre-K through higher education, that vigorously connected policies to the future welfare of his state.”
As governor of Tennessee, Bredesen continuously stressed education at every level as being the state’s highest priority. He was a leader in the national standards movement, established a state-wide system of voluntary pre-K classrooms, and created the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation. Bredesen put particular emphasis on high-school and college completion, and Education Week earlier this year identified Tennessee as having led the nation over the past decade in its increase in high school graduation rates. At the college level, Tennessee’s Complete College Act is nationally recognized as a model. He currently chairs Complete College America, a national nonprofit that works with states to significantly increase the number of Americans with college degrees or certificates.
Wellman is widely recognized for her 30 years of work in public policy and higher education at both the state and federal levels. She was the founding director of the Delta Cost Project and recently served as the executive director of the National Association of System Heads, where she continues to consult. She was vice president for government relations at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the deputy director of the California Postsecondary Education Commission, and staff director of the California Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
Legon has been president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges since 2006. His experience working across public and independent higher education—with governing bodies (campus and system boards) and boards of public institutionally related foundations, as well as other nonprofit organizations—extends over 35 years. He is a trustee of Spelman College and previously served on the governing boards of Virginia State University and the University of Charleston (West Virginia).
For more than 90 years, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) has had one mission: to strengthen and protect this country’s unique form of institutional governance through its research, services, and advocacy. Serving more than 1,240 member boards and 36,000 individual citizen trustees, AGB is the only national organization providing university and college presidents, board chairs, trustees, and board professionals of both public and private institutions and institutionally related foundations with resources that enhance their effectiveness. In accordance with its mission, AGB has developed programs and services that strengthen the partnership between the president and governing board; provide guidance to regents and trustees; identify issues that affect tomorrow’s decision making; and foster cooperation among all constituencies in higher education.