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About AGB

Statement on Board Responsibility for Institutional Governance

March 26, 2010

The below is excerpted from the introduction; download the full statement.

The enormous diversity among American colleges and universities is reflected in their disparate governance structures and functions. Although the culture and process of governance varies widely among institutions, the presence of lay citizen governing boards distinguishes American higher education from most of the rest of the world, where universities ultimately are dependencies of the state. America’s public and private institutions also depend on government, but they historically have been accorded autonomy in carrying out their educational functions through the medium of independent governing boards, working collaboratively with presidents , senior administrators and faculty leaders. These boards usually are appointed by governors (and less frequently elected), in the case of public institutions, and are generally self-perpetuating (selected by current board members), in the case of private institutions.

The "AGB Statement on Board Responsibility for Institutional Governance" encourages all governing boards and presidents to examine the clarity, coherence, and appropriateness of their institutions’ governance structures, policies, and practices, and recommends a number of principles of good practice related to institutional governance.  Moreover, it reflects a governing board perspective, taking into consideration the many changes that have occurred in American higher education during the four decades since the American Association of University Professors promulgated its “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities” (1966), a document that AGB commended to its members.

AGB’s original Statement on Institutional Governance was inspired by the work of the Commission on the Academic Presidency, whose report and recommendations AGB published in 1996. After gathering insights from college and university chief executives, trustees, administrators, and faculty from across higher education and considering hundreds of public comments in response to a draft of the statement, the AGB Board of Directors approved it in November 1998.  Much has happened in the succeeding decade to suggest the need for a revision of the original statement.

In 2006, AGB’s Task Force on the State of the Presidency in American Higher Education completed a year-long study of the contemporary presidency that recognized a series of new demands on and expectations of academic presidents.  As a result, the task force urged presidents and governing boards to embrace “integral leadership” in which the president “exerts a presence that is purposeful and consultative, deliberative yet decisive, and capable of course corrections as new challenges emerge.”  In addition, the group recommended that presidents focus more on the larger higher education community in order to “sustain the public trust and serve the nation’s needs.”  Finally, signaling the need for a new collaborative spirit in governance, the task force called on presidents and governing boards to partner in leadership, with the support and involvement of the faculty: “Leadership of this sort links the president, the faculty, and the board together in a well-functioning partnership purposefully devoted to a well-defined, broadly affirmed institutional vision.”

Shortly thereafter, AGB’s Board of Directors offered further guidance to boards and presidents in their “Statement on Board Accountability” (2007).  They challenged boards to remember that they are accountable for institutional mission and heritage, for the transcendent values of American higher education (self-regulation and autonomy, academic freedom and due process, shared governance, transparency, and educational quality and fiscal integrity), to the public interest and public trust, and to the legitimate interests of various constituencies.

Like the original statement, this revision is not intended to be prescriptive. Rather, it is intended to serve as a template and resource for discussion of good governance policies, principles, and practices.  Influenced by the current environment for higher education and its governance and informed by the association’s work in the last decade, it also strives to be true to the academic traditions of board responsibility and accountability, shared governance, and faculty professionalism while still confronting the rapidly changing and oftentimes threatening political, social and economic environment in which higher education works to serve the nation and students.

Richard D. Legon
President, Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges

Download the full statement.