Overcoming Inertia: Can Higher Education Change?, July/August 2010

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This issue’s lead article, “Overcoming Inertia: Can Higher Education Change?”, poses difficult questions about higher education’s future and the work of boards in our current environment. For higher education to change in meaningful ways in order to address the demands and challenges of the future, governing boards also must be prepared in new ways for their work. Focusing on good governance policies and procedures will only get us so far. Boards also need to focus on building strength and capacity by getting the right people on board.

Overcoming Inertia: Can Higher Education Change?

Experts warn that the competitive landscape for colleges may shift in the wake of the recent global economic downturn and national pressures for increased numbers of college graduates. A special panel at AGB’s recent National Conference on Trusteeship, moderated by AGB President Rick Legon, examined how ready colleges are to adjust to new economic and competitive realities.

The Changing Landscape of Trustee and Board Engagement

Martha W. Summerville, and Charlotte Roberts

Attitudes about trustee and board engagement are changing. Presidents, board chairs, and trustees increasingly are discussing the need for greater board engagement in governance and more productive partnerships among the board, president, and executive staff. Even boards that already consider themselves to be high performing are finding that external forces and changing demographics have created the need for trustees to become even more engaged and effective.

Middlebury Pursues a New Financial Model

Ronald D. Liebowitz and Frederick M. Fritz

Middlebury College has been around since 1800, and the more than 37,000 current alumni of the undergraduate college and our summer graduate programs are extremely loyal and incredibly supportive of our mission. They are also quick to let us know exactly what they think.

Such was the case in April when Middlebury entered a partnership with K12, the largest provider of online educational products for pre-college students, in order to create a new for-profit company, Middlebury Interactive Languages (MIL). K12, a company with $315 million in annual revenues in 2009, is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (ticker symbol: LRN), and yet actually is a highly logical fit with our small liberal-arts institution. First, some background.

The Virtues of Student and Faculty Trustees

Charles R. Middleton

Shared governance is one of the many distinguishing characteristics of quality in American higher education. It is based on the premise that all of us know more than a subset of us, and that you get better results when you consult broadly, especially with those who have a stake in the outcome of the discussion.

Making the Best Use of Student Trustees

Christopher Alvarez-Breckenridge

While appointees to many college and university governing boards are selected based on their career accomplishments, past service, and philanthropic contributions, the role and responsibilities of student trustees are often less clear-cut.

Yet because of a student trustee’s limited time of service, as well as the contradictory pressures a student trustee may experience, it is critical that the student trustee quickly arrive at an appropriate understanding of his or her role in the governing body.

Diversity and the Board

Richard S. Meyers

Diversity as a tool for cultural enrichment and social justice is embraced throughout higher education. Indeed, AGB’s Statement on Board Accountability states, “A key issue trustees face is the institution’s responsibility to be inclusive in its admissions, aid, hiring practices, and board composition.”

U.S. Proposes Greater Transparency--and Burdens--Tied to Biomedical Funds

Pamela J. Bernard

Media reports over the past few years have highlighted instances of significant financial payments from drug and medical-device companies to faculty researchers who conduct scientific studies of the companies’ newest drugs or devices. Because academic researchers are seen as more independent than company-employed scientists, their findings on the efficacy or safety of the new products, whether positive or negative, theoretically serve as a reliable check on the big business of pharmaceuticals and devices. But how does the average person—or governing board—know what research is truly independent?

Empowering Board Committees

Edwin H. Welch

College and university boards of trustees customarily delegate a host of responsibilities to board committees. In the minds of many board members and in the practice of most committees, those responsibilities are to monitor various aspects of the institution. The vice president for academic affairs, student affairs, or development reports to the relevant committee on current needs and goals, plans for progress, challenges and successes, and the most recent relevant numbers. Board members listen to the reports, then ask questions to clarify particular items, make suggestions about strategies, share personal anecdotes related to the topic, and consent or approve proposed actions. This comfortable approach leaves board members feeling that they have easily fulfilled their duties and administrators feeling relieved and unchallenged.

Engaging Faculty During Financial Crises

Adele Phelan

Board chairs in every state are facing difficult fiscal constraints that threaten the quality of the institutions they serve. When dollars are fewer, whether due to state budget cuts and/or a difficult fund-raising climate, hard decisions must be made and anxiety about threatened positions sets in at all levels of the institution.

Board Composition: Student and Faculty Trustees

Merrill P. Schwartz

When board members step back and consider their own policies, practices, and board composition, they often wonder how they compare to other boards and whether there are better ways to accomplish their work. AGB periodically surveys how the gender, race, ethnicity, age, and occupational backgrounds of members have changed and explores policies related to terms, term limits, committees, frequency and length of meetings, and other basic and essential elements of board organization.

What Do Governors Expect from Higher Education?

Joe Manchin

Joe Manchin, second-term West Virginia Governor and the new chairman of the National Governors Association, promises a year-long NGA agenda that will focus on postsecondary education, specifically college completion and productivity.