AGB President & CEO Update: Opportunities for Transformation

By Henry Stoever September 8, 2020 October 7th, 2020 Blog Post
Blog Post

As your fall semester begins, the environment is clearly as challenging as expected. This is an overwhelming time for boards, leaders, faculty, staff, and students. The AGB team and I are here to support your board through this extremely demanding time. This email provides three topics for you to consider as your board oversees long-term student success and institutional vitality:

  • Seize the opportunity for transformation;
  • Leverage diversity, equity, and inclusion to better inform your decisions; and
  • Support our fellow AGB member institutions in Lebanon.

Seize the Opportunity for Transformation

Some of higher education’s prior crises were considered by many to be short sprints—problems that colleges and universities could address through incremental change. The current environment, however, is very different. Even as you embark on a marathon, you also need to make decisions quickly and in ways that are unprecedented for most institutions. As you anticipate new decisions that must be made, and the rapid pace of critical and timely questions from stakeholders, now is also the moment when your institution, system, or foundation must strategically reimagine its future.

So where is the starting point? I have heard from several of your colleagues that most boards have been collaboratively working with institutional leaders to align immediate costs with anticipated revenue. This is obviously critical.  At the same time, I encourage you to find the time to step back and work with your presidents and other senior leaders to re-examine your mission and core business model. While instinct might suggest waiting until the storm passes before considering transformative changes, I believe waiting could be a mistake. I believe that embracing transformative strategies now will better position your institution, system, or foundation for years to come.

Some suggested questions to consider discussing in your next or future board meeting(s):

  • Has COVID-19 changed our assumptions about our future and in what ways?
  • What are our strengths and how will these strengths align with the communities we strive to serve moving forward?
  • Should we sharpen our mission to better align our strengths and communities?
  • Are our current strategies aligned with anticipated, forward-looking circumstances?
  • Do our business model, academic programs, and operations need to evolve to align with a new or renewed mission and strategies of the future? If so, in what ways?
  • How aligned are our strategies among the institution and any associated or subsidiary organizations, as appropriate?

Although our circumstances seem bleak, I hope that while you and your board navigate these undeniably difficult times, you will find reasons for optimism. I, for one, was heartened when I recently spoke with two influential presidents during a recent AGB Board of Directors meeting to discuss the need for creativity, agility, and vision throughout higher education. They admitted that change is hard, even in the best of times, and they are determined to foster strategies that will continue to drive student success and institutional vitality now and for the future.

Leverage Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to Better Inform Your Decisions

As you and your colleagues consider opportunities for transformation, I hope you will leverage diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout your discussions. Many leading boards, such as those we recognized last year as AGB Nason Award recipients, developed board-level diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) statements, action plans, and values that are now emulated across campuses. These DE&I policies impacted board composition and influenced policies for student recruitment, retention, and graduation; faculty and staff searches and professional development; communications management; and private philanthropic campaigns, among others.

As I mentioned in my email last month, DE&I are social, economic, moral, and organizational imperatives. Every board, organization, and team—including AGB—enhances its impact by embracing and cultivating these principles. DE&I enable leaders to better serve their constituents and anticipate their needs. To that end, I proposed a DE&I initiative to the AGB board, and we are now expanding our DE&I-focused resources to assist your board, you, and other members.

Support for Institutions in Lebanon

In closing, I would like to ask for your help in responding to the tragic explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 4. Occurring amid Lebanon’s economic crisis, along with the coronavirus pandemic, the ordeal has devastated students, families, and two of your fellow higher education institutions: the American University in Beirut and the Lebanese American University. I wrote a blog detailing how we can aid students and our fellow AGB members, and my family and I have committed to financially supporting their recovery. Please join me in supporting these institutions to ensure our thoughts and prayers are with them during this immensely difficult time.

The AGB team and I sincerely appreciate your partnership and commitment to strategic board governance. We are here to support you and your institution or system. Thank you for your time, hard work, and continued collaboration.