AGB President & CEO Update: Strengthening Your Commitment to Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By Henry Stoever November 3, 2020 Blog Post
Blog Post

This month’s update is arriving a few days earlier than usual due to recent events affecting higher education. Despite challenges from many sides, I urge you and your board to continue strengthening your commitments to justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion (JDE&I).

In case you are wondering why I am (and have been) encouraging you to emphasize JDE&I while navigating this brutally challenging environment, the reasons are quite simple. Colleges, universities, and boards that are more just, diverse, equitable, and inclusive, empower more diverse perspectives, insights, and mind-sets to create distinct missions and strategies for their communities.

Stay the Course

Recently, AGB held meetings with its advisory councils to gather feedback and discuss higher education’s most pressing issues. JDE&I was a hot topic in all discussions, and I felt reaffirmed in AGB’s decision to create an Initiative to advance higher education’s work in this area. While the conversations demonstrated that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, a few commonalities of successful programs stood out: intentionality, metrics, and authenticity.

Further, and in addition to the advisory council meetings, recent events in Washington, D.C., drove home the importance of higher education’s efforts to further JDE&I. By now you have no doubt heard about President Trump’s executive order on race and sex stereotyping. The executive order bars executive departments and agencies, uniformed services, and federal contractors from participating in training that “promotes race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating.” Grant recipients, such as colleges and universities, must also adhere to similar standards.

AGB feels strongly that while it may seem like the optimal course of action is to stop focusing on JDE&I out of an abundance of caution, institutions must press forward. I have written about these issues in a recent communication explaining AGB’s perspective and our recommendation to stay the course. While I won’t quote the entire message here, I think the following paragraph provides the essence of our position:

Given the care and inclusiveness that have characterized the genesis of many DE&I programs, we urge institutions to press forward with confidence. Decisions to stop your actions for review, curtail program elements, or to cancel or postpone events will slow progress and raise questions about institutional commitment. Instead, we recommend intensifying your efforts and allowing the learning that takes place on your campuses to lead the institution to deeper and more complete resolve and outcomes.

While the executive order purports to combat racism and stereotyping, the potential impact of this effort is to deny and discourage learning about, discussing, and addressing systemic racism. AGB and more than 50 other higher education associations sent a letter to President Trump opposing the order. AGB also published a Policy Alert with information about the order and questions for boards to consider.

It is my hope that our higher education community will stay committed to JDE&I in the face of these and other challenges. Please consider using AGB as a resource for your work. Our Knowledge Center includes relevant resources on diversity, equity, and inclusion, with a new Trusteeship podcast on board leadership for racial justice. Additionally, AGB members are provided a complimentary one-hour consultation that can be used to discuss these and other important governance matters. In terms of programs, we will have a dedicated track at AGB’s 2021 National Conference focused on these issues.

The attention our campuses give to matters of social justice is a national imperative. Our economies thrive when we remove barriers to student success and create a stronger sense of belonging for all of our students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Therefore, it is crucial that we stay the course and continue to strengthen our institutions and communities.

Finally, I hope that you will vote next week, if you have not done so already. This election will have major implications not only for individuals, but also for higher education.

I am immensely grateful for your partnership, and I thank you for your collaboration and commitment to strategic board leadership.