The compounding effect of the global pandemic on declining enrollments and escalating tuition discounts, long-anticipated demographic changes, and extraordinary societal divisions are transforming higher education. Governing boards and institutional leaders in collaboration with the faculty and other members of campus communities must engage in strategic, constructive dialogue and discussion about the future of their institutions and foundations. More than ever before, members of the AGB community must share this common goal.
Over the last few months, I have spoken with hundreds of board chairs, trustees, presidents, and board professionals to learn how our members are navigating the complex environment as they consider bringing students back to campus, and if so, how to do so safely. Regardless of the final decision, those with whom I spoke consistently shared the belief that they need to advance:
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I); and
- Shared governance and communication.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
My conversations reinforced AGB’s views that higher education is a force for public good and that 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.
Strategic boards and institutional leaders also have the responsibility not only to elevate the principles of DE&I within their boardrooms and leadership teams, but also to insist that institutional policies of DE&I manifest across the entire institution. The quality of a board’s conduct of its own affairs should provide a model that guides the rest of the institution and sets standards that invite emulation throughout.
In other words, boards must recognize that they, too, need to embody diversity in terms of composition and culture to ensure meaningful engagement with institutional stakeholders who have diverse perspectives and experiences. AGB has more information on this topic in our AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Governing Board Accountability for Campus Climate, Inclusion, and Civility.
Additionally, boards must develop a culture of thoughtful decision-making that will enable them to accept and appropriately respond to both the short- and long-term challenges and opportunities that they now face. For example, boards and institutional leaders must anticipate potential student, faculty, and staff concerns relating to, for example, the quest for social justice and racial equity, or restrictions stemming from COVID-19. Here, too, AGB can help boards perform oversight in ensuring that the administration has developed effective crisis communication plans to address such issues, including governance matters that might ensue.
Shared Governance and Effective Communication
Before the pandemic, institutional leaders might have been able to respond to disruptive forces and trends over the course of years or even decades. Today, many decisions must be made in a matter of weeks or months if the institution is to achieve student success and financial resilience.
For instance, deciding when and how to reopen campuses, how to address concerns of the campus community amid national protests over racial injustice, and how to implement new policies and procedures relating to Title IX and sexual misconduct, among others, are examples of issues and decisions that, if not addressed thoughtfully and quickly, could negatively impact students, faculty, and staff. Thus, many boards have realized they must reexamine their shared governance practices to respond to complex challenges. To put it more directly, strategic governing boards should uphold the principles of shared governance, relying on the expertise of faculty in careful collaboration with presidents and others. The AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Shared Governance can assist board members and institutional leaders in enhancing shared governance policies.
There is a common thread of listening and being heard that connects DE&I and shared governance. In that regard, boards, in collaboration with the president and leadership team, would benefit from appropriate and meaningful dialogue with members of the faculty, staff, and student body. I promise you, your investment of time, and the feedback you will receive, will be invaluable.
New AGB Resources
In closing, I want to highlight a few new and complimentary resources that will be of value to you now and in the future:
- Crisis Leadership for Boards and Presidents
- 2020 AGB Advisory Statement on Sexual Misconduct
- Mergers & Acquisitions Governance Brief
I also encourage you to watch our new video, Unlock the Full Value of Your AGB Membership, to learn how to put all of your AGB membership benefits to work—to get answers, save time, and prepare for effective board service. Watch and share this video with your board colleagues and leadership teams to leverage the numerous member-exclusive resources that AGB provides.
Thank you for your membership and engagement as well as for your contributions to AGB and higher education. As always, please let me know if you have questions, suggestions, and/or feedback. I look forward to our continued collaboration and partnership to create strategic governing boards that demonstrate exemplary, thoughtful, and nimble leadership.