Nine Tips for Navigating Campus Protests and Unrest

By AGB April 29, 2024 May 13th, 2024 Blog Post

Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.

During periods of campus protests and unrest, boards play a crucial role in leading the institution through challenging times while ensuring the safety and well-being of the campus community. Here are some key strategies and considerations based on the AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Justice, Equity, and Inclusion and Guidance for Implementation, the AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Governing Board Accountability for Campus Climate, Inclusion, and Civility, and Freedom of Speech and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Campus:

1. Engage Proactively with Students

Boards should work with institutional leaders to initiate discussion with students regarding their concerns. Open dialogue can help address issues that fuel activism and model effective methods for sustained, impactful discussions on difficult topics.

2. Develop a Communication Plan

It’s important for boards to charge institutional leaders with developing and following a communication plan that addresses the concerns of both internal and external constituents. This plan should aim to be transparent and consistent, as these qualities breed trust.

3. Avoid Cosmetic Statements

Boards should resist making statements that lack clear evidence of intended action or that fail to consult with students on their needs. Promoting diversity—of background, perspectives, and demographics—in some instances while curtailing in others can lead to a loss of trust and an escalation in tension.

4. Be Cautious with Public and Media Responses

It is essential to gather all relevant facts before making a public statement. If boards and institutional leaders lack sufficient information about an issue that has garnered public or media attention, they should consider whether an immediate institutional response is necessary or appropriate.

5. Speak with One Voice

In responding to campus protests or climate concerns, boards should communicate with consistency, most often through the chief executive and the board chair. This unified approach underscores effective leadership during challenging times.

6. Recognize the Potential for Positive Change

While student activism can put stress on institutional leadership, it’s important for boards to recognize that such demands can serve as a catalyst for improving the student experience.

7. Listen and Understand Legitimate Concerns

Campus leaders need to be open to the legitimate concerns of students. Emotions often run high on campuses, and leaders should recognize the intensity of these feelings and their relationship to the underlying situation.

8. Ensure Campus Safety

In all situations, campus safety is paramount. Boards and institutional leaders must uphold local, state, and federal law, as well as all institutional policies.

9. Demonstrate Leadership

When addressing campus climate issues, governing boards should actively lead through governance practices that are proactive, responsive, and adaptive. This includes ensuring the board itself is diverse and inclusive.

By following these guidelines, boards can effectively navigate periods of campus protests and unrest, ensuring their institutions remain safe, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of their communities.

AGB used AI in the development of this blog post to help summarize recommendations from our extensive library of content.

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