Along with financial challenges, the importance of equitable educational outcomes predominates the concerns of leaders (providing targeted supports to improve graduation rates among underrepresented students; creating hiring programs to increase the number of women faculty in STEM departments; working to make campus spaces accessible for students with disabilities, etc.). Inequities challenge campus communities at their core, affecting institutional values, purpose, and goals. How might boards treat equity as a strategic asset for mission success? Through our research at the crossroads of governance and equity, we have identified best practices to guide board members as they embrace roles as stakeholders and leaders in the pursuit of equity. We share a few here:
- Work with presidents, chief diversity officers, chief financial officers, human resources directors, and others to establish a working understanding of equity in the context of your mission, goals, and environment. The board’s attention to this issue sets the table for institutional awareness.
- Use equity-minded decision making to set and monitor institutional goals and progress. Ensure data used to inform board decisions are disaggregated across different demographic and stakeholder experiences and take a meaningful interest in current challenges influencing different segments of the campus population.
- In the boardroom, flip the common question about what is an issue of equity to consider what is not an issue of equity. Board members need to accept equity as an indispensable element of the fiduciary duties of care and obedience. They can do this well by making concerted efforts to be aware of the ways in which decisions affect not just policies and procedures, but people. Decisions at the level of board governance invariably hold implications for substantial groups, not just individuals, and impacts on minoritized groups should be considered at every stage to avoid unintended results.
We’ve found that boards can be difference-makers in addressing, pushing for, and assuring equity in higher education. It is time for boards to intentionally enter (model and guide) the equity conversation, through an initial openness and steady commitment to learning and action.
Raquel M. Rall is assistant professor of higher education at the University of California Davis, Demetri L. Morgan is assistant professor of higher education at Loyola University Chicago, and Felecia Commodore is assistant professor of higher education at Old Dominion University. Together, during AGB’s 2019 National Conference on Trusteeship (April 14-16 in Orlando, FL), they will lead a sequence of two sessions focused on institutional equity and the role of the board.