For Immediate Release
WASHINGTON, DC (June 13, 2023)—Today, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) released Shared Governance for Agile Institutions: A Practical Guide for Universities and Colleges. The publication argues that given market and technological disruptions, demographic changes, fallout from the global pandemic, and more, it is critical that governing boards, faculties, and senior administrators better align their goals and actions to address changing student needs and financial upheaval via the shared governance process. AGB is the premier organization advocating strategic board governance in higher education.
The “What” of Shared Governance
The book’s author, Steven C. Bahls, an AGB consultant, former president of Augustana College, faculty member, and university trustee, defines shared governance as a system in which faculty, governing board members, and administrators actively engage to share responsibility for pursuing an aligned set of mission-driven sustainable outcomes and priorities. In a departure from some interpretations, the definition of shared governance is not “equal rights” among these groups; nor is it merely an obligation for administrators to consult with faculty on institutional decisions or follow preset “rules of engagement.”
Rather, shared governance should align stakeholders on institutional direction by developing a common understanding of challenges and should serve as a system of checks and balances that strengthens institutional operations. To build this shared governance system, Bahls lays out strategic elements that include (but are not limited to) a culture of transparency, a commitment to make timely decisions, and a shared set of metrics to measure success.
In recent years, some colleges and universities have faced rising tension among governing boards, presidents, and faculty. A Chronicle of Higher Education analysis found that between 2013 and 2021, seven of the eight years saw the highest number of no-confidence votes recorded. In the 2023 Survey of College and University Presidents, Inside Higher Ed found that only 47 percent of presidents believe that faculty understand the challenges confronting their institutions.
“Since I wrote the first version of this book in 2013, I have had the chance to work with dozens of presidents, boards, and faculty members about what has worked and what hasn’t. I have seen the tangible benefits when the system invites a shared sense of ownership despite an uncertain landscape,” said Bahls. “I hope readers understand that shared governance doesn’t have to be a bureaucratic quagmire. It can drive healthier conversations, better outcomes, and ideally a more enjoyable workplace for everyone.”
The “Why” and “How” of Shared Governance
The newly revised publication outlines how an ideal shared governance structure will position the institution to address higher education’s growing need for three competencies: capacity to navigate new challenges, more agile implementation efforts, and more timely decision-making. Shared governance can also improve faculty and staff retention, generate mutual investment in institutional outcomes, and more.
Bahls describes prevailing obstacles to effective shared governance, incorporating structural, behavioral, and attitudinal barriers. These barriers, such as knowledge silos or a lack of respect for faculty expertise, can inhibit effective shared governance and result in a breach of trust or even a violation of accrediting standards.
In response to the current environment, the book illustrates how governing boards, administrators, and faculty can work together even in difficult scenarios. Bahls highlights how an effective shared governance system can weather no-confidence votes, the initiation or closure of academic programs, and other stressful situations.
Finally, Bahls showcases leading practices for forging a sustainable shared governance system. These recommendations center on fostering trust among stakeholder groups, highlighting diverse voices and sharing information, and building respect for faculty self-governance. The publication also includes appendices with questions for governing boards, examples of documents to model effective shared governance, and a sample shared governance survey for institutions to conduct.
“Shared governance is one of higher education’s biggest strengths, and also one of its most fragile elements,” said Henry Stoever, AGB president and CEO. “Most sectors don’t have a comparable system, and board members have to spend time understanding the benefits, the potential pitfalls, and the process on their campuses. We are excited to share this new resource so that boards can govern with knowledge and confidence.”
Shared Governance for Agile Institutions is available to AGB members as part of a suite of resources on navigating shared governance. Other resources include online reports, FAQ guides, and webinars in addition to tailored shared governance workshops and hands-on support via AGB Consulting.
A complimentary e-book version of Shared Governance for Agile Institutions: A Practical Guide for Universities and Colleges is exclusively available for AGB members on the website. Print copies are also available for purchase, with a discount for members.
The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) is the premier membership organization that strengthens higher education governing boards and the strategic roles they serve within their organizations. Through our vast library of resources, educational events, and consulting services, and with more than 100 years of experience, we empower 40,000 AGB members from more than 2,000 institutions and foundations to navigate complex issues, implement leading practices, streamline operations, and govern with confidence. AGB is the trusted resource for board members, chief executives, and key administrators on higher education governance and leadership. Learn more at AGB.org.