Board Oversight of Equitable Student Success


Safeguarding both the autonomy of the institution and the related tradition ​of academic freedom

  • Boards will stay at the level of governance and will not go “into the weeds” of management.
  • Principles of tenure and academic freedom will remain key principles of the academy.
  • It is important to recognize the history and context of institutions; some have been complicit in race and sex discrimination and antithetical to institutional change​.
  • Boards and their administrative teams must spend time understanding the conflict points between academic freedom and free speech, on the one hand, and equity and inclusion, on the other​.
  • Some institutions have been the perpetual victims of racism​.

Action Items

  • Determine whether the institution keeps data on rate of tenure and promotion disaggregated by race and ethnicity and gender​.
  • If no such data is kept, inquire how this information can be kept.
  • Enter dialogue with administration on determining and eliminating barriers to increasing faculty, staff, and leadership diversity.
  • Review policies and practices to ensure they support and protect academic freedom for students and faculty​.
  • Educate the board on academic freedom principles and constitutional protections of free speech.

Metrics and Assessment Tactics

  • Institutional data​
  • Climate survey ​
  • Faculty survey ​
  • Audit

Questions to Pose

  • How does the board address external threats to its authority (e.g., how we teach American history)? What have been the threats to academic freedom on our campus?​
  • How can the board protect academic freedom, particularly of those that research and advocate for DEI issues?​
  • How can the board protect its students, faculty, and staff of color and build inclusive and supportive environments and uphold the principles of academic freedom and free speech?​
  • For some institutions, protection of faculty from reprisal for speaking truth to power externally is important (HBCUs)​. 

What does success look like?

The institution or system maintains the same percentage of tenure and promotion for marginalized groups as it does for all faculty and staff.

An Institutional Example:

University of Virginia

The university supports a consortium of over 90 institutions, Universities Studying Slavery. ​

An Institutional Example:

Brown University

Brown University was one of the first institutions to examine and make public its history with slavery in this report and website.

An Institutional Example:

University of Cincinnati

University of Cincinnati shared its history and board initiative to change the name of one of the colleges from that of its founding donor, a slave holder.​

“We are excited to work with the Gates Foundation to develop and provide board members with resources to help them oversee and advance student success. This grant will allow us to create an informative and practical curriculum for boards with actionable recommendations and resources.”

Henry Stoever

President and CEO, AGB