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. Board members and institutional leaders must collaborate with faculty and other members of campus communities to engage in strategic thinking about the future of their institutions and foundations.
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 efforts to reopen. Those with whom I spoke consistently shared the belief that they need to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion; and shared governance and effective communication.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
My conversations reinforced AGB’s views that higher education is a force for public good and that diversity, equity, and inclusion are social, economic, moral, and organizational imperatives. Every board, organization, and team—including AGB—can enhance its impact by embracing and cultivating these principles. Diversity, equity, and inclusion enable leaders to better serve their constituents and anticipate their needs.
Strategic boards and institutional leaders have the responsibility to elevate the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion within their boardrooms and leadership teams, while insisting that institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and practices manifest throughout their campuses. 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. 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 offers more information about this issue 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 enables them to accept and appropriately respond to short- and long-term challenges and opportunities. Boards and institutional leaders must anticipate potential student, faculty, and staff concerns relating to, for example, the quest for social justice and restrictions stemming from COVID-19. Boards have a responsibility to perform oversight in ensuring that plans to address communication, leadership, and governance concerns are in place—especially in light of recent events. AGB’s latest communications, publications, and resources on campus climate and diversity offer key questions that boards can and should ask. Also, AGB is in the process of developing its own new, internal diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative, along with governance resources. We are practicing our own recommendation and will use our own guidance.
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 an institution is to address constituent needs, put students first, and sustain financial resilience. Many boards have realized that they must reexamine their shared governance practices to better respond to complex challenges and account for setbacks.
Deciding when and how to reopen campuses, how to address campus concerns amid national protests over racial injustice, and how to implement new policies and procedures relating to Title IX and sexual misconduct, among others, are determinations that, if not addressed thoughtfully and quickly, could negatively impact students, faculty, and staff. As time-sensitive priorities are forcing boards and presidents to frequently communicate, strategic boards should also uphold the principles of shared governance, relying on the expertise of faculty in careful collaboration with presidents and others.
There is a common thread of listening and being heard that connects diversity, equity, and inclusion and shared governance. In that regard, boards, in collaboration with presidents and leadership teams, benefit from appropriate and meaningful dialogue with faculty, staff, and students. I believe that your investment of time, and the feedback you will receive, will be invaluable. The AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Shared Governance can assist board members and institutional leaders with advancing recommendations.
As always, please let me know if you have questions, suggestions, or feedback. I look forward to our continued collaboration and partnership to create strategic governing boards that demonstrate exemplary, thoughtful, and nimble leadership.
AGB President and Chief Executive Officer