“No school can afford a board that is unaccountable, uncreative, and uncooperative.” This was the driving idea behind Eugene F. Roop’s article “Board governance can be accountable, creative, and cooperative: three ways of understanding the board’s work,” published in a 2011 issue of In Trust.

I’m struck by how these words still ring true, even in the ever-changing world of theological education. Highlighting Roop’s three-fold outline of ensuring board engagement is timely — a worthwhile addition to the ongoing conversation on best practices.

Roop emphasizes three methods of understanding governance and the work of the board. He stresses that these aren’t steadfast models, however, and that each method has its strengths and weaknesses.

Policy Governance

He first discusses policy governance, a practice of board governance in which the board's primary responsibility is to appoint an executive officer and assess that executive officer’s success in carrying out the school’s mission and policies. Roop notes, with caution, that this method can limit the role of the board and prevent cooperation between the board and administration.

Generative Governance

Some schools overcome the shortcomings of Policy Governance by adopting generative governance. This method espouses the importance of boards looking to the future, anticipating institutional changes, and creatively developing strategies. This focus on generative governance, however, can limit the board’s time, taking away from their ability to perform other essential duties.

Shared Governance

This leads Roop to shared governance, a model in which many groups are responsible for decision-making, with each group having specific roles within the decision-making process. This method ensures that each unit within an institution — board, administration, and faculty — works in tandem, alternatively collaborating and working independently as needed

Roop asserts that shared governance is an “institutional value,” rather than a specified program of governance. As such, institutions can apply the ideas of shared governance while also employing generative governance or policy governance.

He concludes by restating the importance for governing in a way that allows the board to be accountable, creative, and cooperative.  In short, boards should be engaged.

Do you agree with Roop’s assertions here? What are some of your experiences with these different governance models?

If your organization is an In Trust Center member, you can log in to read Roop’s full article on board engagement.

More In Trust articles about shared governance:


Image Credit: “Chains” by Allison Seward, text added.