Guidelines on the street

Last month the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) published a revised Statement on Board Responsibility for Institutional Governance. First produced in 1998, the statement was updated in 2007 following an intensive investigation of the role of the president in higher education. As a major voice in the often-turbulent and highly political matrix of faculty, administrators, and accrediting bodies, AGB does not publish such statements without careful deliberation.

A quick overview of this announcement reveals that much of the report represents mainstream, contemporary perspectives on educational governance. A closer -- and highly recommended -- reading confirms that it intermingles critical perspectives on contemporary colleges and universities with what is today accepted as organizational common-sense that both governing boards and executive administration will find useful.

Among the more important recommendations:

  • Maintain a vigilant awareness of changing conditions and perspectives. Higher education has changed dramatically in the last decade. The most effective governing boards are adept at recognizing and researching the changing tides of their organizational ecologies, and responding strategically to keep their institution ahead of the curve.
  • Be aware, and respect, academic decision-making processes in your institution. Educational institutions are not like businesses (or individual congregations) - the organizations with which many trustees have experience. Governing boards of academic institutions should understand the expectations of shared governance. But presidents must be willing to set deadlines for deliberations so that important decisions are not derailed unnecessarily by one faction, or even one person, on the faculty.
  • Solicit input and perspectives from across the institution. Tenured faculty usually have a representative on the governing board, and student reps are also common. But boards should be even more proactive in gathering perspectives and input from other constituencies in the institution -- adjunct faculty, nonexecutive staff, different sectors of the student body -- to have a more complete understanding of the larger institutional picture and to comprehend the implications of their decisions.

These are just a few highlights from the statement, which should be "required reading" for your board and senior staff. As you will see, the guidelines are intended broadly for all of higher education -- public and private, 2-year and 4-year schools, graduate and undergraduate institutions alike.

So what does it mean for theological schools in particular?

Continue to Part 2 of this blog post for an initial analysis.