Cross-posted from Rebekah Burch Basinger's blog on fundraising and leadership, Generous Matters.

Eureka!These are tough days for leaders in higher education
and especially so for those at the helm of a theological school. Everywhere I go, boards and presidents are on the hunt for the big idea — the game changer — the Eureka moment that will save the day.

I find little patience for or interest in collaboration, conversation, or shared governance. In fact, in most places this long-time feature of the academy is viewed more as a problem than a help in coping with trying times.

Not that shared governance was ever an easy sell. At one time or another, I’ve heard board members, administrators, and/or faculty voice doubt about the concept. But the nay-saying has gotten louder in recent years. It’s generally accepted as gospel that shared governance is simply too unwieldy to be practical for such a time as this.

Which is unfortunate because if ever the best thinking of any and all bright minds was needed, it is now. As the authors of an article out of Australia tell us, innovation is a “highly complex, multifaceted process that draws on individual and collective inputs. It is an innately social process and the ‘people factor’ must be handled well if innovation is to result.” In other words, change is a team sport, not a solo performance.


Innovation, as the authors describe it, depends upon many leaders. Presidents and boards “must be capable of embracing fresh thinking (often not their own).” Or put another way (mine), institutional leaders must be willing to share governance (power and decision-making).

Interestingly, the article referenced here is written about and for corporate CEOs and other leaders in business – the folk whose decisive ways and top down style nonprofit CEOs are encouraged to emulate. It’s a real turn-about that the “good” leader described in the Australian piece is torn from the pages of the shared governance play book.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, at its best shared governance draws upon and reinforces the very behaviors and characteristics – things like trust, transparency, free-flowing communication – that encourage innovation and risk taking. As the authors note, “The more you think about it, the more you realize the challenge is not about leaders being the wellspring of innovation themselves, but rather being the facilitator of conditions that enable innovation to occur.”

In higher education, the “conditions” have a name. It’s shared governance.