News & Insights

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review best summed up a recent report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) with this headline: “Scathing report says college trustees fail in mission.” The gist of the report is that higher education is mismanaged, and the buck stops with the board.

Public opinion about institutions of higher education is skeptical. High on the list of complaints is that schools have been increasing tuition at an astronomical rate, saddling students with decades of debt. (Recent books, like Shop Class as Soulcraft and Home Grown, even question whether that education is necessary for making a decent living or living a contented life.)

As has been pointed out ad nauseam, undergraduate debt is then increased in grad school until it is pressed down, shaken together, and running over — a situation that has special ramifications for those entering Christian ministry.

“Who's to blame?” we ask, wringing our hands. Well, the ACTA believes they have figured out whom to blame, and it is the board members who have been asleep at the wheel for 20 years. From increasing cost of tuition to campus culture to a recent spate of university scandals (think "Penn State"), board members, the report claims, have abdicated their fiduciary responsibility in favor of the roles of cheerleaders and fundraisers.

Inside Higher Ed puts a more constructive spin on the story, citing the report’s call for a new era of governance:



Citing a "failure of higher education governance," a group convened by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni has called on trustees to play a much more active role in overseeing their institutions.

This report will surely draw criticism from some quarters, but even sympathetic readers may have questions about some of the report’s conclusions. For example, many of the critiques are national trends, and it’s difficult to see how a single board can afford not to “compete” in the arms race of new programs, fancy cafeterias, and athletic facilities without hurting enrollment.

Seminary boards, however, are working at a different level. Undergrad students can choose a comparable education from hundreds of colleges and universities, but seminarians have to consider their own varied ordination requirements, denominational affiliations, and the theological culture of each school, so their choices are more limited. But it would be hard to argue that seminary board members have less responsibility for their schools than boards of other institutions.

So what’s your take? Are seminary board seats dominated by fundraisers and cheerleaders? How many board members sit back from active participation because they are unaware of the expectations? How many wish they could be more active but can’t see the path forward?




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