Faculty, Governing Boards and Institutional Governance

Merrill Schwartz
Director of Research
Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges

Richard Skinner
former Senior Vice President for Programs and Research
Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges

Zeddie Bowen
former Provost
University of Richmond

December 2009 |

How boards, presidents, and faculty engage one another in institutional governance speaks to the health of a college or university, but appropriate participation of the three is not easily achieved. The vitality and viability of institutional governance are threatened when faculty-board relations suffer. As demands for greater accountability continue, boards will benefit from efforts to obtain faculty input. The Project on Faculty and Institutional Governance, undertaken by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, provides insights about governance policies and practices and the state of faculty-board relationships. Findings suggest that governance works well at most institutions, but there is room for concern as well as improvement.

Presidents, chief academic officers, and board chairs view faculty-board engagement and relations as generally healthy and constructive. Presidents and chief academic officers also express understanding of the causes for less-productive interaction, even if solutions remain elusive. Barriers to successful board-faculty interaction include insufficient time, lack of mutual understanding and respect, governance policies and practices that are unclear or out-of-date, the complexities of higher education, and a general lack of interest. Recommendations to address these barriers include: better orientation and continuing education of trustees and faculty; opportunities for faculty and trustee service on key committees and work groups; frequent communication, especially by the president; greater transparency in decision-making and clarity about respective responsibilities of faculty, administrators, and the governing board; current and accessible governance polices; and presidential leadership in facilitating institutional governance.

Many good practices seem practical and generally applicable to a wide variety of colleges and universities, such as adding trustees to the board who have experience working in higher education and including faculty presentations at board meetings. Any attempts to enhance faculty-board interaction will have to be tailored to the particular history and culture of the institution and will rely to a great extent on the leadership of the president.

 

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