The University Senate at Loyola University New Orleans voted 38-10 to pass a measure of no confidence in the president, the Reverend Kevin Wildes, The New Orleans Advocatereported. Professors say cuts Father Wildes has announced are in large part due to poor decisions he made when the university faced earlier financial and enrollment problems. The board has expressed confidence in the president, and board leaders spoke to the University Senate before the vote.
Harvard Business School professor Dutch Leonard once said, “The central challenge for nonprofit leadership is that mediocrity is survivable.” His observation was sad, but true -- and one that could easily apply to many college and university governing boards. However, the difference today given the challenges facing higher education is that mediocrity might not be survivable. At a recent conference of presidents, the key thread of the conversation was about the dangers of mediocre governance.
We observe that too many boards seem to be mired in mediocrity. During numerous board assessments that we’ve conducted over the years, we’ve asked trustees to provide a letter grade to their board’s overall performance. On average, trustees give a C-plus grade. And when we ask why they give this grade, trustees say such things as:
“We’re a good, but not great, board.”
“I’ve been on worse boards.”
“I suspect we’re better in our own minds than in the minds of the senior staff.”
“We never discuss our performance; our focus is on the administration’s performance.”
“We love this institution, but I’m not sure we really know how to govern well.”
Not very encouraging responses.
Why do college and university boards underperform?
The boards in the headlines are often those that are dysfunctional (think Penn State or the University of Virginia). While they may well deserve their negative spotlight, most boards are not dysfunctional -- they simply can do more to add more value and be an asset to the institution they govern. Boards do not add as much value as they should for many reasons. Some of the more common ones that we have come across include:
The focus is on the “pretty ponies.” One trustee we know remarked, “Our board meetings are dog and pony shows, but the administration only trots out the pretty ponies.” If all the trustees hear is how great everything is going, they tend to assume that everything really is great, and they may become complacent. Similarly, too often boards only learn about issues after they have already been decided, either by an overly powerful executive committee or the administration.
Brainpower goes untapped. Too often trustees do not bring their A game when it comes to board work. In some instances, the administration does not involve the board in important and meaty matters. And other times, trustees do not do their homework prior to meetings that would allow them to engage fully. Regardless of cause, when trustees check out mentally, they provide no value.
That can lead to apathy that not only affects the board’s performance at meetings but also can result in lackluster philanthropic support. Furthermore, if the right people are on the board, the institution is missing a key opportunity for their input.
The one-issue trustee reigns. On one board that we worked with, the answer to every institutional problem was “women’s golf.” They didn’t have a team, and one trustee clearly wanted one. The institution needed to increase enrollment and posed that issue to the board. “Invest in women’s golf” came the solution from the often vocal trustee. The institution wanted to engage alumni more effectively. “Women’s golf,” that same trustee urged a few hours later in the meeting, contending, “Women golfers will be dedicated alumnae.” During discussions about increasing auxiliary revenue, he jumped in with, “Well, you know, we should consider improving the golf course and creating a women’s golf team.” And so it goes.
Congeniality is not collegiality. Many boards suffer from being overly polite and deferential -- both of which result in mediocrity. In contrast, the best colleagues take each other on, pushing each other’s thinking and debating ideas, all in the spirit of advancing the common good.
High-performing boards do not shy away from difficult conversations and conflicting views and ideas. Instead, they understand that such messy, if not uncomfortable, dialogues are essential to understanding complex issues and eventually lead to better decisions. And at the end of the day (or board meeting), those trustees are able to put aside their differences and move ahead.
Good (enough) is the enemy of great. Too often we hear that the board is pretty good -- in fact, good enough. Why push harder for more? Many boards believe that behaviors that worked sufficiently in the past will continue to serve the board and the institution today and into the future. But given the increasing and changing demands on higher education institutions and their leaders, governance that was once good enough no longer is.
Many boards do not take the time to assess themselves or their meetings meaningfully. And often those that do ask questions of themselves rarely yield constructive insights. Rather, they make comments such as, “I liked the pace of the meeting,” or “We had good attendance.”
Boards don’t know otherwise. Administrators and faculty members have deep and extensive professional networks to help them not only find solutions to problems but also provide a set of benchmarks. But the fact is that most trustees have neither, as they rarely see another academic institution’s board in action. They assume that as their board goes, so do all other boards. This is clearly not the case. Too often boards look only to their own histories and practices as a guide for the future rather than looking at the practices of high-performing boards.
Presidents perpetuate the problems. There are four reasons presidents may not lead boards away from mediocrity. First, some presidents simply believe that boards do not have the knowledge to help in meaningful ways. And depending on who sits on the board, that unfortunately might be true.
Second, some presidents worry that once trustees are invited to engage in more substantive work, they’ll never get out of the details. In this case, the potential downside of micromanagement is not worth the reward. Third, presidents may not believe they have the requisite time to devote to governance. The demands on time are great, and a board that is good enough (rather than great) allows for time to be spent elsewhere.
Finally, presidents simply are inexperienced working effectively with boards. A study of presidents that one of us conducted and that was summarized in the Association of Governing Boards’ magazine Trusteeship found that approximately 25 percent of presidents had no experience working with boards prior to ascending to the presidency.
Governance structure contributes. Boards get mired in mediocrity related to the work and structure of governance for three primary reasons. First, because board work is episodic -- with infrequent meetings -- boards do not benefit from repetition and practice or from an easy continuity between meetings.
Second, on many boards, the executive committee has undue influence. That imbalance of influence may cause the rest of the group to check out, leaving a lot of complex work in the hands of too few trustees.
Third, the mind-set of trustees matters. Some trustees feel that they serve on the board to be decisive, which means to make decisions -- not to explore and understand issues, regardless of uncertainty and ambiguity about various paths forward.
Board culture is misaligned. Finally, boards may not have the right cultures for the work that they are facing or the environment in which their institution finds itself. Does the board perpetuate divergent thinking or convergent thinking? Which is needed?
Do board leaders need to maximize efficiency or deliberation? Do they bring a corporate or academic mind-set to decisions? All of these points, and others, add up to shape board culture. But the real questions are: To what extent does board culture match what the institution needs, and how might that vary over time?
In a follow-up Inside Higher Ed article, we will provide recommendations for how boards can avoid becoming mired in mediocrity. Please don’t get us wrong. Many boards have dedicated and hardworking trustees. Our point is not to belittle governance or trusteeship, but to point out its all too common shortfalls. Given the pressures facing many (if not most) colleges and universities, they need to be able to draw on all of their assets, including effective boards. Many, if not most, boards could and should be doing much more to add value as partners in the leadership of very complex institutions.
Cathy Trower is president of Trower & Trower, Inc., a board governance consulting firm. Peter Eckel is a senior fellow and the director of leadership programs at the University of Pennsylvania’s Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy.
Submitted by Jake New on January 22, 2016 - 3:00am
A consortium of major research universities has redesigned its undergraduate experience survey, positioning it more sharply as an alternative to the National Survey of Student Engagement. The Student Experience in the Research University survey is administered to students at the nine University of California campuses that offer undergraduate programs, 14 other Association of American Universities research universities and 11 international institutions in Europe and Asia.
The survey focuses on five facets of undergraduate education: social skills development, personal development, academic skills development, civic engagement, and economic opportunity and security. Steven Brint, vice provost of undergraduate education at the University of California at Riverside and co-chair of the committee that redesigned the survey, said the SERU survey is "a better fit" for public research universities than the NSSE survey.
"A central mission of public research universities is to meet the needs of the communities they serve," Brint said in a statement. "So we do need to ask if we're doing a good job not only in helping students to develop their cognitive skills, but also in other areas such as preparing students to be active citizens and effective organizational leaders."
Submitted by Paul Fain on January 22, 2016 - 3:00am
Five additional states will create statewide student success centers in an effort to help more community college students earn a credential. The announcement this week means the total number of states with such centers in place will grow to 12. This approach, begun five years ago in Michigan and Arkansas, seeks more coordination and cooperation across institutions and systems and among state policy makers on strategies that work to boost college completion.
“These centers build a cohesive approach to engagement, learning and policy advocacy across each state’s two-year institutions,” said Caroline Altman Smith, deputy director of the Kresge Foundation's education program. “The colleges can then spend their resources more effectively and create reforms that help the most students possible graduate.”
Kresge and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are funding the work. Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit group, is helping to create the centers. The new states are Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington. Student success centers currently are up and running in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas.
Faculty members at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne formally opposed a recommendation that the university split into two separate universities, Indy Star reported. The Faculty Senate voted unanimously this week to urge the presidents and boards of trustees at Indiana University and Purdue University to reject a recent proposal by a working group tasked by the state's General Assembly to divide the campus. The working group of Indiana, Purdue and Fort Wayne representatives voted 6-2 to approve the recommendation, but Fort Wayne Chancellor Vicky Carwein said she voted against it, according to the Star. Fort Wayne Faculty Senate President Andrew Downs, an associate professor of political science, also voted against it.
According to the working group’s recommendation, Indiana would keep control of the School of Medicine and bolster its health science and medical education programs, while Purdue would control everything else. The senate resolution says that the group’s recommendation was based on an “insufficient investigation” and lacks supporting data. Supporters of the plan say it would streamline operations and clear up who's in charge of what on campus. The recommendation goes next to the boards of trustees for Indiana and Purdue for consideration.
The University of Illinois Board of Trustees on Thursday approved a revised policy requiring criminal background checks for new employees, including faculty members. The new policy addresses concerns about privacy and fairness raised by faculty members on various campuses about a previous policy approved by the board in September. That policy had been prompted in part by the revelation that the Urbana-Champaign campus hired James Kilgore, an ex-convict and former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, as an adjunct instructor of global studies and urban planning.
While Kilgore had shared his record with the university and it hired him anyway, local media reports sparked backlash against that decision and questions about the university’s background check policy for all faculty members (it didn’t have one). That resulted in the adoption of the older policy, which some said was too vague, didn’t address issues of rehabilitation and repaying one’s debt to society, and could have a disproportionate impact on minority applicants.
A working group of faculty and administrators worked to review the policy, consulting with faculty governance bodies. The revisions seek to put a bigger focus on campus safety and distinguish between criminal background checks and other kinds of checks, as well as on supporting workforce diversity. Under the new policy, there is no list of crimes that automatically disqualify someone from employment. Checks yielding criminal records will be weighed against a variety of factors, such as one’s age at the time of the crime and employment record since. Checks are only done after job offers are made, contingent upon a successful result.
The Urbana-Champaign Faculty Senate approved a resolution rejecting the policy, citing residual concerns.
Submitted by Jake New on January 21, 2016 - 3:00am
One in five female undergraduates have experienced some kind of sexual assault while in college, according to a new study of students at nine institutions released Wednesday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The study included survey responses from 15,000 women and 8,000 men, and defined sexual assault as including both rape and sexual battery, such as forced kissing, touching, grabbing or fondling.
The study found that 21 percent of female undergraduates said they had been sexually assaulted while in college. On average, one-quarter of female seniors reported the same, as did 7 percent of male undergraduates. In the previous year alone, 10 percent of female students reported being sexually assaulted, and 4.2 percent said they were raped. Only 12.5 percent of women who said they were raped reported the assault to colleges or law enforcement.
Tenure-line and adjunct faculty members at the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities will soon file cards with the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services asking to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced this week. The filing is the first of its kind for SEIU, in that both tenure-line and non-tenure-track faculty members -- full-time and part-time -- would be part of the same bargaining unit; up until now SEIU has mostly focused on organizing adjuncts. Teri Caraway, an associate professor of political science, said in a statement that faculty members “want to work with the administration as equal partners to help them resist the pressures that divert resources from our classrooms and labs. We are not forming a union in search of a bigger paycheck, but because our working conditions have deteriorated as resources for teaching and research have dwindled and the proportion of tenured positions has declined.”
Kathryn Brown, Minnesota’s vice president for human relations, said the via email that the "university wants to continue working directly with faculty on governance and terms and conditions of employment. We believe the current governance structure gives faculty a strong voice and it will continue to be effective in the future."
The associate professor of history at Kent State University who made headlines in 2011 for shouting “Death to Israel!” at a campus event is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for possible ties to ISIS, ABC News reported. News of the investigation into Julio Pino was first broken by Kent State’s student newspaper, KentWired, according to ABC.
Emily Miller, a student editor, said the FBI questioned her about Pino because she has interviewed him for news articles in recent months. “A joint terrorism task force has been investigating Pino for the last year and a half, said an FBI special agent who did not wish to be named for safety reasons,” Miller wrote in KentWired. “The agent said they interviewed several faculty members and more than 20 of Pino’s students Tuesday about his alleged involvement. He is also being investigated for allegedly recruiting students to join ISIS.”
Pino denied the allegations against him in an email to Inside Higher Ed, saying, "My only commitment is to serve my students as guided by the light of knowledge. I have no ties to any political organization, nor do I recruit for any cause." A university spokesperson confirmed that he is still teaching at this time. Kent State said in a statement that it is cooperating with an ongoing investigation, and said the FBI had assured it there was no threat to the campus.
In a separate campuswide email, President Beverly Warren said it would be “imprudent” to speak further about an ongoing investigation, but the university continues to find Pino’s past comments “reprehensible and counter to our core values of civil discourse and respect.” Pino gained notoriety after the 2011 incident, which took place during a public lecture on campus by Ishmael Khaldi, an Israeli former diplomat. Many colleagues criticized him at the time, saying both his statement and his attempt to disrupt an invited speaker were outside the bounds of scholarly debate.