Yesterday, the University of Idaho, where I am the president, accepted an invitation to join the Big Sky Conference, starting in fall 2018. The Sun Belt Conference, our current home in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Football Bowl Subdivision, elected not to renew our membership after 2017.
Faced with the option to play as an independent in FBS, awaiting conference affiliation, or join the Big Sky, a Football Championship Subdivision league where we would gain full membership, we have chosen the road that we believe positions the football program and, importantly, the entire university, for long-term success.
Some UI alumni and supporters do not agree that the FCS is our best option. Many passionate Vandals view our place in FBS as a mark of our institution’s “prestige” and “relevance.” The University of Idaho is our state’s land-grant university, the unquestioned statewide leader in higher education.
Success on the football field should complement the prestige and relevance of our academic institution. But football affiliation or performance should not define prestige and relevance. The impact of our institution should define us, as measured by the entire experience for our student body, including our athletes; by academic excellence across the university; by sustained research, scholarly activity and creative success; and by deep engagement with communities and partnerships with industry.
Why should my university's decision about what conference to play in matter to anybody outside our institution? Because I think our situation has potential implications for dozens of universities that play big-time college football and says a lot about the state of college athletics.
This is an unprecedented move in college athletics, perhaps most similar to the University of Chicago opting out of the Big Ten in 1946. But a decision needed to be made, and made now. It is the best move for our university, and for our athletics program as part of our total university experience. The University of Idaho chooses very consciously, as the University of Chicago chose so long ago, an appropriate place for its athletic programs.
The college athletics landscape faces many challenges -- litigation about use of likeness, fundamental questions about compensation of athletes, concerns about academic integrity. The enormous revenues involved in premier events like the college football playoff and the NCAA Division I basketball tournament, as well as the growing “arms race” in major college athletics, raise many questions about college athletics.
In general, we have seen a steady progression toward higher levels of expenditure and competition -- moves from Division II to Division I, from FCS to FBS, and to ever higher expenditures by premier programs.
UI moved to the FBS level 20 years ago. Since then, we have been affiliated with four different conferences and competed as an independent. And in that time, college football expenditures have increased, and rules, such as the full cost of attendance and the number of teams required for a championship, have changed. These changes should motivate other higher education institutions to reconsider the important role of athletics.
The University of Idaho has been one of the lowest-resourced athletics programs competing at the FBS level. Despite two bowl appearances in our 20 years of FBS competition, we have had very limited success on the football field, while we have had considerable success in other sports.
Nonrenewal in the Sun Belt caused us to consider how we could continue successfully in FBS football. Nonrenewal also caused us to focus on what motivates us to participate in college athletics. Our conclusion was athletics improves UI’s visibility and provides a great shared experience for fans and students as well as opportunity and valuable experience for our student-athletes.
First, we considered whether we could compete as an independent, which we did in 2013. Few, including our fans, would argue that an independent schedule suits an institution our size in a small media market with a limited national reputation. Competing as an independent would not allow Idaho to develop rivalries; independent schedules change yearly. Recruiting to such uncertainty would be difficult. To replace lost conference revenue, Idaho would have had to play three guarantee games, in which powerhouse teams pay big fees to other teams to travel to play them. Neither the student-athlete nor the fan experience seemed desirable as an independent.
Our second consideration was seeking affiliation with a Group of 5 conference other than the Sun Belt. The Group of 5 are the five smaller, nonautonomous conferences (in contrast to the so-called Power 5 conferences): American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt Conference. Most made little geographic sense or offered no traditional rivalries for us. Initial inquiries revealed little receptivity; conferences wondered why they would bring in a team with limited competitive success and no other clear ties.
Nevertheless, should we pursue conference affiliation, which conference makes geographic and institutional sense and what financial resources would be required to make us competitive in Group of 5 football? From a geographic perspective, the Mountain West Conference would be most desirable, but the average expenditures in that league, $38 million, are twice that of Idaho at $19 million, and literally price us out.
More typical Group of 5 expenditures, such as $29 million in the Mid-American Conference or Conference USA, still far exceed those at Idaho. In contrast, Idaho athletic expenditures are typical of Big Sky schools. Our expenditures are already subsidized by our students (though to a lesser extent than at many universities), and that subsidy is limited by our State Board of Education. Should we commit to major additional expenditures from students or donors in order to seek uncertain affiliation?
As president, I asked: At what cost, FBS? We must consider the role of athletics in the institutionwide context. Athletics complements higher education in many ways. Athletes can excel in competition, succeed as students and grow as leaders. Gallup data, for example, suggest that many college athletes are prized by employers for their ability to focus and follow through on tasks and responsibilities.
All of these qualities will be nurtured in the Big Sky Conference -- as they are for participants in that conference from our other sports, such as our conference champion (and NCAA Tournament participant) women’s basketball team. If the benefits to student-athletes continue, if our fans can enjoy realistic competition, why should we continue in the FBS arms race simply to chase a small share of the revenue now accruing to Group of 5 universities from the college football playoff? Instead, we will plan for success as an FCS affiliate.
This is a reset for our football program. We believe Big Sky football will be positive for our athletes and position them to succeed on the field -- our head football coach and I expect Idaho to compete for an FCS championship in 2018. I think our fans will benefit immensely, with opportunities to cultivate meaningful regional rivalries with similar institutions, many within a day’s drive.
We can and will create an outstanding student-athlete and communitywide experience around our program, a vibrant football culture that is a great front porch for Idaho’s leading, national research university, a draw for future students and a continued source of pride for current students. And we can do it in a way that does not constrain the university and does not distract from our core mission.
Idaho chooses to leave the football arms race and focus on excellence in competition and academics. I expect success in football in the coming years, as we conclude our Sun Belt participation and find sustained excellence in the Big Sky Conference. We will tell that story near and far. But the impact of our institution is best represented by our 100,000 proud and passionate alumni whose lives were transformed by the experiences they had at the University of Idaho.
Three weeks after the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Council voted to ban Football Bowl Subdivision coaches from hosting or participating in camps and clinics located away from their campuses, the Division I Board of Directors has reversed the new rule.
Historically, the NCAA said, “coaches used camps and clinics primarily to provide skill instruction to young people and generate revenue.” While official recruiting activities are not allowed at the camps, they are increasingly viewed as a recruiting tool. The Division I Council voted to ban the so-called satellite camps after the University of Michigan’s head football coach, Jim Harbaugh, rankled rival coaches and commissioners in other conferences by attending camps near their institutions last year.
The rule change was praised by officials in those leagues, in particular the Southeastern Conference, which already had a rule barring its own members from taking part in the camps. Critics, however, argued it was unfair to limit unrecruited athletes’ opportunities to be discovered by college coaches. Last week, USA Today reported that the U.S. Department of Justice was looking into whether the ban was legal.
“The Board of Directors is interested in a holistic review of the football recruiting environment, and camps are a piece of that puzzle,” Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina and the board’s chair, said in a statement. “We share the council’s interest in improving the camp environment, and we support the council’s efforts to create a model that emphasizes the scholastic environment as an appropriate place for recruiting future student-athletes.”
Prompted by recent laws permitting discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in places like North Carolina, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Board of Governors on Wednesday adopted new antidiscrimination policies for sites hosting major NCAA championship events, such as the men’s basketball Final Four.
“The higher education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation backgrounds,” Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University and chair of the Board of Governors, said in a statement. “So it is important that we assure that community -- including our student-athletes and fans -- will always enjoy the experience of competing and watching at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination.”
The NCAA has recently come under fire from LGBT rights groups for not taking so strong a stance against anti-LGBT policies among its own members, including at religious institutions that have received waivers allowing them to discriminate against transgender students.
George Mason University’s plan to rename its law school after Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court justice, is once again under fire. But this time the criticism is more substantive than the unfortunate acronym resulting from the Antonin Scalia School of Law, ASSOL (that controversy ended in a tweaking -- while the official name will remain the same, the school will be referred to as the Antonin Scalia Law School). The university’s Faculty Senate on Wednesday voted 21-13 to approve a resolution calling into question Scalia’s legacy on decisions involving historically marginalized groups -- echoing similar discussions at Georgetown University in the wake of Scalia’s death -- and the $30 million in funding behind the name change, $10 million of which comes from the conservative Charles Koch Foundation.
“The senate recognizes that the gifts provide $30 million in scholarship support for law students and memorialize Justice Scalia’s many years of public service and his intellectual contributions to jurisprudence,” reads the resolution. At the same time, it says, the senate finds problematic “the celebration of a Supreme Court justice who made numerous public offensive comments about various groups -- including people of color, women and [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] individuals -- which this university has appropriately gone to some lengths to embrace as valued parts of the university community.” Also troubling to the senate, according to the resolution, is “the reinforcement of the external branding of the university as a conservative institution rather than an unaligned body that is a comfortable home for individuals with a variety of viewpoints.”
The faculty resolution accuses university leaders of not being forthcoming about the terms of the funding agreement and how George Mason will financially honor those terms after the initial funding period expires. The resolution urges the George Mason’s Board of Visitors and administration to “underscore the university’s support for civil discourse that bridges the great diversity present” on campus and “highlight to external audiences that the university is not aligned with any single ideological position and is a friendly home to faculty, staff, students and others with diverse points of view,” among other things. The resolution also calls on George Mason to “explain more fully the university’s plan to manage its responsibility for future funding of new law school faculty and centers without detriment to other units in the university” and “commit to honest, open communication with faculty and other university stakeholders.”
A university spokesperson did not provide immediate comment. Suzanne Slayden, a professor of chemistry and Faculty Senate parliamentarian and chair of the body’s Academic Policies Committee, said the day’s resolution did not formally oppose the Scalia name, but that such proposals will be introduced at the senate’s next meeting.
Dozens of faculty and staff members already have signed a separate letter condemning the decision to make Scalia synonymous with George Mason’s law school. “The values that Scalia affirmed from the bench do not reflect the values of our campus community,” the letter says. “Further, the renaming decision was made without regard for faculty, staff and student input and consent.”
Governing boards are dynamic groups of individuals where, sometimes, the whole does not equal the sum of its parts. Presidents want and need their boards to be active, productive and engaged assets for the college, university or state system that they govern. Yet too many boards underperform. We argue that it is not what boards do (or don’t do) but how they do their work that really matters.
Consider these examples of poor board behavior:
The perennially underengaged board asks few questions of the administration and fewer of themselves;
The overly powerful executive committee controls 85 percent of the agenda and excludes other trustees; and,
The impulsive board quickly moves to decisions without divergent or devil’s advocate thinking.
We think that educating boards on what they should do -- their roles and responsibilities -- while important, is insufficient. In actuality, underperforming boards may know their roles but have cultures that limit their effectiveness. Board culture, those patterns of behavior and ways of understanding that are deeply ingrained, reinforced and taught to new trustees, is what demands attention.
Rather than tinker with board structure, such as the size of the board (the large boards wishing they were smaller and the small boards thinking they should be larger), or the number and size of committees, board leaders and presidents should work to ensure a healthy board culture. It has been said that culture eats structure and strategy for lunch, and we agree. But culture is much more elusive and difficult to explain succinctly, making it challenging to expose and act upon.
We have been working with several boards to describe, measure and analyze their cultures and then ask if that culture fits the institution’s environment, current context and the work facing the board. Boards are complex social systems they have norms, expectations and preferred ways of working. Some of the norms are explicit (attendance), and others are implicit (comportment). Such normative elements are the building blocks of board culture. A proverbial fish in water syndrome, culture is difficult to see objectively for those immersed in it. By making the normative behaviors and interaction explicit, we can make culture actionable and create a road map for aligning culture with needs.
In our research, we’ve identified several important dimensions of board culture, such as the extent to which:
influence is consolidated in the hands of a few trustees or widely dispersed across the board,
the board sees itself more as a cheerleader or critic,
the board has an academic mind-set versus a corporate one, and,
the board seeks diverging and diverse views rather than preferring to move quickly to consensus.
These cultural dimensions are continuums with a matched partner at the other end.
Cultural factors such as these and others in our framework have both positive and negative aspects. Think about the classic Myers-Briggs introvert-extrovert scale as a parallel. Being introverted or extroverted, on its face, is neither good nor bad; rather, it depends on the context and the ways in which the strengths and blind spots play themselves out for an individual. Still, it is helpful for individuals to understand their natural tendencies and preferences. We believe that the same is true for boards as they rate themselves on dimensions of culture.
For example, think about a large board, in a highly dynamic situation, where it needs to make decisions quickly. This board, and its president, may be well served by a board culture that has consolidated influence. A few highly respected and good board leaders are able to respond quickly.
But on the flip side, a board that has consolidated influence and needs widespread input to understand novel and complex situations confronting the institution may exclude key members who have much to add. If a small group of trustees dominates all board work, takes up the most airtime during board meetings, shapes all agendas and even talks over other trustees, why would others participate? Consolidated influence may drive trustee disengagement for some boards.
At the same time, however, boards with distributed influence may micromanage. A larger board with a lot of trustees may not have enough substance in their board work, so hungry people are looking for more engagement and can easily cross the murky line into operations.
The one exception we are exploring to the notion of cultural continuums (again, think Myers-Briggs) relates to how board members treat each other, or what we call comportment. For instance, having more trust among board members is better than less, having more respect for one another and one another’s contributions is healthier than animosity, and being more openly deliberative in meetings is more desirable than having off-line conversations or “parking lot meetings” (that occur after the board meeting as trustees head to their cars).
Understanding the cultural explanations of common board problems can be helpful for board leaders and presidents. Some of those problems include:
overly inclusive processes in which boards cannot make decisions (death by discussion). For example, we know of a board that could not move on approval of the tuition increase recommended by the administration because they continued to debate the issue at a series of meeting, putting the tuition-dependent institution at a disadvantage when the freshman recruitment cycle began.
a board that is overly clubby and deferential to the president (the in-the-pocket board).One board found itself in difficulty when the president didn’t share all of the institution’s financial situation; instead some trustees eventually found out about it from faculty with whom they sang in the church choir.
a board that jumps to decisions too quickly (the knee-jerk board) One board found itself with a parcel of real estate in another state that became burdensome because it quickly accepted a gift from a longtime supporter even though there was neither a plan nor purpose for it.
In these cases, knowing better the roles and responsibilities of good governance might not have thwarted the problems. Instead, the culture of the board contributed, allowing these issues to snowball.
Here are some key questions that start to capture board culture:
To what extent does the board have a corporate mind-set or an academic one? Is it mission or market driven?
Is influence consolidated or distributed?
What is the level of trust within the board and between the administration and the board?
Does the board have a disposition toward efficiency or deliberation?
A cultural lens to the work of boards can explain many things. But the real benefit is having the language to make elements of culture visible and thus actionable. Once boards have the means to understand their own culture, the subsequent work should focus on the extent to which the board’s culture is aligned with the demands of the environment in which the institution and the board has to work and the nature of the challenges it faces. The cultural profiles of boards suggest that they may be well suited for some work and some situations but ill prepared for other situations. Knowing these can be extremely important to ensure ongoing board effectiveness. Too many boards get caught by the blind spots and shortcomings of their cultures.
Helping the board and the president understand the board’s strengths and potential vulnerabilities is essential to making culture actionable. They can then have meaningful conversations about the board culture they have and whether or not it is working well in the current (and future) context, think about what changes to culture might be helpful, and develop strategies to act on them. Changing the culture of a board may not be as problematic as changing the culture of an institution. The relatively small size of the board, the ability of the board chair to set new expectations and norms, and the infrequency with which boards meet mean that with attention and intention they can adopt new cultural norms and expectations. In addition, board turnover can be used to advantage, because institutions can cultivate and orient trustees who fit the desired culture.
A board culture profile provides a road map to align board dynamics with the work the board needs to accomplish, the president’s leadership style and the institution’s context. One sample profile from our pilot effort includes the following dimensions along the five continuums. The board:
Has distributed influence across the members of the board;
Seeks to maximize efficiency in how it conducts its work;
Has divergent thinking, prizing multiple perspectives and critical thinking;
Has an academic mind-set in that it understands the academy; and,
Views its role as partnering with the administration.
One potential vulnerability of this board is that for the sake of efficiency, time is not well organized to ensure both sufficient involvement and a breadth of issues. The concern may not be one of time management, but the way in which time is allocated to issues. Does the board address sufficient substance? Could it be covering more issues if it altered its culture and meeting structure? These questions seem to be on the minds of board and administrative leaders at this university as they seek to add substantive discussions to board meetings.
Board culture has been called “the invisible director” for the influence it creates, both positive and negative. The real goal of understanding board culture and its influence on how boards work can put governance on the pathway toward increased effectiveness. It is making sure that invisible director is moving the board in the right and positive direction.
Peter Eckel is a senior fellow and the director of leadership programs at the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and a trustee at the University of La Verne. Cathy Trower is president of Trower & Trower Inc., a board governance consulting firm, and a trustee at Wheaton College, Mass.
The faculty union at the financially troubled City College of San Francisco is planning a one-day strike today. So the college is shutting down for the day. A statement from CCSF said: "Under these circumstances, closing the school and its 11 locations on Wednesday is the safest and most prudent course of action. Due to the strike, we do not anticipate having the necessary personnel on-site to maintain and operate the buildings."
The California Assembly's Higher Education Committee voted to advance a bill that would authorize the use of state student success funding for emergency aid, which typically are small grants of $300 or less. The use of emergency aid is spreading, thanks in part to research showing that lower-income students often drop out of college because of short-term financial needs, such as car repairs or visiting a sick relative.
The bill introduced by David Chiu, an assemblymember from San Francisco, would allow community college students in California to receive emergency aid from the state Student Success and Support Program.
In a written statement, Chiu said the bill would “help relieve some of the stress students face in the midst of an unexpected financial emergency and keep them on the path to be successful.”
Donald Trump, as the likely nominee of a major political party for the presidency of the United States, raises questions heretofore unimagined. Among them is the question of how and to what degree a college or university president should react to his candidacy.
If any doubt exists about the fact that the Trump situation is unusual, consider that some students viewed the recent chalkings of “Trump 2016” on the Emory University campus -- absent any other language -- as an act of intimidation. And the university’s president, James W. Wagner, observed that “the students with whom I spoke heard a message, not about political process or candidate choice, but instead about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.” That is, some people considered Trump’s mere name as equivalent to an offensive epithet.
While such sensitivity might in part be a sign of the times in which we live, it is nonetheless true that Trump is more or less a walking violation of the mission statements and codes of conduct at most American colleges. Were he a student at Emory who engaged in some of his characteristic behaviors in a classroom or residence hall, he would likely face severe criticism and even disciplinary action. Few college presidents would hesitate to condemn a member of their community who, for example, clearly appeared to mock a person with a physical disability, insulted more than one religious and ethnic group en masse, and habitually belittled women.
The question, then, is whether Trump’s status as a leading presidential candidate inoculates him against such condemnation. How does an academic leader balance the responsibility to remain “neutral” against the duty to speak in defense of the values that are most central to a place of learning?
Nonprofit colleges and universities are prohibited by law from officially endorsing or opposing particular political candidates; they are compelled by mission to be places where a wide range of views, even those that are unpopular and provocative, can be expressed. For those reasons, college presidents typically, and wisely, steer clear of politics. Although they are, of course, free to speak and act as individual citizens, their leadership roles can blur the line between personal and institutional agency.
The exception, however, is when political matters bear directly upon the work of higher education. Thus, presidents will not hesitate to speak out on such issues as the funding of Pell Grants or the importance of affirmative action, despite the fact that such issues have clear political dimensions. Typically college presidents will be careful to support or oppose a policy and not a person, though it would be disingenuous to insist that their positions have no implications for the candidates and political parties they do or do not endorse.
Trump presents a special challenge because the policies and the personality seem so deeply interwoven and because both the policies and the manner in which they are expressed represent such a clear challenge to the work of higher education. Banning the entry of all Muslims into the United States, for instance, would have a direct impact on many international students and faculty members on campuses across the country. Forced deportation of undocumented residents would remove many students from those same campuses. I might go further and argue that the incitement to violence and the encouragement of fear and anger also undermine the academy’s commitment to civility and rational discourse. Trump is far from the first politician to engage in such tactics, but he is the first, I would argue, to stand so close to the highest office in the republic.
So what, if anything, is a college leader to say about a candidate like Trump? While speaking out about a presidential election can be difficult, for me remaining silent in the face of so much behavior and proposed policy that is antithetical to the mission of higher education is infinitely more difficult and ultimately more dangerous. A higher education president who opposes some of the offensive behavior that Trump engages in or the policies he promotes might run the risk of being too outspoken. But passively observing Trump creates a risk that is in my view much greater: that of failing to speak when the values most important to the institution within one’s care are imperiled.
Brian Rosenberg is president of Macalester College.