Submitted by Paul Fain on December 16, 2016 - 3:00am
Barbara Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, has been placed on leave in advance of her planned retirement next year, the San Francisco Chroniclereported. The commission has been in an multiyear feud with City College of San Francisco over its decision to yank the two-year college's accreditation due to financial and administrative problems. Beno has been a controversial figure in the high-profile dispute, which has led to criticism of the accreditor by the U.S. Department of Education and prominent congressional Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco representative who is minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Beno in September announced she would retire next June. But the accreditor put her on leave one month before making its final decision on City College's fate and before the scheduled February decision by the Education Department on whether to continue to recognize the commission as a regional accreditor.
Following similar scandals involving sexist, racist and homophobic online communication among some male athletes at Harvard and Columbia Universities and Amherst College, Princeton University on Thursday announced that it was suspending its men's swimming and diving team. "The decision to suspend the season was made after a complaint earlier this week alerted the university to several materials, including content on the university-sponsored men’s swimming and diving team Listserv, that was vulgar and offensive, as well as misogynistic and racist in nature," said a statement from the university.
A new survey of graduate assistants conducted by Service Employees International Union, a major organizer of adjuncts that is currently organizing graduate employees on a number of private campuses, suggests widespread concern with pay, health care and job security. The survey includes responses from graduate assistants at 13 institutions where SEIU is active. Seventy-eight percent of respondents over all had a positive view of a “unified voice” to advocate for improved working conditions, according to SEIU.
Pay or stipends were important to 94 percent of respondents, followed by health insurance (89 percent); professional development (87 percent); workload (87 percent); respect (86 percent); and research funding (85 percent). Additional areas of concern to more than two-thirds of respondents include academic freedom, job security, summer gap in pay, discrimination, dental insurance, administrative transparency, sexual harassment, having a voice, reduced funding after set years, affordable housing, vision insurance, tuition remission and unpaid work.
As we read the current news about higher education and of failures of leadership by both administrators and boards, we can’t help but ask ourselves, “What the hell is going on?” Consider Antioch College, Cooper Union, Sweet Briar College, Temple University, the University of Louisville, the University of Missouri, the University of Virginia -- it seems that no institutional type is exempt from governance woes and sometimes the intervention of attorneys general, governors, alumni and more.
At the heart of many of these situations is the challenge of board accountability. Most people involved in higher education are familiar with some form of accountability. Accreditation addresses institutional accountability. The student learning movement has increased the emphasis on faculty accountability. But while accrediting agencies do call attention to board accountability, particularly when boards go off the rails, board accountability has yet to garner the same attention.
Governance accountability is difficult for a variety of reasons. First, it often includes high-stakes decisions that not everyone will agree with. Second, board deliberations often take place behind closed doors or, even if open, without much of an audience. Third, many stakeholders don’t understand governance and its role. These factors add up to a degree of skepticism about the board -- even if it is doing its work well and honorably. Because of this, boards must work extra hard to ensure they are accountable and viewed as being so.
Indeed, boards should be out ahead of the accountability curve. Doing so would greatly help them and their institutions. So what is accountability when it comes to governance? To whom are boards accountable and for what? And how can they improve their accountability?
For What Is the Board Accountable?
There are five essential areas of board responsibility and accountability:
Upholding the institution’s mission;
Selecting, compensating, evaluating and firing the president;
Overseeing the fiscal health and integrity of the institution;
Overseeing the quality of programs, services and other institutional offerings; and
Ensuring the board’s own performance and conduct.
Of this list above, the final one tends to be the one that boards most often are least prepared to carry out well.
To Whom Is the Board Accountable?
First and foremost, because they hold their institutions in the public trust, boards of both independent and public colleges and universities are accountable for achieving public purposes. Boards that end up in the headlines for misbehavior often do not violate legal statutes. Instead, they and their institutions lose public trust.
Thus, board accountability has a public dimension to it. Boards need to behave in ways that make sure that the public trusts them and they are doing their collective best to move the institution or state system forward. While boards are often called upon to make difficult and controversial decisions, it often is the court of public opinion in which boards are judged.
At its most basic level, this public accountability is akin to government agencies answering to the electorate and businesses answering to stockholders. However, boards do not have stockholders or electorates who can readily demand greater accountability. Higher education’s stakeholders are a varied group, including policy makers, alumni, students, staff and faculty, and for public universities, the citizens of the state. And the expectations of these different constituencies may differ greatly from each other.
How, Legally, Is the Board Accountable?
Because the institutions they govern are supported by public contributions and enjoy favorable tax treatment, higher education boards are legally bound by the duties of care (exercising diligent oversight, being prepared for meetings), loyalty (placing organizational interest over self-interest, ensuring no conflicts of interest) and obedience (staying true to the institution’s mission, ensuring funds raised are used in support of the mission).
All academic institutions have articles of incorporation (bylaws) that describe the board as responsible for what the institution does and how it does it. Boards are also answerable to federal, state and local agencies, and they must file a Form 990 with the IRS that provides an overview of institutional governance, activities and programs, as well as discloses detailed financial information. In addition, regional accreditation keeps an eye on governance.
How Can Boards Ensure Governance Accountability?
So far, this all seems fairly straightforward. So, why so many train wrecks? We don’t believe they occur because laws, bylaws and articles of incorporation aren’t clear -- they are. We don’t believe they occur because of stupidity -- by and large, trustees are really smart, experienced people. We don’t believe they occur because of evil intention -- trustees generally want to do good work and serve faithfully.
Perhaps they occur because it’s easy to have words on paper, but more difficult to enact them. Some boards lack internal practices that help keep them aware of their accountability and that bring issues to light to help them avoid blind spots, potholes and sinkholes.
Further, boards of public universities and state systems govern in public, which certainly ups the ante. State sunshine laws are intended to increase transparency and, correspondingly, accountability. But there’s a downside, too: having to govern in public sometimes encourages individual trustees to create workarounds or to curtail dialogue, robust discussion, provocative questions and meaty deliberations.
Still despite the challenges of governing in public -- in the sunshine -- we believe that all boards can serve their organizations better by ensuring accountability. Here’s how.
Hold a discussion about accountability. Boards should periodically have a straightforward conversation about to whom they are accountable and how they might demonstrate it. Public boards may more easily have this conversation, given their appointment processes and the strong sense of priorities that exists in many states, while boards of independent colleges and universities may have a more complicated situation. Boards at religiously affiliated institutions may feel accountable to the sponsoring order, particularly regarding mission. Other boards may identify other stakeholders such as students, alumni, donors or the larger community. The ways in which boards demonstrate accountability to each group may vary. But the more boards can be intentional about this, the better they will govern.
Practice predecision accountability. In its simplest terms, this strategy means that boards should make decisions as if they -- not the president -- had to explain them to stakeholders. For example, for each board meeting, randomly select two trustees who will, in mock trial fashion, need to explain a board dialogue or decision to an unknown entity (a stakeholder group) waiting outside the door. Research shows that practicing predecisional accountability increases trustee engagement in the meeting discussions and encourages trustees to consider more stakeholder viewpoints (because they don’t know who’s waiting to hear the upshot), ask more questions and take more notes. Ultimately, they govern better.
Epitomize performance accountability for the institution. If the board holds itself up as an exemplar of performance accountability, it is better positioned to hold others accountable as well as themselves. That means being explicit about the board’s collective understanding of great governance, how it intends to execute it and how it will measure it. Periodically (every two to three years, although some boards undertake an annual review) you should conduct a comprehensive self-assessment of the board’s collective performance. It’s also a good idea to have trustees self-assess their own engagement and performance. While these assessments might be a bit inflated, the simple act of self-reflection is helpful. It’s also good practice to assess the work of committees and board meetings. Specific ideas for all of these types of assessment may be found in Trower’s book The Practitioner’s Guide to Governance as Leadership.
Create and uphold a statement of expectations. Another good practice is to have a written statement of trustee expectations, or a code of conduct, that spells out the responsibilities of board members and how the board will deal with violations. You should make this statement public and demonstrate that the board takes seriously the ways its members engage with one another and with the work of governance. Such a statement can also help boards to moderate potentially disruptive behavior by a few rogue trustees. Great boards do not tolerate renegades who violate agreed-upon terms of engagement and have consequences for misbehavior.
Seek management’s overall assessment annually. The best boards engage in dialogue with the president about how the board is performing. Such conversations can happen with the board chair or with the executive or governance committee, and overarching views should be discussed with the full board. Some boards ask the senior staff members to also complete the written board assessment survey and analyze results comparing board to staff members, in the aggregate (so as to not compromise anonymity). Boards provide presidents with feedback and assessment, so why not reverse the process?
Hold executive sessions for reflective practice. To learn and improve, boards should reflect on their performance, which can often best be done in executive session without senior leadership present. Such sessions are a time for trustees to open up with one another about how they see the board’s performance and talk about blind spots that may have been revealed in the assessments and how to overcome them. Another best practice of the best boards is to periodically take stock of the past year and discuss both contributions/successes and shortfalls in terms of the board’s governance function. Questions to ask: What did we do especially well? Where did we fall short? Why? What have we learned? How will we govern still better in the year ahead?
Avoid conflicts of interest. This point should not need to be reinforced, yet trustees too often find themselves in conflict. Board accountability is undermined quickly and deeply when conflicts of interest exist. While not all conflicts are avoidable, many are and should be.
Use the mission as a guidepost and touchstone. Too many boards get into difficulty when their actions are viewed as running counter to the mission and values of the university. For example, boards lose credibility when they offer presidents excessive compensation packages, yet leave students with a high debt load or come under scrutiny for not paying staff living wages. Boards can appoint trustees at each meeting to ask, “How does this decision reflect on our values and mission?” Hopefully such a capacity will become naturally ingrained over time. This is a type of values sniff test -- if the decision smells bad, it probably is.
In summary, a board can take many steps to ensure accountability for itself. Because boards are at the apex of the institutions they serve, the buck stops with them. They cannot and should not hide, as they should have nothing to hide. You may have noted an undercurrent of the concept of integrity running through all this. Ultimately, that is what board accountability boils down to: integrity. Without it, nothing good can happen. Once violated, it is difficult to overcome. With it, good work is possible.
Cathy Trower is president of Trower & Trower Inc., a board governance consulting firm; a board member at BoardSource in Washington, D.C.; and a trustee at Wheaton College, Mass. Peter Eckel is a senior fellow and the director of leadership 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.
Submitted by Paul Fain on December 15, 2016 - 3:00am
The University of Virginia's Miller Center and the affiliated National Commission on Financing 21st Century Higher Education on Wednesday released a report making the case for how to best fund increased college credential production in the United States.
The Miller Center in 2014 created the commission with funding from the Lumina Foundation to develop recommendations for long-term, sustainable financial models for higher education. The commission, which was led by a bipartisan group of former lawmakers and college leaders, generated 10 white papers by higher education experts. For example, two of the papers called for more state support of public higher education to go to open-access colleges and need-based aid.
The commission's final report drew from the papers. It included nine recommendations:
Increase federal and state institutional support;
Enhance state revenue to support higher education;
Stimulate the development and implementation of low-cost education delivery models;
Encourage productivity in the postsecondary system;
Create incentives for students to graduate on time;
Help students and their families make better decisions;
Increase and reform financial aid to target low-income students;
Develop additional private funding;
Take advantage of private-sector programs.
"While the U.S. higher education system is still the envy of the world, the nation is clearly at a major crossroads given the increased income inequality and the fact that many workers feel left behind economically," Mike Castle, commission co-chair, former Republican governor of Delaware and former U.S. congressman, said in a written statement. "It is our hope that national and state policy leaders gain valuable insights and policy direction from our work to build stronger federal, state, business and higher education partnerships focused on higher degree and certificate attainment rates."
Indiana authorities have filed a misdemeanor battery charge against Sean Woods, men's basketball coach at Morehead State University, in Kentucky, after two of his players said he assaulted them during a game at the University of Evansville, The Herald-Leader reported. The university suspended Woods last month, but did not cite specifics.
The professor of psychology who was secretly videotaped talking about Donald Trump has left the state of California following a series of physical threats, The Orange County Registerreported. Hundreds of people demonstrated at Orange Coast College for and against Olga Perez Stable Cox, the professor, this week, as her faculty union said her classes will be covered by someone else through the end of the semester. “Someone emailed her a picture of her house, with her address,” Rob Schneiderman, president of the campus's faculty union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, told the Register. Another email read, “You want communism, go to Cuba … try to bring it to America and we’ll put a [expletive] bullet in your face,” the newspaper reported.
A videotape of Cox saying in her human sexuality class after the election that Trump’s victory was an “act of terrorism” was shared on the campus’s College Republicans’ Facebook page last week and promptly went viral. Cox did not respond to a request for comment, but Schneiderman has said she was answering a question from a student. The context of Cox’s comments is not clear from the video itself. Two students in Cox’s class told the Register this week that Cox also asked students who voted for Trump to identify themselves. “She tried to get everyone who voted for Donald Trump to stand up and show the rest of the class who to watch out for and protect yourself from,” said student Tanner Webb. Schneiderman disputed the account, saying that Cox told the class some people would be happy with the election results, and asked students to stand up if they wished, after one student did so without prompting.
Shawn Steel, a Republican National Committee member from California and an attorney who is representing the Orange Coast College Republicans, has previously said he wanted Cox to apologize but now says singling out Trump supporters is grounds for possible dismissal. “That’s a deal breaker for me,” he told the Register.The college is investigating the matter.
In the wake of the presidential election, most analysts have concluded that the higher education community was one of the biggest losers. American colleges and universities may offer the education the world desires, but people in huge swaths of the country perceive campuses as elitist and full of political views they reject.
The election results arrived, too, amid long-boiling cynicism and doubt about the value, and values, of our institutions. Even for students seeking degrees, the costs and debts have often become onerous, and the results -- notably the jobs -- are not always what have been promised. Now, exit polls say, the election has confirmed how differently college and noncollege graduates view just about everything.
We in higher education must address vital issues of access, cost and effectiveness (let alone widespread and brutal economic inequality). We must also reconnect who we are and what we do with our own campus communities and especially with America’s wider citizenry. But communication is especially fraught as postelection campus strife swirls, amid calls for sanctuary campuses, walkouts, hate speech and acts of violence.
Our institutions, aiming to serve outstanding talent wherever it is found, bring together human differences -- cultural, racial, economic and more -- that even in normal times invite tension. Day after day, in classrooms and residence halls, events and offhand conversations, diverse and changing generations wrestle with ideas that invoke all those differences. Even without postelection duress, conflicts over ideology, language, race, gender identity and every other complicated topic would be guaranteed. Throw social media into the mix and you have quite a brew. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like can turn campus struggles into national, and immediate, spectacles.
When such crises emerge, we must respond with speed -- and across numerous media simultaneously. But what do we say in those moments, and even more, over the longer term? Having worked in higher education, at both public and private institutions, since the administration of George H. W. Bush, I believe that four pillars must serve as the foundation of higher education communication in this postelection era.
First principles. Higher education is by definition about something, well, higher. Ideals that are the cornerstone of mission statements everywhere express a commitment to liberation of the mind, rigorous pursuit of the truth, skepticism about received wisdom, engagement in civic life, respect for freedom of speech, and the imperative of decency and character. These ideals connect colleges and universities to something greater in the human spirit than the pressures of the moment -- be they political, cultural or otherwise.
These ideals are largely American ideals, too. Especially when doubts are greatest and bigotry is rising, the vocalizing of those ideals must be steady. Through speeches, statements, emails to alumni, op-eds and other means, campus voices must convey and stand by them. Presidents, provosts and deans -- the academic leadership -- must take the lead, as some already have done forcefully since Nov. 8. That must spread and continue for months and years to come. Presumably we believe that, in difficult times, higher education has light to fight for, and to offer.
The academic core. The noble principles that our institutions profess are rooted in the belief that powers of the mind can bring us closer to truth, and therefore closer to those better angels of our natures that our missions promise to inspire. Reason, logic, analysis, accuracy -- colleges and universities are built around such qualities. Foregrounding what is essential seems especially critical when the difference between fact, falsehood and opinion is being muddied. But a cursory examination of much of our messaging will find other ideas prioritized: career value, community service, leadership development, economic impact. These are important, but they all depend upon delivering the academic mission first, and the rhetoric shouldn’t confuse what’s first and foremost.
Stories. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about human beings going back to our cave days, it’s that we’re fascinated with stories. We in higher education need to tell ours, specifically the ones that show why the ideals and academic mission of our institutions matter.
The election autopsy is making the case that elites too often talk past other people, but that argument isn’t only about the failures of ignoring economic pain or “flyover country.” It’s also about assuming that facts and data are sufficient for argument or advocacy. Our ideals need a down-to-earth life, because that is where they reveal themselves. If we’re going to make our missions real and honest, sound reasoning has to be paired with stories of the people who are affected by the ideals. Thankfully our resources for these stories, in the experiences of students and alumni, are virtually limitless.
A bigger audience. Four-year colleges and universities naturally spend most of their time communicating with people already in the same sphere: people on the campus, admissions prospects and alumni. But only a third of American adults have a four-year degree. If we’re not communicating regularly with the rest of the country, meaning the rest of the community around us, we actually are living in a bubble, just as critics allege.
There are numerous places through which to connect, including local civic clubs, shelters, hospitals, K-12 schools, churches, farms, small businesses, industry -- and local two-year colleges, too, where so many of tomorrow’s bachelor’s degree aspirants begin. This can’t only be through service work by students and others, either. It has to be through sharing ideas, listening and building understanding and relationships. The election has been an intense reminder of the vast gap that can exist between how people with a four-year degree and those without one experience the world. Higher education can do more to listen, learn, serve -- and bridge the divide.
The election makes clear the striking importance of reaching out -- and of how, how often and how extensively we do it. The stakes have become extreme for higher education, and more importantly, for our nation. Getting this right is crucial.
Pete Mackey led communications at such institutions as Amherst College, Bucknell University and the University of South Carolina and now runs the communications firm Mackey Strategies.
Advocates for women in science in New Zealand are criticizing Chris Kelly, chancellor of Massey University -- and some are demanding his ouster -- over comments he made about female veterinarians, The New Zealand Herald reported. Kelly made the comments in an interview with Rural News in which he described how veterinary enrollments are now dominated by women. Here's what he said: "The problem is one woman graduate is equivalent to two-fifths of a full-time equivalent vet throughout her life because she gets married and has a family, which is normal." Kelly has since apologized, but many say that the attitude reflected in his quote is one that works against women in many science fields.