As the country increasingly focuses on the relationship between higher education and our nation’s future, the responsibilities associated with effective board governance take on renewed emphasis. Serving as a board member has never been easy; yet, during the past decade, intrusions into the work of governing bodies have grown significantly.
The stakes are too high for boards to cede their policy authority to governmental control or self-serving political, economic, or personal interests external to the institution.
Acting as the oversight body of a public trust, boards should always bear in mind the following:
- Although boards should respect, encourage, and welcome the input of all stakeholders in considering a policy, they must ensure that their decision-making processes are free of any undue pressures from external stakeholders.
- Boards have ultimate responsibility to sustain higher education’s inherent values and protect them from those who attempt to leverage influence.
- Board independence is a basic requisite in meeting the fiduciary standards of obedience and loyalty that define a board’s legal obligations.
- Boards must use the mission of their institution or system as the focal point for their policy decisions.
- Individual board members whose views are not consistent with board decisions must respect the actions of the corporate body.
- Boards must police themselves in assuring the highest level of ethical behavior among their members.
As the overseers of a public trust, boards have an obligation to rise above the external pressures being applied to their work. They must act together, fully informed and impartial in their policy determinations, and committed to the long-term well-being of the institutions they serve.
Excerpt taken from the AGB Statement on External Influences on Universities and Colleges. The full text, including four core principles and illustrative questions for boards, is available online.