It’s said that your perception is your reality, and that truism certainly applies to higher education governance.
Board members bring their unique backgrounds and professional experiences into the boardroom. These contexts shape their perspectives on how best to navigate a complex organization and raise different questions about mission and relevance in a changing world.
Ask a hundred different students, professors, college administrators, business leaders, or policymakers what they believe higher education’s primary purpose is and you’ll likely get a hundred different answers.
Similarly, the lenses through which we as board members view higher education and our role give us a different perspectives on how to position our institutions for the future:
- Through a human capital lens, higher education is about preparing students for jobs and career success.
- Through an economic lens, higher education is about research and development, entrepreneurship and competitiveness.
- Through a social lens, higher education tackles difficult issues, facilitates dialogue, and brings insight.
- Through a civic lens, higher education is a transformational enterprise—improving lives, developing communities, and changing the world.
- Through a financial lens, higher education institutions are organizations with distinct business models and questions about long-term sustainability.
- Through a political lens, higher education simultaneously shapes and responds to a complex legal environment and a maze of regulations and mandates.
All of these perspectives have value, and different lenses should be utilized at different times. The effectiveness of boards is enhanced when members seek different perspectives to broaden their understanding of how to ensure the long-term success of their institution in all regards.