This academic year has witnessed unprecedented campus activity surrounding the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and other social and institutional dynamics. Most dramatically, there have been calls for the resignations of campus leaders, but also rallies, sit-ins, and speak-outs.
What is the board’s role when members of the campus community are challenging the administration?
The stewardship responsibility assigned to boards demands that they care deeply about the institutions on whose behalf they serve. This care means not only standing witness to the success stories that provide examples of mission fulfillment, but also being present to hear of the times when the institution, despite its best efforts, falls short of community members’ expectations. Caring about our institutions enough so that we take on the challenge of diversity conversations is a leadership calling to which we must respond.
Board and campus leaders should have frank and open conversations about the concerns raised by students. Boards should have the ability to discuss, in both an appreciative and critical way, how their institution is performing in regards to the campus’ diversity vision, mission, and goals. Such conversations demand that the board is aware of the diversity values espoused by the institutions, as those stated values are generally the basis on which students construct their demands. Board understanding of institutional equity and inclusion efforts is crucial.
When we have successful diversity conversations we are better positioned to provide proactive leadership, as success builds more confidence to initiate subsequent discussions. Fear and avoidance of difficult dialogue puts boards in the position of merely reacting to situations. Boards must actively engage in helping institutional leaders chart a course towards equity and inclusion.
As board members, we are responsible for the health of our institutions: fiscal soundness, the physical plant, and the fulfillment of mission.
But the health of the institution is also determined its heart: the care it exercises, the community it sustains, and the hopes it inspires.
We must care about the current unrest because that’s what good stewards of public trust should do and because of the demographic trends of our nation – that is what our long-term survival demands.