If you are a trustee or president, today’s headlines should motivate you to take a proactive role in developing policies on inclusion, civility, respect, free speech, and safety. While most institutions are painfully aware of the need to address these issues, few are proactively taking an honest review of their practices and policies. Trustees may be reluctant to “rock the boat.”
Higher education leaders must ensure their institutions truly reflect the values of diversity and inclusion and provide an environment that demonstrates respect. Coupled with this mandate is the need to be proactive in establishing clear policies and guidelines for students and the administration on engaging with matters related to free speech and student safety.
When is the last time your board had an open discussion of your institution’s values? Do you practice what you preach?
Within the context of the national socio-political environment, higher education leaders must have the courage to initiate conversations in the boardroom to determine what policies are needed. Boards must be able to answer the question, “What is it REALLY like to be a student at this institution?" Gaining the perspectives of diverse students who attend the institution is an essential part of this process.
When responding to a crisis, leadership often deals with these issues publicly and reactively without clear policies. Proactively reviewing values and establishing policies ensures the board of trustees meets their responsibilities and the president has the necessary tools to respond accordingly while staying mission focused.
To get the conversation started, the “AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Campus Climate, Inclusion and Civility” is an excellent resource for governing boards. An article from Trusteeship, "Campus Unrest," also provides useful background.