Last year, the AGB Board of Directors released statements offering principles for boards to consider in their roles as fiduciaries on the topics of shared governance and innovation. Although these two topics may at first seem incongruous—one an honored tradition in higher education and one a buzzword in the corporate board room—when combined, each works to strengthen the other. To be effective, innovation requires collaboration, respect, and trust across an institution; similarly, shared governance is refined in the process of institutional change.
Agnes Scott College discovered the winning combination of shared governance and innovation while creating and implementing SUMMIT, an initiative to reinvent a liberal arts education for the 21st century by providing every student with a robust focus on global learning and leadership development.
In reflecting on the experience of innovation, Agnes Scott President Elizabeth Kiss offers higher education leaders the following advice: “I encourage institutions to see shared governance as an engine of innovation, not an obstacle. What it took for SUMMIT to be successful at Agnes Scott was for trustees to see faculty as their strategic partners. At the end of the day, innovation will only take hold if all the major stakeholder groups on campus are creatively involved.”
Boards must stop thinking of innovation and shared governance as distinct, and perhaps incompatible, priorities. When deployed in tandem, shared governance and innovation are tools higher education can use to reinvigorate itself for the 21st century.