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AGB Launches Guardians Initiative, Campaign to Reclaim Higher Education’s Value Proposition

Apr 2, 2017

Issues first in series of information briefs, “The Business of Higher Education,” encouraging trustees to elevate public conversation on financial model, challenges.

WASHINGTON − The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) has launched a national campaign to engage college and university trustees in reclaiming the value proposition of higher education and its contribution to both individuals and society.  The effort, entitled “The Guardians Initiative: Reclaiming the Public Trust™,” will seek to harness the collective strength of some 50,000 trustees—both as fiduciaries and citizens—to play a more active role as advocates for the value of higher education more broadly.

“Trustee voices have too long been absent from the public discourse around the value of higher education,” said AGB President Richard D. Legon.  “Trustees need to become more visible and more vocal in support of higher education.  The fundamental contributions of our colleges and universities to individuals and to society must be recognized and championed.”

“It is time for citizen board members to assume a more public role—not to supplant the voice of institution leadership but to raise their own level of accountability for the public trust,” said David W. Miles, chair of the AGB Board of Directors and trustee of Drake University (IA).  “Trustees must see themselves both as fiduciaries of their institutions and as stewards for higher education as a whole—as advocates for higher education’s values and contributions.”

The initiative takes its name from the late Clark Kerr, former president of the University of California, who described college and university trustees as “guardians of a great trust” in a book on trusteeship that he authored for AGB in 1989 (The Guardians: Boards of Trustees of American Colleges and Universities, What They Do and How Well They Do It).  The new campaign is based on two complementary ideas about the nature of contemporary trusteeship in the United States.  First, board members can be more effective, both within their own institution and beyond, if they develop an appreciation for and a sense of belonging to higher education as a whole.  And, second, educating trustees on the national challenges facing higher education—even if not all of those issues impact their specific institution—enriches trustee service and makes trusteeship more personally rewarding.

“American higher education isn’t perfect, and we welcome constructive debate on issues like college affordability, quality and accountability,” Legon said.  “But such critiques—valid or not—should not be allowed to obscure the overarching value of our institutions. There is so much more to the higher education story—and who better to tell it than our trustees?”

In conjunction with today’s campaign announcement, AGB released “The Business of Higher Education,” an information brief that examines the prevailing business model in higher education and urges trustees to help elevate the level of public discourse around the complex issue of higher education finance. Authored by Lawrence White, AGB Consultant and Special Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at the University System of New Hampshire, the brief confronts the notion that “[c]olleges and universities are now typically suspected of core operational inefficiency and are criticized because they cost too much and deliver too little.” Trustees, White argues, are uniquely positioned to respond to these allegations and provide the information and context that can lead to greater public understanding of the value of higher education.

Additional briefs in the series will address issues that animate national discussions about higher education and ensure that board members are fully informed and able to engage in national and local conversations about the sector.  Other topics to be addressed include:

  • Undergraduate ROI
  • The College as Citizen
  • Graduate and Professional Education, Research, and Intellectual Property
  • International Education and Globalization
  • 21st Century Teaching and Learning

In addition to developing and disseminating these information briefs, AGB will work with institution leaders and others to actively engage board members in national dialogues on the value of higher education—through opinion pieces, speeches, meetings and events. The goal is to initiate and sustain these important conversations and enable governing board members to become more forceful and effective “guardians” of higher education’s most fundamental purposes.

The Guardians Initiative will include a web presence—www.AGB.org/Guardians—that will contain the information briefs, a tool kit for campuses, and other campaign resources.  Active social media will leverage the efforts of individual campuses: @AGBGuardians; #AGBGuardians.

For nearly 100 years, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) has had one mission: to strengthen and protect this country’s unique form of institutional governance through its research, services, and advocacy. Serving more than 1,300 member boards and 40,000 individual citizen trustees, AGB is the only national organization providing university and college presidents, board chairs, trustees, and board professionals of both public as well as private institutions and institutionally related foundations with resources that enhance their effectiveness. In accordance with its mission, AGB has developed programs and services that strengthen the partnership between the president and governing board; provide guidance to regents and trustees; identify issues that affect tomorrow’s decision making; and foster cooperation among all constituencies in higher education.

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