As higher education faces intense disruption in its internal and external environment—an evolving student population, increased demands from business and political leaders, and eroding public trust—The Board of Directors of the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) has issued a new Statement on Innovation in Higher Education to assist governing boards and institutional leaders as they develop bold responses and implement creative solutions to the challenges facing the sector.
The statement is the latest in series of commentaries on key issues in higher education leadership and governance released by the AGB Board. This installment calls on governing boards to foster a culture of innovation—as a board and as an institution—that prizes creative thinking, welcomes stakeholder engagement, and embraces risk and failure as part of the process.
“Governing boards and institutional leaders should recognize the power of innovation at a time of such rapid change—both within higher education and our society at large,” said AGB President Richard D. Legon. “In framing a culture of innovation—one that meets challenges with boldness and empowers the creativity of all stakeholders—boards and institutional leadership can strengthen our institutions, weather current crises, and confidently meet future opportunities.”
Six principles for boards to consider in their roles as fiduciaries are included in the new statement:
- Innovation in higher education requires a focus on current and long-term priorities and aspirations.
- Innovation depends on an active commitment to building and sustaining a culture of institutional collaboration.
- In fostering a culture of innovation, the governing board should be clear in its support for presidential leadership.
- Innovation requires a governing board’s readiness for change, a willingness to accept and monitor risk, and a structure that ensures proper oversight and participation in innovation.
- Innovation requires a sufficient commitment of resources.
- Successful innovation demands the governing board’s attention to the strategic role of technology.
The association convened a special task force of AGB board members and higher education leaders to guide the effort that resulted in this statement:
- Angel Mendez (Chair), AGB Director and board member, Lafayette College
- Beverly Seay (Vice Chair), AGB Director and board member, University of Central Florida
- Ángel Cabrera, President, George Mason University
- Leo Lambert, AGB Director and President, Elon University
- Paul LeBlanc, chair, AGB Council of Presidents and President, Southern New Hampshire University
- John O’Brien, President and CEO, EDUCAUSE
- David Turner, former AGB Director and former board member, Delaware State University
- Diane Yu, AGB Director and board member, Oberlin College
Along with the board statement, the association has created a website featuring case studies and practical resources for boards and presidents seeking to encourage innovation at their institutions.
“By signaling support for innovation to all stakeholders, a board can add immense value to the innovative process,” said AGB Director and task force chair Angel Mendez. “A truly consequential board recognizes the importance of innovation for the future of the institution and works to create an environment where new ideas and initiatives can be successful. The AGB Board of Directors hopes that this statement will empower governing boards and institutional leaders as they commit to innovation on their campuses and guide their institutions through this time of immense change.”