It is generally agreed that college and university governance, leadership, and assessment practices are essential dimensions to fostering the fulfillment of institutional missions and goals.
However, it is estimated that less than 6% of trustees for American college and universities have had professional experience in higher education. Most are from business and finance. Yet can one imagine the board of Google or Goldman Sachs having as members people who had no professional knowledge of the goals, industry, competitive environment, strategic strengths and opportunities, vulnerabilities, and related dimensions of the enterprise? Of course not.
This is why is this so important to have effective orientation programs and continuing education for college and university trustee boards and members.This training is necessary not only for service on the board but also for service on the several committees.
In addition, the board and its members should understand the fiduciary duties of care, loyalty, and obedience; the important role of the By-laws; the tradition of “shared governance” embracing the board, the president, and the faculty; and the board’s relationship to the Faculty Handbook.
There are many books and articles about leadership, but not many devoted to the special environment of the university. For the campus president, shared governance, issues of “process”, and opportunities for speaking to varied audiences are critical components of leadership. In addition, the campus president may be called the “CEO”, or Chief Executive Officer, but the most effective of them perform as the Chief Mission (or Education) Officer. The president has numerous opportunities to remind his or her campus colleagues of the mission and purpose the institution and the importance of enhancing the environment for transformational teaching and learning.
Just as higher education institutions emphasize the evaluation of student learning, they also should have strong systems of evaluation for the board, board leadership, and the president. As a president for 30 years, I have developed and used effective evaluation instruments.
Dr. Robert A. Scott is President Emeritus and University Professor Emeritus of Adelphi University where he served from July 2000 to July 2015. He also is President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Ramapo College of New Jersey where he served from 1985 to 2000. In addition, he served as a leader of two state higher education coordinating agencies (Indiana and New Jersey). He is the only person to hold the three top positions in American higher education: head of a private university, a public institution, and a state coordinating board. In 2013, Grant Thornton dedicated its annual review of higher education to his leadership. He earned his BA at Bucknell University and his PhD at Cornell University.
Effective July 1, 2015, Dr. Scott started his sabbatical leave from Adelphi University. In fall 2015, he served as Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute and Visiting Fellow at Mansfield College, both at the University of Oxford. For the period 2015-2017, he served as a Frederick Lewis Allen Room Scholar at the New York Public Library. His book on university governance and leadership, How University Boards Work //jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/content/how-university-boards-work, was published by The Johns Hopkins University Press and earned a 2019 Eric Hopper Book Award. As a consequence of this book, he is now an active consultant advising university and college boards and presidents on issues of leadership and governance.
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