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Top 10 Imperatives for LEADERSHIP/REPORTS

Successful Governing Boards

In

by Jeff Simmons

its 2012 annual report, the Association of Governing our observation that while many of those boards are functionBoards (AGB) of Colleges and Universities identified ing very well or quite good, there are a few that we walk into the increasing demands placed on institutions of high- where they don’t say to us that there are opportunities for er learning to provide quality education amid diminished improvement around the issues of best practices, good goverresources. nance, functioning, education and diversity. Such challenges further amplify the importance of estab“We thought it would be timely to put our heads together lishing strong leadership at the helm of an institution, and and see what we can do to surface this issue of improving wisely charting a course that board performance in a construcimproves services, education, and tive way. As you look at the Top 10, reputation. we are saying there are opportuni“2012 brought new demands on ties for boards to take a careful colleges and universities to ensure look, to audit their performance, that significantly more students and try to achieve best practices in receive a quality education at a reagovernance.” sonable price, even as institutional Gauss has more than three resources continue to be severely decades of experience advising limited,” said AGB board of directors board members and CEOs on best chair James E. Geringer and AGB practices in governance, leadership President Richard D. Legon. transition and succession planning “Our institutions also are conin periods of rapid change. Haley fronting growing government and conducts senior leadership searchregulatory oversight and declining es, particularly at the presidential public faith in the value of higher level, on behalf of colleges and unieducation. Now more than ever versities. before, boards must strike an effecThe following are their Top 10 tive balance between traditional imperatives: oversight and the need to meet James W. Gauss, chairman of board services, growing public expectations.” Diversify Witt/Kieffer executive search firm On the frontlines of meeting Topping the Top 10 is diversificathese expectations are the indepention of the board that leads the institudent boards of volunteer trustees, leaders who for more than tion. A board should reflect a school’s constituency but also have 375 years have served higher education and faced current and a diversity of expertise and viewpoints, Gauss and Haley stress. new needs with an eye toward future challenges. Two AGB surveys issued in 2010 found that college trustees Addressing those needs will involve more than responding were overwhelmingly white, male, and over 50. The surveys, to a current crisis or funding obstacle, but instead require of more than 700 private and public institutions, noted that cementing an agenda that addresses multiple issues and estab- whites represented 74.3 percent of trustee spots at public lishing key measures critical for success. institutions and 87.5 percent at private ones. Among public James W. Gauss, chairman of board services, and Katherine boards, the surveys noted, the average 12-voting member Haley, PhD, education consultant, at executive search firm breakdown included nine white members, two black, and one Witt/Kieffer, have developed a list of 10 imperatives they stress person of another race. are crucial for higher education boards to adhere to in the Initially, institutions must determine how they define “diversity.” foreseeable future. “There is a very wide range of definitions,” Gauss says. “We work with a lot of universities and colleges and spend “The very first thing we suggest that organizations do to take a a lot of time in their boardrooms,” Gauss says. “It has been more careful look at this is sit down as an organization and as

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a governance body and define what diversity means to you. You may be surprised at how often there is lack of clarity of what diversity means.” Gauss says that to move its metrics and strengthen diversity in the boardroom, an institution needs to measure progress over time. It must adopt six steps, starting with defining “diversity.” Additionally, he says, a board must: make diverse leadership a strategic priority for the organization; learn about the possibility and pitfalls in diversity recruiting and retention; make diversity a part of formal succession planning and mentoring professors; mandate diverse slates for key leadership positions in both the board and leadership roles; and, for those organizations doing good work, provide opportunities for minority leaders to gain board exposure to the workings of the board. “There is a lot of detail that falls out from those six pillars,” he says. “But if organizations are to embrace diversity, then this is the to-do list.” He adds: “Board and senior management diversity can only succeed if the board is ultimately committed to a culture in which differences are embraced and celebrated.”

However, they note that the education process relies on interaction and dialogue, and distance learning doesn’t necessarily yield the same growth and engagement as brick-andmortar classroom settings. While it can reduce educational costs, Haley says, “it goes against the model where you have a professor in a classroom entertaining discussion, where students learn from each other.” Rightsize Gauss and Haley lament that some boards can be too inclusive or cumbersome, while others might be too small to meet varied needs. Rightsizing dovetails with diversifying a board’s membership. “You need diversity to have the kinds of experience you need on the board,” Haley says. For example, increased scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service has prompted a rise in the number of board audit committees, as boards recruit members who are expert in financial and tax matters. Additionally, boards seek members who have legal and higher education expertise. “You would love to have smart people on your board, and so if the board is too small, you can’t cover all of those areas of knowledge and you lose a diversity of opinion and wisdom,” Haley says. “Rather than onesize fits all, you need a golden mean.”

Span the Generations Gauss and Haley stress that competencies should take precedence over seniority when selecting trustees. Younger members would bring critical skills and perspectives. “The vast majority of boards of trustees’ members are over the age Embrace board and institutionof 50, and that doesn’t necessarily al succession planning mean that they aren’t great board These imperatives similarly members,” Haley says. stress the need to plan for the “A diversity of outlook is a sign future in a strategic and beneficial that ideas are being exchanged from way. They involve ensuring a strong a variety of perspectives and really “leadership pipeline”, both on the adds richness,” she says. “What board level and in the executive Katherine Haley, PhD, Education Consultant, most young people bring to a board level, the pair say. at executive search firm Witt/Kieffer is a closer memory and experience “In the private board meetings of higher education directly from their I’ve attended the board has been own experience. Often they are more familiar with technology pretty good about having the vice chair take over when the and it's a bigger part of their lives, so they bring an expertise chair’s term as leader has finished,” says Haley. and understanding of technology.” Yet, boards often don’t think further down the road, and consider the ideal profile they would like the board to have. Go digital Thinking more strategically further enhances the goal of diverThat technological awareness harbored by younger mem- sifying the board. bers, she says, also helps to meet a formidable challenge that Additionally, succession planning, while not common in many institutions face: embracing technologies that transform higher education, promotes a similar strategic approach to higher education. selecting future presidents and administrators. Yet many insti“People are all over the map on what the place of technolo- tutions of higher learning don’t devote much attention to sucgy is going to be in the educational process. Some people cession planning. thought that would be MOOCs (Massive Open Online “It's much more common in the corporate world,” Haley Courses), but already one founder of a MOOC company says. “The idea of working your way up through an institution thought his experiment was a failure. doesn't’ seem to be part of higher education culture.”

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She adds: “It’s also true that for most people to move up in Understand the shifting landscape of higher education their administrative career from department chair to dean to As new business models are taking shape, boards should provost to vice president to president they have to move from give them consideration. Haley and Gauss don’t believe boards institution to institution.” are stuck in the past, but instead are seeking answers and Boards need to recognize this and familiarize themselves guidance to succeed in new, or changing, environments. with the effectiveness of the full body of campus leadership to “Usually the vast majority of board members don’t come better understand their strengths and capabilities. from higher education, so they are looking at a paradigm that “If you know what the capabilities are of the senior leader- isn’t their skill set,” Haley says. “I would advise boards to take ship team, then you can match those with the desired quality a very careful look and ask for research and case studies on of the next president,” says Haley. what models look like rather than just jumping at the first thing that comes down the block. Some things will be tried and will Set term limits work. It’s an exciting time, but it’s also an anxious time.” While previously serving as president of Whittier College, a Hispanic- Serving Institution based in Southern California, Balance finance and fundraising Haley encountered a change in policy as the board implementThe 10th imperative requires boards to promote a culture ed a new rule imposing term limits on board membership. of philanthropy and giving, and not just ensure they harbor Such limits, she says, ensure regular turnover and fresh fiscal acumen. In the past, public universities did not have to approaches. “Term limits allow a board to bring in new peo- worry about fundraising, Haley says. ple and a fresh perspective,” she says. “Fundraising has become increasingly important for insti“Some board members you want to keep them forever; they tutions,” she says. Board members need to embrace this from are wonderful, supportive and smart, and it’s understandable the outset, relaying a phrase common among boards. “It’s that institutions would want to keep them.” important for members to know ‘get, give or get off.’ It sounds The trend, she says, is favoring term limits to bring in new harsh but they must figure out how to bring in gifts, give themblood and new perspectives. selves or ask themselves whether they should be a member of the board.” Put sports in perspective Gauss agrees, noting that those boards that function at a Haley and Gauss say that boards must ensure a proactive, higher level improve not only their fundraising but also their structured collaboration between the athletics department, top governance practices. administrators, and trustees. Sports can play a role but should “What is abundantly clear to us is that those organizations not be the defining mission. that are more transparent, more open, more clear in terms of “Every institution has an educational mission to educate how they are functioning are executing their strategic plans in students and sports should and can be part of that mission, a much more successful manner,” said Gauss. because most institutions believe strongly in educating the “When you have gaps in board governance, that almost whole person,” Haley says. “They teach teamwork, sportsman- always has an impact on the president. If you have dysfuncship, fair play, achievement and leadership.” tional governance, it is not unusual to see high turnover in the While those are positive benefits, she says, institutions president’s position and in other senior leadership positions, should not let sports programs overwhelm their true mission. and let’s be candid: everything kind of moves from there.” Instead, sports support a school’s educational mission. “When people just care about sports and nothing else then I think everybody loses, especially the students,” she says. “And it leads to values being skewed tremendously in terms of whether athletes get an education.”

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Top 10 Imperatives for Successful Governing Boards