February 1, 2019

New university boards learn to govern without a road map

University governing boards have a tough job — and newly created boards face additional challenges. Penn GSE’s Peter Eckel, writing in University World News, explains that institutional governance is in a period of transition, particularly in countries that are establishing independent boards of trustees for the first time.

Dr. Peter Eckel
In countries like Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and India, the transition to a shared governance model represents a step toward greater academic autonomy for universities. “Establishing effective governing boards is the foundation for the transformation to increased autonomy as the government relinquishes its direct role in favor of steering from a distance,” Eckel writes.

Yet newly created boards in these environments find themselves operating with few precedents to guide their work. They may lack organizational structures that would promote problem-solving and enable them to draw upon the expertise of trustees, or they may struggle to develop and uphold an effective board culture.

As new boards and institutional administrators work to address these and other challenges, Eckel says it is essential to develop board capacity through focused orientation programs, ongoing trustee education, and effective planning for board and committee meetings.

Among his recommendations for establishing strong boards, Eckel notes that it is critical for trustees to be given the information and structure to focus on high-level institutional goals — and to understand the nature of their unique role. “Governance,” he emphasizes, “is neither management nor ownership.”

Read the full piece in University World News.

Faculty Expert