The sad truth is that many college trustees — probably a large majority — take that position just for the pleasure of it. They aren’t worried about improving the school; many are only vaguely aware of problems like low academic standards, the lack of anything resembling a serious core curriculum, and needless spending. But tickets to big games, receptions, and getting the VIP treatment — now we’re talking!
Those who might have other ideas will find few sources of information or inspiration, but one such source is the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). ACTA recently published a very useful pamphlet entitled “Implementing Governance for a New Era” and in today’s Pope Center piece, Jane Shaw discusses it.
Here are some of the points that trustees who aren’t content to be mere institutional ornaments might think about.
Does the school do anything to assess academic progress? Few do, on the assumption that just passing classes must indicate that students have learned something. That, however, is a mistaken assumption and trustees should push for the use of an instrument to show how much progress students have made, for example, the Collegiate Learning Assessment.
Does the school have a speech code that restricts debate, discussion, and the dissemination of information? If so, they have authority to change or abolish it.
Do athletic programs cost more than they bring in? If so, is that cost worthwhile? Trustees can insist on accurate figures, then decide on the proper trade-offs.
College presidents are not supposed to be in complete command of their higher ed ships, but it has turned out that way due to a pretty somnolent group of trustees at most schools. ACTA is doing something important in trying to arouse them before the collision with looming icebergs.