Is This for Real?

A few years ago, spurred by tough criticism from the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education, universities scrambled to look “accountable,” creating colorful profiles of their participating institutions and promising greater academic transparency.

Those efforts gradually lost momentum, however, as the federal government went on to other matters (such as scrutinizing for-profits). But now there is a new scramble. The august Association of Governing Boards, the establishment organization for university trustees, has come out with a recommendation that trustees actually oversee the academic quality of their institutions.

Or did it really say that? Here’s some language from the “Statement on Board Accountability” issued in April:

The board’s responsibility in this area [educational quality] is to recognize and support faculty’s leadership in continuously improving academic programs and outcomes, while also holding them — through institutional administrators — accountable for educational quality.

So, the faculty are in charge but the trustees are expected to hold them accountable, using college presidents as the vehicles. Since most boards are largely under the thumb of the president, and most presidents carefully pre-screen information about what the faculty are doing, does this actually have any significance?

It might. But I would hate to underestimate the deviousness of establishment trade associations. And especially those that cost between $2,500 and $10,900 to join, charge $995 for non-members to register at their annual meetings, and require up to an additional $385 for a pre-conference workshop. (Or maybe I’m just being an anti-establishment populist here.)

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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