Presidents Governance Academy Features New Leaders, New Online Offerings

This summer, CIC offered two webinars exclusively for member presidents on the implications of current crises for institutional governance at small and mid-sized independent colleges and universities. Both programs were developed and moderated by Michele D. Perkins, president of New England College (NH), and Thomas L. Hellie, president emeritus of Linfield University (OR). Perkins and Hellie were recently appointed as the new co-directors of CIC’s Presidents Governance Academy, a program that over the last six years has helped more than 100 college and university presidents strengthen institutional governance policies and practices.

On June 25, 2020, “The President and the Board: Decision Making during Times of Crisis” featured seasoned leaders of two CIC member institutions—Rock Jones, president of Ohio Wesleyan University, and Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble, chancellor of Webster University (MO). Jones and Stroble joined Perkins and Hellie in a conversation about how they have managed board governance during the recent period of urgent and profoundly important decision making. Both discussed how to build governance practices that are more responsive and adaptive in order to address current and future emergencies. Jones and Stroble credited a longstanding focus on relationship building and the resulting culture of trust as key to their ability to navigate a rapidly changing landscape with their boards. Stroble had reorganized Webster’s board committee structure and meeting schedules, and noted that this groundwork helped build the board’s trust and resilience. Jones credited the expansion of Ohio Wesleyan’s board to include experts in public health and communications with adding timely and relevant national expertise. Both noted increased reliance on virtual board meetings, which have resulted in greater participation by trustees. Jones pointed out that virtual meetings reduce the expense of off-campus meetings, and Stroble suggested that the flexible meeting experience will allow her to recruit board members from diverse locations so that the board more closely reflects Webster’s national and international reach. Both cited their participation in prior Presidents Governance Academies as an impetus for creating changes to board structures and practices that led to more responsive governance.

Screen capture of webinar  

Trust also featured prominently in the companion program, “Shared Governance under Pressure,” held on July 2. This session focused on strategies presidents have used to deepen their partnership with faculty leaders in managing change. Marjorie Hass, president of Rhodes College (TN), and Amy C. Novak, president of Dakota Wesleyan University (SD), joined Perkins and Hellie to discuss the attributes of effective shared governance, the impact of institutional culture and presidential leadership on shared governance, and how shared governance can become more agile to match the rapid decision-making pace necessary during emergencies. Panelists acknowledged that many recent changes in college operations have negatively affected faculty members: furloughs and layoffs, salary and benefit freezes, alterations to course delivery, and adjustments to tenure and sabbatical protocols, to name just a few. Hass shared strategies to help presidents assess and build trust to foster more rapid institutional change. She also noted that effective faculty self-governance is necessary for effective shared governance. Novak discussed the tension that can exist between organizational structures and organizational culture. Distrustful cultures lack agility and adaptability, and even the best governance policies codified in a faculty handbook cannot overcome a culture of distrust. She encouraged presidents to be transparent and to recognize that an inclusive culture will help fill holes and gaps in formal structures. Like Jones and Stroble, both Hass and Novak saw opportunity in this moment of great challenge. Hass remarked that it will likely become more commonplace to focus on faculty and staff members in institutional communication planning. And Novak expressed the hope that ad hoc committees and systems developed during this emergency will lead to further revision of formalized institutional practices. She asked, “If it didn’t serve us in our moment of need, why keep it?”

The two-day Presidents Governance Academy, normally held in conjunction with the Presidents Institute, will take a hiatus in 2021 and will return in January 2022. Meanwhile, additional topical webinars and programs may be offered in 2021. Presidents interested in suggesting specific governance-related topics should contact Michelle Friedman, CIC director of programs, at mfriedman@cic.nche.edu.

Recordings of the two governance webinars are available exclusively to CIC member presidents. Since March 2020, CIC has offered a number of timely, practical, and free webinars for CIC members. View recordings of all past CIC webinars.



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