2017 Presidents Governance Academy 1/3/2017 1/3/2017 1/3/20171/4/20171/4/20171/4/2017 Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek Hotel Orlando, FL

About the Academy

In recent years, the circumstances under which private colleges and universities operate have caused unusual pressures on both presidents and trustees as they seek to balance short-term needs with long-term strategic judgments. The strains on presidents and governing boards sometimes have been severe, often resulting in adverse consequences for the colleges they serve—and presidential tenures. The roots of those problems are sometimes attributed to conflicting personalities or personal styles but are more often traceable to board culture, norms, and faulty structure—that is, misalignment with best governance principles, policies, and practices.

The Presidents Governance Academy is unique in its exclusive focus on the perspective of the independent college president. While it respects the distinction between the president’s and the board’s authority, the Academy starts with the premise that the president must have the tools and the mandate to advance efforts, with board leaders, to develop an effective governing board.

“I strongly recommend the Presidents Governance Academy to other presidents. The discussion about the increasing importance of the committee on trustees was particularly helpful.”
—Mary Eileen O’Brien, OP, President, Dominican College (NY)

“The program far exceeded my expectations. In particular, I appreciated the variety of viewpoints reflected in the advance readings along with consideration of board assessment practices and procedures during the Academy.”
—Laurie M. Hamen, President, Mount Mercy University

Principles and Benefits

The Academy’s approach is based on these principles:
  • An effective governing board is necessary for both the institution and the president to be successful. The performance of each is dependent on the effectiveness of the other two.
  • Presidential leadership is essential to strengthening board effectiveness. Presidents who desire a truly high-performing governing board understand that they must take the lead in the education of trustees and on board development initiatives.
  • The performance of individual trustees and of boards of trustees as a whole will excel only if the formal policies, desired practices, and performance standards are articulated in bylaws and other key governance documents.
  • How the board is led and organized to accomplish its work are at least as important as the credentials and experience of individual trustees if the board is to be “more than the sum of its parts.”
  • Best practices in the governance of nonprofit institutions, although better understood today, remain more art than science. Experience has shown that presidents must be both knowledgeable and skillful in order to improve performance.
  • Efforts to strengthen board commitment and performance, when and where needed, is an ongoing presidential responsibility.

Who Should Participate?

CIC’s Presidents Governance Academy is a two-day program for college presidents who wish to strengthen and sustain a high-performing board of trustees. The Academy provides the opportunity to learn about both time-tested and new approaches to ensure supportive relations with the board and its leaders and to improve board composition, organization, and effectiveness. The Academy is open to experienced CIC member presidents and will be especially helpful to those who are at least a few years into their presidencies.


How Will I Benefit?

The Academy is an intensive and highly participatory program. To provide for candid exchange, participation is limited to 20 presidents. To jumpstart thinking about the ideas discussed in the Academy, participants are provided in advance with a binder of resources including articles, book chapters, checklists, and other materials. Over two days, presidents will learn from the experienced Academy leaders about best practices in board governance, discuss case examples of governance challenges and conundrums with other presidents, and engage in meaningful dialogue about practical solutions.

One feature of the program that has proven especially valuable is an individualized critique of the board bylaws for each participant, who will receive a detailed assessment of this important document by one of the program leaders and will have an opportunity for in-depth discussion with another president. In addition, presidents will begin to draft a trustee education and board development plan for their own institution. Finally, participants will have the opportunity to consult privately by phone with the Academy’s leaders throughout the year.

“The two critiques of my board’s bylaws—one by a program facilitator and one by a colleague president—were helpful, timely, and relevant and will be a great resource to share with appropriate trustees.”
—Steven E. Titus, President, Iowa Wesleyan College


Welcome and Introductions


Discussion Topics

  • What distinguishes a high-performing governing board?
  • What levers, strategies, and resources are available to presidents to strengthen the board?
  • What presidential relationships are particularly key—and sometimes problematic?
  • “Shared” governance and relations with faculty

Discussion of Best Board Practices

  • Membership: size, composition, terms and term limits, committee on trustees
  • Organization: committees, especially executive, and reserved powers
  • Meetings
  • Trustee philanthropy
  • Retreats
  • Orientation programs
  • In-service education
  • Handbook and trustee information systems

Discussion Groups

  • Overview of critiques by facilitators of participants’ bylaws
  • How does affiliation with your respective sponsor, founder, congregation, tradition, or other major influence directly affect, positively or negatively, how your governing board is constituted, organized, or functions?
  • What are best practices in performance assessment of the governing board, individual trustees, and the presidency?

One-on-One Bylaws Critique

(in teams of two)

Pulling It All Together

  • What are some effective approaches to in-service trustee education and board development initiatives that have worked for you? What approaches have not worked?
  • What is your plan to strengthen governance policies and practices (explicit goals, strategy, and timetable)?
  • Illustrations of a few plans




  • Richard T. (Tom) Ingram
    Richard T. (Tom) Ingram
    Council of Independent Colleges
  • Richard J. Cook
    Richard J. Cook
    Allegheny College