The partnership between private university presidents and governing boards in effective governance

Aristide James Collins Jr.


The position of college or university president has a rich and complex history. Coupled with this is the establishment of a governing structure that includes a group of individuals most commonly referred to as a board of trustees. This group oversees the advancement of the institution and selects the presidents that lead it. Literature and media confirm that university and college senior leaders nationwide are under increased scrutiny. Higher education is moving into the mainstream of public attention and into a new era of accountability. The voices calling for reform in higher education and its governance are elected officials, alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and in some cases, law enforcement. These shifts have brought unprecedented attention to college and university governing boards, which, similar to corporate boards, are responsible for ensuring that leadership acts responsibly and in the best interest of the institutions it governs. Governing boards appoint presidents and chancellors and wield substantial authority in holding them accountable. Therefore, the relationship between governing boards and private college and university presidents is crucial to examining the complexity of college and university governance. This partnership, when leveraged effectively, can also develop synergies that propel institutions in new and bold directions. This qualitative study examined the role of presidents at private colleges and universities in fostering a partnership with governing boards as a mechanism for facilitating greater efficacy in university governance. The research focused on two fundamental questions: 1. What role, if any, do presidents have in educating governing board members? 2. What are the primary concerns, if any, that presidents have related to their relationship with the governing board? Data collection for the study centered on interviews with presidents of private colleges and universities who offered their professional assessment and personal perspectives on the ways institutional leaders foster constructive and productive relationships with individual board members and with the governing board overall.