On My Watch: The Role and Responsibilities of American College Trustees
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CitationJohnson, Marc A. 2015. On My Watch: The Role and Responsibilities of American College Trustees. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractNew waves of change are upon American colleges and universities. Among other things, shifts in student demographics, federal higher education policy changes, and the continuing rise of new education providers are putting pressure on institutions to adapt in order to ensure their effectiveness and, in some cases, survival. The imperative to adapt to change is not new for American colleges and universities. Since the founding of the colonial colleges, the nation’s institutions have refashioned themselves over time in response to a dynamic environment—often with great success. Less obvious, however, is how institutions’ internal actors perceive their role in managing change. Most notably, little research is available to shed light on whether and how trustees—an institution’s only legal fiduciaries—view their responsibility for preserving and adapting elements of an institution’s mission and identity in response to a shifting reality.
This dissertation aims to extend what we know about trustees’ responsibilities, including their responsibility for managing change. To meet this objective, I draw upon interview data that I collected from a sample of private college trustee board chairs (n=25). The conversations were loosely guided by three questions:
1) What are trustees’ perceptions of “good” trusteeship?
2) When does change to an institution’s mission or identity become the focus of trustees’ attention?
3) How do trustees make sense of decisions to preserve or adapt important aspects of an institution’s mission or identity?
My findings suggest that trustees’ perception of their responsibilities, including responsibility for managing change, generally align with historical definitions of trusteeship. I also identify three occasion types—Structural, Board, and Environmental—during which identity or mission change become a focus of trustees’ discussions. Finally, I present an array of explanations and rationales that surface during our conversations about trustees’ decisions to preserve or adapt an aspect of an institution’s mission or identity.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:16461052