Trustees | Trusteeship

College trustees feel unprepared

USA TODAY   |  May 6, 2007 by Mary Beth Marklein

College and university trustees often don’t see eye to eye, and one reason may be that many members of college governing boards feel ill-prepared for the job, says a report being published this week by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Four in 10 trustees surveyed described themselves as “slightly” or “not at all” prepared, and fewer than 15% said they were very well prepared when they joined the board, the report says.

Meanwhile, 73% of those who felt very well prepared said they had an excellent relationship with the institution’s president, compared with 56% of those who felt slightly prepared or unprepared.

“Trust between those two groups is very important,” says Chronicle assistant managing editor Jeffrey Selingo. “If they don’t feel like they’re getting along with the president, they are less likely to participate in a valuable way.”

The report, which also found that trustees are mostly white, wealthy and male, is based on a survey of 1,478 trustees at 1,082 institutions or university systems nationwide. When compared with responses to a 2005 Chronicle survey of college presidents of those same 1,082 institutions, the findings revealed a number of differences between presidents and trustees.

For example, trustees were “considerably” more likely to rate U.S. News & World Report rankings as important than did presidents. Trustees also placed a lower value on the role of race and ethnicity in admissions than did presidents. Trustees also tended to place a higher value on academic measures such as the quality of educational programs and the faculty, while presidents gave higher ratings to benchmarks such as balancing the budget and meeting fundraising goals.

The report is being released during “a period of very poor relations between presidents and trustees,” Selingo says. In 2005, for example, trustees at American University in Washington, D.C., fired its president after learning of his lavish lifestyle. The Chronicle reported a case last year at Oberlin (Ohio) College in which a trustee said he was ousted after a dispute over how a faculty evaluation of its president was handled.

Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a Washington non-profit, says the survey is “problematic” because it was distributed to trustees through the presidents.

But, she says, in offering “a picture of trustees who are often unprepared, dependent upon the administration for information, and in many ways divorced from central concerns of the university,” the survey underscores her group’s call for “some dramatic changes in the way our universities are governed.”


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

Discover More