ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Statement on Texas trusteeship

March 18, 2015

Across the nation, public concern about the cost and quality of higher education has never been greater—and the need for active and engaged trustees never more important. Legislators should avoid any action that would marginalize and diminish the role of trustees. That would inevitably be to the detriment of students, families and taxpayers. For years, higher education governance has been undermined by a flawed concept—that trustees are largely cheerleaders intended to enhance the public image of an institution rather than exercise legal oversight. The sad fact is this notion means that higher education is too often estranged from accountability.

Legislators should avoid any action that would render administrators gatekeepers of trustee authority. And they should understand that “outside influence” is code for those who dare to challenge the privileges and power of the academic insiders. Trustees do not need to be instructed by administrators whom they are expected to oversee. Higher education stewardship should not be viewed as something tantamount to potty training for trustees, discouraging them from being determined fiduciaries.

Indeed, in a sterling national report issued last fall, Governance for a New Era, distinguished leaders from across the country called upon policymakers to demand and empower trustees who ask questions, ensure accountability, and safeguard taxpayer dollars on university campuses.

“Too many have seen their role narrowly defined as boosters, cheerleaders, and donors,” observe the signatories of Governance for a New Era, a group organized by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, headed by Benno Schmidt, City University of New York board chairman and past president of Yale University. The group’s statement cautions that trustees “must receive independent guidance. … Often they are almost entirely dependent on the institutions they oversee, relying on presentations and materials provided by the president and outside organizations selected and funded by the president. Governors—and legislators—can address this problem for public boards by supporting initiatives that provide trustees with board staff and resources independent of the president’s control.”

Whether it’s Enron or Texas universities, limiting board oversight diminishes accountability and facilitates actions which undermine the best interests of students and the public.

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