This spring my Nonprofit Management course assigned a research project on critical trends facing the nonprofit sector. There is nothing more critical than governance. The success of Sweet Briar College surviving a closure attempt by its former board provides ample inspiration for research on governance.
As an elected member of the University of Maryland Senate, I have a new appreciation for shared governance. I chair the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the University Senate. As a staff member, I have never been engaged in shared governance until now. It is quite amazing sitting alongside students (undergraduate, graduate and post-gradate); faculty (tenured and professional track); staff (hourly, professsional and managerial); and ex-officio members from key departments. This spring, we worked on four new policies for the University including a policy on Nondiscrimination, Sexual Harassment, and Disability. Our original policy will have to wait until next semester for action, but it is very important (a policy on students who change their name or gender and need consistency with University databases). Shared governance works extremely well at the University of Maryland and I can see how it would benefit any institution.
I chose to focus my research paper on shared governance as it is a topic very near and dear to many stakeholders of Sweet Briar College. The attempted closure of Sweet Briar College resulted in multiple law suits seeking to stop the closure. The mediation brokered by the Virginia Attorney General allowed each party to the suit to appoint three members of the new Sweet Briar College board. Students, alumnae, faculty and the Commonwealth of Virginia suit (funded by alumnae) were able to appoint new members. This new board ushers in a new era of governance at Sweet Briar College more inclusive than past boards. The new board of Sweet Briar has expressed a commitment to engaging stakeholders.
This annotated bibliography and research paper focuses on best practices for shared governance examining the key stakeholders responsible for the saving of Sweet Briar College: Students, faculty, staff, community, and the founder.
My abstract follows:
Higher education is in crisis. In March, 2015, the President and Board of Sweet Briar College, whose symbol is a rose, attempted to close the 100-year-old institution in rural Virginia. Stakeholders revolted, filed suits and ultimately control of the College was handed to a new board. The circumstances faced by Sweet Briar are not unique and point to trends in higher education. The suits filed and the saving of Sweet Briar provide examples of engaged stakeholders fighting for their rights. This paper examines each stakeholder’s role in the attempted closure and examples from other institutions practicing shared governance. Shared governance can be a path through crisis. References provide trend data on higher education and examples of shared governance at other institutions. Sources also provide glimpses into the trends of higher education faced by governing boards and stakeholders, including where there are breakdowns in communication and governance. Reference sources highlight stakeholder groups including student, faculty, staff (administrators and support), alumni and the wider community. Sweet Briar College must reinvent itself and its governance. Lessons learned from other institutions can be considered for the future. The collective voices represented in shared governance yields more roses than briars.
Annotated Bibliography: Saving the Rose – Stakeholder Engagement at Sweet briar Collegeby
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