When an issue of Trusteeship magazine has the theme of “Institutions in Crisis,” you know you’re in for some great articles on board governance. Handling crises — whether postponing them, mitigating their effects, or managing the fallout — is a big part of leading an institution. And there are all sorts of events and circumstances that may qualify as a crisis.
One of this issue’s articles, “Addressing Crises,” is a summary of one of the recent webinars from the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), the organization that publishes Trusteeship. Presented in response to recent admissions scandals, the webinar featured experts discussing how leaders can handle these issues.
Summarizing what boards are worried about, Trusteeship writes, “[Boards] are rightly concerned about reports of sexual assault, research fraud, financial conflicts of interest, corrupt athletics programs and personnel, and Greek life issues on our campuses.” Many of these concerns simply don’t apply to seminaries, though some very much do.
Janice Abraham, president of United Educators, says:
First, [boards] need to be better informed of what’s happening on campus, what policies and procedures are in place, have they been reviewed, and how do things actually work on their campus? The second is that institutional leadership needs to be more intentional about these issues…The third is they need to understand the cultural issues, what training is being offered, are people willing to come forward. With respect to the recent [admission] incidents, people on campus knew what was going on but didn’t come forward for a whole host of reasons. So it’s about being informed, being intentional, and being focused on the culture of the institution.
What Abraham is saying here is particularly important for seminaries. Many religious institutions have responded inadequately to incidents of sexual assault and harassment. Indeed, reporting inappropriate behavior can be hindered by reasons related to faith (such as a theological disposition to ask for and receive forgiveness).
Later in this article, AGB senior fellow Terrence MacTaggart argues for transparency — in particular, being comfortable with difficult conversations in view of the public: “The answer must be to enable, train, develop, and prepare boards to have difficult conversations in the sunshine, to exercise candor even if they’re being recorded," he says. "My recommendation is to become comfortable with having difficult but important conversations with an audience present and let the people know that you are dealing with the tough issues facing your system or institution rather than just having a scripted kind of board meeting and behaving passively or playing to the audience.”
You can read the full article here: "Addressing Crises." And once you do, we would welcome your thoughts in the comment section below about how you believe boards should handle crises.