Making Institutional Statements in Times of Conflict

The following compilation was developed by PRG partners Julie Peterson, Steve Kloehn, and Lisa Rudgers based on our own experiences and a review of best practices nationally.

One increasingly difficult, and perplexing, question for college presidents and their senior leadership teams is determining when to issue an official university statement in the midst of crises or concerning developments, whether they occur on campus or elsewhere around the nation or the globe. 

Much has been written about this topic in recent years, and it’s no wonder. (See the end of this essay for a resource list of further reading.) The criticism that followed nearly every statement by a university president in response to the conflict between Israel and Hamas is a painful reminder of the inherent challenges. And that is just the most recent example. College leaders were also praised and pilloried for their response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the January 6 insurrection in Washington in 2021 and the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in 2022, to name just a few. The expectation that university leaders will speak out in response to events beyond their campuses only appears to be accelerating, even as many leaders express growing reservations about taking on that role. Continue reading

Getting the President-Board Relationship Right

PRG senior associate Laurie Fenlason and I co-authored an essay for Inside Higher Ed, Getting the President-Board Relationship Right, offering best practices for college presidents and their senior teams to develop strong, collaborative relationships with their governing boards. This essay is a companion to our new blog post, Why Board Engagement Matters. As we note in the essay, a highly engaged board is a vital strategic partner to a college or university president. While much of the responsibility for effectively engaging trustees falls on the board and its leaders, a significant portion of this work belongs to the president and their senior leadership team. Proactively and strategically cultivating a productive relationship with the board as a whole, and with individual trustees, is one of the most important tasks for any college president. Read the rest of our essay, including 10 practical tips for effective board engagement, on Inside Higher Ed.

Why Board Engagement Matters

The following essay was co-authored with PRG senior associate Laurie Fenlason, who is also the founder and principal of L. Fenlason Consulting. It is the companion to an essay that appeared in Inside Higher Ed on “Getting the President-Board Relationship Right.”

Laurie Fenlason

College and university governing boards have rarely faced the public spotlight as frequently and glaringly as they do today. The headwinds facing higher ed — enrollment pressures, challenges to the financial model, accelerated leadership turnover and political incursions on institutional mission, to name just a few — lie at the heart of a board’s duty of care for an institution.

Campus discourse about these matters is increasingly fractious, resulting in governance disputes playing out in social media and the public square. Campuses also face enormous pressure to respond to pressing societal needs, many of which lie beyond their institutional mission, of which trustees are the ultimate stewards. As we have seen on multiple campuses over the last several years, boards that are not sufficiently connected to the university’s history, mission and culture can work at odds with institutional leadership and, in extreme cases, tip challenges into full-blown crises.  Continue reading

Honoring One of Our Own

10/12/23 Harper Hall groundbreaking Photo by Eric Bronson

We are over the moon here at PRG with the news that the University of Michigan will name a new residence hall after long-time Vice President for Student Life, and now PRG Senior Advisor, Royster Harper. The honor recognizes Royster’s incredible contributions to student life at Michigan, including her deep commitment to inclusivity and well-being.

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