Innovative Higher Education

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 155–170 | Cite as

Not Just Figureheads: Trustees as Microfoundations of Higher Education Institutions

  • Sondra N. Barringer
  • Karley A. Riffe


Despite the importance of trustees for higher education institutions, few studies address how they influence the institutions they steward. To address this gap, we used a social network approach within a comparative case study design to evaluate how trustees interacted with two private, elite universities: Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While trustees interacted with these institutions in differing ways, results indicated that some of them significantly influenced institutional behaviors, structures, and policies. This suggests that the role of trustees should be re-conceptualized to reflect their ability to influence higher education institutions, making them a fundamental part of the microfoundations of these institutions.


Trustees Social network analysis Microfoundations 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1262522. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. An earlier version of this work was presented at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Education Research Association in Washington, DC. The authors are grateful to Michael S. Harris, Kim Nelson Pryor, Sheila Slaughter, Barrett J. Taylor, and the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful feedback on earlier drafts.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Education Policy and LeadershipSouthern Methodist UniversityDallasUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Higher EducationUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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