Not Just Figureheads: Trustees as Microfoundations of Higher Education Institutions

Abstract

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.

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Notes

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Acknowledgements

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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Correspondence to Sondra N. Barringer.

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Barringer, S.N., Riffe, K.A. Not Just Figureheads: Trustees as Microfoundations of Higher Education Institutions. Innov High Educ 43, 155–170 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-018-9422-6

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Keywords

  • Trustees
  • Social network analysis
  • Microfoundations