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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Available upon request from the corresponding author.
Barringer, S. N. (2016). The changing finances of public higher education organizations: Diversity, change and discontinuity. In E. P. Berman & C. Paradeise (Eds.), The university under pressure, 46 (pp. 223–263). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0733-558X20160000046008
Barringer, S. N., & Slaughter, S. (2016). University trustees and the entrepreneurial university: Inner circles, interlocks, and exchanges. In S. Slaughter & B. J. Taylor (Eds.), Higher education, stratification, and workforce development: Competitive advantage in Europe, the US, and Canada (pp. 151–171). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-21512-9_8
Bastedo, M. N. (2009). Conflicts, commitments, and cliques in the university: Moral seduction as a threat to trustee independence. American Educational Research Journal, 46, 354–386. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831208329439
Bastedo, M. N. (2012). Organizing higher education: A manifesto. In M. N. Bastedo (Ed.), The organization of higher education (pp. 3–17). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Berdahl, R. O. (1990). Public universities and state governments: Is the tension benign? Educational Record, 71, 138–142.
Berdahl, R. O., & McConnell, T. R. (1999). Autonomy and accountability: Who controls academe? In P. G. Altach, P. J. Gumport, & R. O. Berdahl (Eds.), American higher education in the twenty-first century: Social, political and economic challenges (3rd ed., pp. 70–99). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Bogue, E. G. (2006). A breakpoint moment: Leadership visions and values for trustees of collegiate mission. Innovative Higher Education, 30, 309–326. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-005-9002-4
Borgatti, S. P., Everett, M. G., & Johnson, J. C. (2013). Analyzing social networks. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.
Bruininks, R. H., Keeney, B., & Thorp, J. (2010). Transforming America’s universities to compete in the “new normal”. Innovative Higher Education, 35, 113–125. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-009-9135-y
Cantwell, B. (2014). Laboratory management, academic production, and the building blocks of academic capitalism. Higher Education, 70, 487–502.
Chait, R. P., Holland, T. P., & Taylor, B. E. (1991). The effective board of trustees. New York, NY: MacMillan.
Colyvas, J. A., & Powell, W. W. (2006). Roads to institutionalization: The remaking of boundaries between public and private science. Research in Organizational Behavior, 27, 305–353. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0191-3085(06)27008-4
Dika, S. L., & Janosik, S. M. (2003). The role of selection, orientation and training in improving the quality of public college and university boards of trustees in the United States. Quality in Higher Education, 9, 273–285. https://doi.org/10.1080/1353832032000151139
DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48, 147–160. https://doi.org/10.2307/2095101
Gonzales, L. D. (2013). Faculty sensemaking and mission creep: Interrogating institutionalized ways of knowing and doing. The Review of Higher Education, 36, 179–209. https://doi.org/10.1353/rhe.2013.0000
Gumport, P. J., & Snydman, S. K. (2006). Higher education: Evolving forms and emerging markets. In W. W. Powell & R. Steinberg (Eds.), The non-profit sector: A research handbook (2nd ed., pp. 462–484). New Haven: Yale University Press.
Hearn, J. C. (1996). Transforming U.S. higher education: An organizational perspective. Innovative Higher Education, 21, 141–154. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01243704
Hill, B., Green, M., & Eckel, P. (2001). What governing boards need to know and do about institutional change. Washington, DC: American Council on Education, Project on Leadership and Institutional Transformation.
Ingram, R. T. (1995). Effective trusteeship: A guide for board members of independent colleges and universities. Washington, DC: Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
Kerr, C., & Gade, M. L. (1989). The guardians: Boards of trustees of American colleges and universities. Washington, DC: Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
Kezar, A. (2006). Rethinking public higher education governing boards performance: Results of a national study of governing boards in the United States. The Journal of Higher Education, 77, 968–1008. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2006.11778953
Kraatz, M. S., & Zajac, E. J. (1996). Exploring the limits of the new institutionalism: The causes and consequences of illegitimate organizational change. American Sociological Review, 61, 812–836. https://doi.org/10.2307/2096455
Lowry, R. C. (2001). Governmental structure, trustee selection, and public university prices and spending: Multiple means to similar ends. American Journal of Political Science, 45, 845–861. https://doi.org/10.2307/2669328
Mathies, C., & Slaughter, S. (2013). University trustees as channels between academe and industry: Toward an understanding of the executive science network. Research Policy, 42, 1286–1300. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2013.03.003
Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
Park, C., & Solomon, E. A. (2011). David Koch marks institute dedication. The Tech Online Edition. Retrieved from http://tech.mit.edu/V131/N11/koch.html
Powell, A. (2014). A lifelong Harvard perspective. Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/05/a-lifelong-harvard-perspective/
Powell, W. W., & Colyvas, J. A. (2008). Microfoundations of institutional theory. In R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, K. Sahlin, & R. Suddaby (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of organizational institutionalism (pp. 276–298). Thousand Oaks: SAGE. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781849200387.n11
Pusser, B., Slaughter, S., & Thomas, S. L. (2006). Playing the board game: An empirical analysis of university trustee and corporate board interlocks. The Journal of Higher Education, 77, 747–775. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2006.11778943
Pusser, B., & Turner, S. (2004). The challenge of convergence: Nonprofit and forprofit governance in higher education. In R. G. Ehrenberg (Ed.), Governing academia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Slaughter, S., Feldman, M. P., & Thomas, S. L. (2009). U.S. research universities' institutional conflict of interest policies. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 4(3), 3–20. https://doi.org/10.1525/jer.2009.4.3.3
Slaughter, S., & Leslie, L. L. (1997). Academic capitalism: Politics, policies, and the entrepreneurial university. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Slaughter, S., Thomas, S. L., Johnson, D., & Barringer, S. N. (2014). Institutional conflict of interest: The role of interlocking directorates in the scientific relationships between universities and the corporate sector. The Journal of Higher Education, 85, 1–35. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221546.2014.11777317
Standard and Poor’s Corporation. (2010). Standard and Poor’s register of corporations, directors and executives (2010 ed., Vol. 2). New York: Standard and Poor's Corporation.
Taylor, B. J., & Cantwell, B. (2015). Global competition, US research universities, and international doctoral education: Growth and consolidation of an organizational field. Research in Higher Education, 56, 411–441. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-014-9355-6
Wæraas, A., & Solbakk, M. N. (2009). Defining the essence of a university: Lessons from higher education branding. Higher Education, 57, 449–462. https://doi.org/10.1007/sl0734-008-9155-z
Weisbrod, B. A., Ballou, J. P., & Asch, E. D. (2008). Mission and money: Understanding the university. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Woods Hole Sea Grant (2015). Strategic Plan. Retrieved from https://web.whoi.edu/seagrant/about/strategic-plan
Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Social network analysis