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“Getting to where we need to be”: (Re)Envisioning Postsecondary Education Through the Equity X Governance Paradigm

Part of the Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research book series (HATR,volume 38)


Governing Boards of postsecondary institutions and systems, the stakeholders with the most legal power and responsibility for institutions, do not have a strong record of contributing to equity work. The reality of Board detachment from the intricacies of equity work is compounded by too few scholars locating Boards in organizational equity research. Consequently, lasting institutional transformation remains elusive and the scholarship on Boards remains largely descriptive, raceless, and power-unaware. Accordingly, built on interrelated reviews of existing research and theory, the authors introduce the Equity X Governance (pronounced Equity by Governance) paradigm, which narrates for a shift in praxis toward postsecondary education governance and Boards. This paradigm offers insights for scholars interested in research with Boards or postsecondary governance more generally, from more critical and intersectional stances. We close the chapter with ideas for a research agenda that builds on these conceptual offerings and present emergent examples from practice, research, and teaching that provide insight into operationalizing the Equity X Governance paradigm.


  • Critical race theory
  • Equity
  • Governing boards
  • Higher education
  • Institutional policy
  • Leadership
  • Organizational theory
  • Scientific paradigms
  • Standpoint theory
  • Social justice
  • Trustees

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  1. 1.

    Throughout the manuscript we use the US-centric terminology of “GB(s),” “governing board(s),” “boards,” and “trustees” interchangeably. These terms encapsulate local variations such as Boards of “Curators,” “Governors,” “Regents,” or “Visitors.” Most often we are referring to institutional-level boards and state-level governing boards together – with the distinguishing characteristic that the Board has consequential decision-making authority for the entity and is understood as the institution or system’s fiduciary (as opposed to a University Foundation Board or an Alumni Board (Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges [AGB], 2021; Kezar, 2004; McGuinness, 2016). Further. we do not parcel out nuances between 2-year and 4-year or for-profit and non-profit institutions unless explicitly stated. In addition, when only referencing state-level governing boards, we make the distinction clear. Finally, our chapter is situated in the history, manifestation, and trajectory of US settler colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, ableism, anti-LGBTQ actions, and economic stratification (Nicolazzo, 2021; Patel, 2015; Patton, 2016). Our review is not designed to capture the rich comparative governance context and we point readers to resources of interest that informed our thinking from/about non-US contexts but do not land in our review (e.g., Gornitzka et al., 2017; Hartley & Ruby, 2017; Maassen, 2017; Stensaker & Vabø, 2013).


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We would like to thank Tori Callais, Alaa Abdel Ghaffar, and Gabrielle Smith for their research assistance during this project. We also appreciate Adrianna Kezar, Norma López, Gina Garcia, and an unknown reviewer for their thoughtful and generative feedback.

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We have no conflicts of interests to disclose.

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Correspondence to Demetri L. Morgan .

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Morgan, D.L., Rall, R.M., Commodore, F. (2023). “Getting to where we need to be”: (Re)Envisioning Postsecondary Education Through the Equity X Governance Paradigm. In: Perna, L.W. (eds) Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, vol 38. Springer, Cham.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-94844-3

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