Joining growing shift in higher education, Baptist college to explore shared governance

Bluefield College trustees aim to respond to “changing landscape” of American academia.

By Robert Dilday

Trustees at Bluefield College have joined a burgeoning movement in U.S. higher education aimed at altering the way colleges and universities are governed, which has largely remained unchanged for 300 years.

The board of the Baptist-affiliated school on the Virginia-West Virginia border named a task force to explore “shared governance among board, faculty, staff and students” with an eye toward possible reform to more effectively meet institutional challenges.

Olive DavidAround the country, governing boards — including those at the universities of Virginia, Maryland and Texas — have been at the center of national controversies, prompting questions about member selection, structure, accountability and operating practices.

In addition, higher education faces growing challenges in funding and public expectation.

Bluefield president David Olive says his school’s trustees believe they have “responded creatively to this changing landscape.”

But he added, “They want to ensure we are positioned to strategically set our course and modify it as needed, and within a timely manner.”

Last year the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges formed a national commission to review how schools are governed and make recommendations for change. Former Tennessee governor Philip N. Bredesen Jr. will lead the commission, which will be made up of high profile educators, including former University of Virginia president John Casteen III, University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan and a former chairman of the University of Texas board of regents, Charles Miller.

The commission is expected to issue its report this fall — about the time Bluefield’s trustees will issue theirs.

In a statement, Bluefield’s board noted, “For more than three decades, American higher education has faced dramatic and unprecedented challenges and changes. All constituencies and elements of the ‘academy’ have been affected and the responses to the shifting scene have been uneven and, in some cases, grossly inadequate. The pace and range of change in the higher education environment continues to increase significantly.”

Olive said the trustees believe “it is prudent to proactively study and review its own fiduciary responsibilities, within the context of past practices and the involvement of the college’s various stakeholders.”

Olive, president of Bluefield since 2007, also is chair of the board of directors of the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities, a network of 47 schools in 16 states and two foreign countries.