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Penn Project on University Governance

Improving university governance and supporting trustees, administrators, and faculty as they address today’s most pressing challenges are essential for a robust higher education sector. Effective boards add value in ways that are fundamental to institutions and systems as they advance their missions. Without sound governance, colleges, universities, and state systems will be ill-equipped for the future and its opportunities and challenges, known and unknown.

Engaging University Governance

The Penn Project on University Governance engages and collaborates with trustees, administrators, policy makers, faculty leaders, and other key stakeholders to improve governance and advance their universities, colleges, and state systems. We work in the U.S. and abroad to develop and disseminate cutting-edge governance practice and thought. The Project does this through:

  • Consulting, workshops, and retreats;
  • Board assessment;
  • Scholarship and research;
  • Public speaking and conference sessions; and
  • Administrator and trustee coaching.

Finding Answers to University Governance Questions

Effective university governance starts with asking good questions. Some of the questions we are addressing with boards include:

  • How can boards keep pace with and get ahead of demands and expectations? What steps can boards take to evolve?
  • How do boards develop more effective governing capacities, structures, and cultures?
  • What are effective board cultures? Through what processes can boards evaluate and develop cultures that add value?
  • How can boards develop capacities to ask better, more informed, and high-impact questions?
  • What is the role of the board as it relates to strategy and strategic planning? Campus diversity and inclusion?
  • What makes for a constructive chair–president relationship? 

Working with Universities

The Penn Project on University Governance has been fortunate to work with a number of universities both within the U.S. and abroad. Below are some of the universities where we have provided board consulting, governance workshops, and retreats.

  • University of South Carolina
  • North Central College, IL
  • The Pennsylvania State University
  • United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia
  • University of Michigan
  • Hood College, MD
  • Brown University, RI
  • Claremont Graduate University, CA
  • DePaul University, IL
  • Howard University, DC
  • Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan
  • Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences
  • Portland State University, OR
  • Stockton State University, NJ
  • Taraz State University, Kazakhstan
  • University of Puget Sound
  • Wilkes University

Select Publications on University Governance

Eckel, P.D. and Trower, C. (2023).  The Strategy Work of University Governing Boards. Philadelphia, PA: Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (Penn AHEAD), University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

Eckel, P.D., ed. (2023).  Governing Universities in Post-Soviet Countries: From a Common Start, 1991–2021. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Eckel, P.D. (2023).  The Trouble With Strategy. Inside Higher Education.

Eckel, P.D. (2023).  Achieving More Effective Boards in the New Year. Inside Higher Education.

Eckel, P.D. (2019).  Why Governing is So Difficult: A Synthesis of the (Other) Literature. Philadelphia, PA: Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (Penn AHEAD), University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

Eckel, P.D. (2019). Evaluating Board Effectiveness for Advancing Autonomy: A Strategy for Newly Autonomous Universities in Kazakhstan. Philadelphia, PA: Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (Penn AHEAD), University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. 

Eckel, P., Trower, C. (2018). Practical wisdom: Thinking differently about college and university governance . Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Hartley, M., Ruby, A. (2017). Higher education reform and development: The case for Kazakhstan . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Eckel, P., & Trower, C. (2016). Boards and institutional diversity: Missed opportunities and points of leverage . New York, NY: TIAA Institute.

Eckel, P., Trower, C: Getting the most from governance: Essays from Inside Higher Education 

Eckel, P., Trower, C: Getting the most from your board: Essays from Inside Higher Education

Hartley, M., Gopaul, P., Sagintayeva, A., & Apergenova, R. (2015). Learning autonomy: Higher education reform in Kazakhstan. Higher Education, 72(3), 277-289.

Eckel, P. (2006) The shifting frontiers of academic decision making: Responding to new priorities, following new pathways . Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Other Resources

Eckel, P. D. (2017). What to Consider When Closing an Academic ProgramThe Chronicle of Higher Education. Washington, DC.

Eckel, P. D. Higher Education Strategy: Moving Beyond Strategic Planning. Framing paper from Penn AHEAD.

Higher Education Today. (2014). A Discussion about Nazarbayev University. YouTube video.