Understanding Rutgers Governance Part II: Towards a Stakeholder Model of Governance at Rutgers

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Yesterday I showed how Rutgers supposed complex governance isn’t really all that complex.

The real problem people seem to have with the Rutgers Board of Trustees is that it puts up an institutional bulwark against political meddling and rash decisions. However, there is room for improvement in Rutgers overall governance structure, especially in terms of transparency, democratic decision-making and shared governance.

Creating a more democratic, transparent university requires dusting off old concepts of stakeholder governance and applying them to Rutgers two boards. The state’s interests are already well represented through the eight political appointees to the Rutgers Board of Governors. (Twelve if S1860 and A3046 are enacted).  Faculty and undergraduate students are currently represented on both the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees as nonvoting members and the President of the University serves in an ex officio capacity.

A first step in increasing stakeholder representation at Rutgers would be to give full voting privileges to faculty and student trustees and governors.  Faculty and students are the core of the university and shared governance models can only work if the key stakeholders have a vested institutional stake and an opportunity to not only have their voices heard, but counted.

Staff play a vital role in making the university work on a day to day basis and their perspectives and experiences should be incorporated into the governance and oversight of the university. To ensure that this happens I would look towards European models of governance and include union representation on both the Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees.

Since Rutgers faculty are also unionized, this could create some complications with existing faculty representation models on the Rutgers Boards, but unions can provide a set of institutional resources that would enable stronger participation by faculty and staff on university planning and capital allocation decisions.  Union participation on Rutgers two boards may also go a long way towards ameliorating some of the historical tensions that exist at the university between labor and administration and enable more productive dialogue about controversial issues before decisions get made and are implemented.

Finally, I would move towards electing at least one Rutgers Trustee from each of New Jersey’s twenty one counties as a way to broaden and democratize the Board of Trustees. Each person elected would have to be a Rutgers alum and to eliminate any political tinkering, the University Registrar would certify each elected Trustee AFTER each election. Anyone elected who is not a Rutgers alum, would not be allowed to take their seats on The Board, and the Board of Trustees as a whole would appoint a Trustee to serve until the following election. The appointed trustee would have to be a resident of the county missing a trustee.  

By moving towards statewide elections (and I would propose the elections be staggered in Presidential election years) of trustees on a county by county basis, Rutgers can be proactive in neutralizing the increasing tendency to view each campus of Rutgers as the property of a particular city or county. Statewide elections of trustees moves Rutgers back towards its role as a statewide institution.

Stakeholder theory, first publicized in 1984 by Edward Freeman, was originally articulated as a process designed to allow organizations (mainly for-profit corporations) to better navigate their external environments through processes of design and inclusion that moved organizations beyond simple, static focus on organizations as containers of resources with core inputs from owners, managers, customers and suppliers. Stakeholder approaches to management focused mainly on those individuals, groups, organizations and governments that have a key stake in the operation, sustainability and development of organizations and their related external environments over time. Over the last thirty years stakeholder theory has expanded and evolved to include nonprofits, nongovernment organizations, and civil society as a whole. It also plays a major role in the corporate social responsibility movement.  However, for Freeman, the main concern in this early conceptualization was with stakeholder legitimacy, rather than with the political clout and power relationships of particular stakeholders.

Redesigning Rutgers governance to include more internal stakeholders and a broader set of alumni representatives from across the state grants legitimacy to faculty, students, staff and alumni in a way that does not exist today. The state is already well-represented as a stakeholder through its majority political appointees on the board, the state appropriations process and the new Joint Rowan-Rutgers Board which oversees biomedical research initiatives in Camden and South Jersey. Granting legitimacy to faculty, student, and staff voices through inclusion in Rutgers formal processes of governance would make Rutgers stronger, more responsive to the public and less of a political punching bag.

Streamlining Rutgers two-board model with an emphasis on core stakeholders would provide a more efficient and effective way for Rutgers to enter into relationships with other state institutions, colleges and universities. Rather than adding layer upon layer of new appointees and governing boards, an expanded stakeholder model ensures that Rutgers many and varied constituencies have a voice and a stake in the institution itself as Rutgers enters into increasingly complex relationships with outside entities in a constantly changing world.

The use of an expanded stakeholder model to ensure broad-based regional representation, student, faculty, staff and union representation on both Rutgers boards makes the Rutgers-Camden Board of Directors, The New Brunswick and Newark Advisory Boards and county membership categories for particular seats on the Board of Governors redundant.

This expanded stakeholder model moves Rutgers governance back towards a unified state-wide approach, once again cementing Rutgers role as the State University of New Jersey and moving it away from political fixes designed to empower political chieftains and stoke regional rivalries and grievances. It allows for wiser and cooler heads to prevail.  Rutgers becomes a little more transparent, adopts a progressive vision of governance and the state legislature goes back and streamlines Rutgers governance by eliminating all the redundant boards and membership categories that they have created since 2012.

The end goal of this stakeholder model would be to further the vision of the framers of the 1956 Compact between the state and the Rutgers Board of Trustees and create a national and globally respected institution that transcends all corners of the state.  

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