Higher education in the United States, in comparison to the rest of the world, has a unique group of colleges and universities linked with Christian denominations, some of which have an active role in their governance. The governing boards consist of lay volunteers who accept the fiduciary responsibility of setting the mission and vision of the institutions with the goal of acquiring the assets needed so that the institutions will last well into the future. Denominationally-related institutions are now feeling the impact of the social change of people identifying less with organized religion and more with spirituality that has little relationship to the values and beliefs systems of denominations. This research examined how trustees at denominational colleges and universities lead their institutions in an era of declining denominational identity. The framework guiding the study was agency theory with the view that the administration works as agents on behalf of the principal, the denomination. Quantitative and qualitative research methodology were included to collect data on the experiences of a group of trustees with the denomination, administrators and students. The denomination for this research was The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod and its ten colleges and universities which are members of the Concordia University System. In the quantitative study, board members responded to an Internet survey regarding their preparation for serving as board members, their views of the denomination and their understanding of the roles and responsibilities of being a board member. Of the 134 board members who could have responded, 102 did so for a response rate of 76.1%. In the qualitative study, limited to the board chairs of each institution, nine respondents expressed their views about current board structure, expectations about the future of their denomination and interpretations of the current religious climate and its impact on higher education. The results from both the survey and interview indicated that while the board members are aware of the changing religious climate and its impact on denominations, they remain focused on leading their institutions in ways that remain connected to their denomination. Some concern was expressed about the declining numbers of students from the denomination in comparison to the other students enrolling, but 86.3% of the board members place greater importance on the denominational identity of the faculty as being critical to maintaining a Lutheran identity. Results also indicated concern about the structure of governance and the process of selecting board members. Agency theory worked well as a framework for analyzing the board members and their relationships with their institutions and with the Synod.Leaders from other denominations that have active involvement in the governance of their colleges and universities could use this study as they review their mission if they are experiencing falling enrollment of students from their denomination and determine how to react to it. The quantitative data of experiences could be beneficial as a point of comparison to university presidents and board chairs as they review their processes for selecting trustees. Board members and administrators could use the qualitative data as they seek to guide their institution at a time when fewer students have an interest in the denomination that brought the institution into existence.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2014. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisor: Dr. Darwin D. Hendel. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 205 pages, appendices A-G.
Dorner, Michael H..
The governance of denominational colleges and universities in an era of declining denominational identity among students.
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