Lack of diversity among trustees draws scrutiny

(WISH Photo/Howard Monroe)
(WISH Photo/Howard Monroe)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A lack of diversity on Indiana universities’ boards of trustees could be hindering the institutions’ abilities to adapt to increasingly diverse students and staffs, experts say.

An Indianapolis Star review found that women hold barely a fifth of the seats on trustees boards across the state, even though they outnumber men at most of the state’s public universities.

Indiana isn’t alone in its lack of diversity on the boards that make major decisions including hiring presidents and controlling multimillion-dollar budgets. Nationally, just 28 percent of public university trustees are women, according to a five-year survey conducted in 2010 by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. Less than a quarter are minorities.

“You can see things have pretty much been stable or plateaued or stagnant, whatever word you want to use, in terms of gender diversity since the survey in ’97,” said Merrill Schwartz, the vice president of the Association of Governing Boards’ consulting arm who conducted the 2010 survey. “Things don’t change that fast.”

Many university leaders say it’s OK that the governing boards don’t reflect the diversity of students and staff because they aren’t tasked with representing them.

“It’s a matter of what individuals you have on your board,” said Rick Hall, chairman of the trustees at Ball State University. “We have strong individuals that are sensitive to making sure that all members of the Ball State campus feel welcome and their needs are addressed.”

Schwartz said good intentions aren’t enough and that some important issues can be overlooked when a board lacks diversity.

One example, she said, is graduation rates, which are much lower for low-income and minority students than for others. If no trustee comes from a low-income or minority background, Schwartz said, critical viewpoints could be missed in solving the problem.

Christy Denault, spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Pence, said diversity is a consideration, but not the determining factor, when Pence appoints trustees.

Pence has appointed 15 men and eight women to university boards since taking office in 2012. Denault said his priority is to find the person with the right skills and experiences.

That can mean successful alumni, major donors, business leaders, attorneys or former government workers.

Schwartz said governors and universities should seek out as much diversity as possible, looking not just at gender but at age, religion, race and sexual orientation as well.

“Do I think it makes a difference?” Schwartz asked. “I do.”

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