Howard University Board of Trustees Updates the Board Structure After Almost 50 Years

Laurence C. Morse


Dear Howard Community,

The Board of Trustees is guided by the university’s mission to deliver an educational experience of exceptional quality. To meet that mark, the Board continually examines areas where we can improve our processes and our structure to strengthen the overall institution and better serve the Howard University community. 

Over the last year, the Board underwent an extensive review of its current governance structure to ensure it is both in keeping with best practices of modern universities and designed to optimally engage, seek input, and communicate with university stakeholders. The Board was assisted in this process by an external firm well-regarded for its work in higher education and that has consulted with several prominent universities on good governance and best practices for effective stakeholder engagement. 

The Board’s review was diverse and comprehensive, including interviews with more than 40 university stakeholders, notably students, alumni, faculty, and former trustees. There was overwhelming consensus that our current process of governance and engagement across the university, from the Board through various stakeholder groups, is not working. Furthermore, the Board agreed that it needed to improve its processes and look for governance models that more closely aligned with peer leading-edge institutions. 

Based on the findings of this review, submitted to the Board Committee on Governance in February 2021, the Board voted unanimously on June 11, 2021 to approve a single unitary class of trustees to serve in a traditional fiduciary role for the university, phasing out trustee roles for students, faculty, and alumni over the next year. Student, faculty, and alumni perspectives are, and remain, essential to our future shared success. To this end, the Board affirmed and will adopt a number of additional mechanisms and forums across the university to solicit and provide broad input from a wide array of university stakeholders, particularly faculty and students. 

Beyond the formal changes to Board representation, this decision is a recognition that stakeholder input and involvement in institutional governance goes beyond the board room and must be a part of campus life. In future months, this will take the form of town halls, more formal engagement with the Faculty Senate, Howard University Student Association and Howard University Alumni Association, and the expansion of the Leadership Academy, which currently includes Program Chairs, Department Chairs, and Associate Deans, to include faculty. The role of the existing Board of Visitors is also being reviewed for expanded stakeholder involvement.  

The Board remains steadfast in its pursuit to strengthen the university and will continue to do so with future decision making. There will be much work still to be accomplished in the months and years ahead, and this work can only be done through the thoughtful engagement and participation of our entire university community. As we celebrate 154 years as an institution, we are now uniquely positioned to have the next 150 years chart a course for greater achievement, continued excellence and create a more unified sense of community. 

Please take a moment to watch this video regarding this update.

Excellence in Truth and Service,

Laurence C. Morse, Ph.D.

Chairman of the Howard University Board of Trustees