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Building boards: a qualitative analysis of the perceptions of the role of external governors on university governing boards

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(Thesis) Ed.D.
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Universities are acknowledged to play a critical role within their societies. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ascendency of neoliberalism, the role the university plays within society is undergoing a substantial change. In most western jurisdictions, the public university has been restructured to have a governing board composed of both internal and external governors. The governing board provides oversight of the university as a public funded corporation. Within Canada, the majority (usually by one) of the university governing board members are appointed by the state. Since the university is a multi-million dollar operation, which the governing board is charged with overseeing, the question that this raises is: to whom do the governors of the university think they are accountable and represent? This question is critical to help understand the nature of the university and how it operates. Very little research has been done about the perception of individual governing board members. Most research conducted on university governance has focused on the role of the president with some very limited research on how the board works as an entity. The perception of the individual governing board members has not yet been researched. This research study focuses on the perceptions of externally appointed governing board members at three universities in British Columbia and triangulates these with the perceptions of the presidents of those universities. Four specific questions are posed and addressed: Does the structure of the board influence larger policy issues in advanced education?; What are the contemporary influences on the board and does this affect their oversight role?; Is the board an agent of the government or the university?, and; Is the board in transition or is the current environment a different iteration of past reality? The data for this research was gathered using a qualitative methodology combining both grounded theory and case study. The data analysis resulted in the creation of a conceptual model that explained the relationship between internal and external stakeholders within the university. This conceptual model was then compared against Resource Dependency Theory and Political Theory as a further means to understand the data.
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