Higher Education

, Volume 65, Issue 1, pp 39–58 | Cite as

Transformation of university governance: on the role of university board members

  • Peter M. Kretek
  • Žarko Dragšić
  • Barbara M. Kehm


In this conceptual contribution to the study of university governance the authors will approach potential patterns of behavior of key decision-makers at central university level, i.e. roles of governance actors, as well as the set of factors that shape and constrain the governance actor’s room of manoevre and provide avenues to explain varying role enactments through an actor analysis of members of the newly introduced university boards. In a first part the introduction and empowerment of university boards in European higher education institutions is described as a building block of the transformation of university governance. In the second part the main hypothesis derived is that, in governance practice, board members enact roles which are not only shaped and constrained by formal institutions, as given by the organizational context and regulatory structure, but also by conformable, appropriate and legitimate role expectations of central role senders. As a showcase analysis, the roles of university board members are conceptually explored. Especially in the context of recent reform processes, board members who tend to have a varied status set, very often find themselves in a troubling situation of conflicting role expectations, leading to high levels of role conflicts and role ambiguity. It is the aim of this paper to sketch and examine the factors that contribute to the different roles university board members may take.


University boards Governance Decision-making University reform NPM 



This paper has been developed within the EUROHESC framework in the Collaborative Research Project: “Transforming Universities in Europe” (TRUE). We are grateful to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the European Science Foundation (ESF) for their support. We would also like to thank our project partners, the editors of the special issue and the reviewers for their critical assessments of our drafts. Finally, we extend our gratitude to Ms. Yemisrach Negash and Ms. Katharina Stenzel for their outstanding support in the preparation of this paper.


  1. Adams, R., Hermalin, B. E., & Weisbach, M. S. (2008). The Role of Boards of Directors in Corporate Governance: A conceptual framework and survey. Journal of Economic Literature, 48(1), 59–108.Google Scholar
  2. Amaral, A. (2008). Transforming higher education. In A. Amaral, et al. (Eds.), From governance to identity. A Festschrift for Mary Henkel (pp. 81–94). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  3. Amaral, A., Jones, G. A., & Karseth, B. (Eds.). (2002). Governing higher education: National perspectives on institutional governance. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  4. Beasley, M. S. (1996). An empirical analysis of the relation between the board of director composition and financial statement fraud. The Accounting Review, 71(4), 443–465.Google Scholar
  5. Bleiklie, I. (1994). The new public management and the pursuit of knowledge. Notat 9411. Bergen: LOS.Google Scholar
  6. Bogumil, J., Heinze, R. G., Grohs, S., & Gerber, S. (2007). Hochschulräte als neues Steuerungsinstrument? Eine empirische Analyse der Mitglieder und Aufgabenbereiche. Düsseldorf: Hans-Böckler Stiftung.Google Scholar
  7. Bogumil, J., & Schmid, J. (2001). Politik in Organisationen. Organisationstheoretische Ansätze und praxisbezogene Anwendungsbeispiele. Opladen: Leske & Budrich.Google Scholar
  8. Bradshaw, P., Murray, V., & Wolpin, J. (1992). Do nonprofit boards make a difference? An exploration of the relationships among board structure, process, and effectiveness. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 21(3), 227–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brunsson, N., & Sahlin-Andersson, K. (2000). Constructing organizations: The example of public sector reform. Organization Studies, 24(4), 721–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burgi, M., & Gräf, I. (2010). Das (Verwaltungs-)organisationsrecht der Hochschulen im Spiegel der neueren Gesetzgebung und Verfassungsrechtsprechung. Deutsches Verwaltungsblatt, 125(18), 1125–1134.Google Scholar
  11. Cadbury, A. (1990). The Company Director. London.Google Scholar
  12. Clark, B. R. (1998). Creating entrepreneurial universities: Organizational pathways of transformation. Oxford: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  13. Cornforth, C. (Ed.). (2003). The governance of public and non-profit organizations: What do boards do? Routledge studies in the management of voluntary and non-profit organizations. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. De Boer, H. F., Enders, J., & Leisyte, L. (2007a). Public sector reform in Dutch higher education: The organizational transformation of the university. Public Administration, 85(1), 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. De Boer, H. F., Enders, J., & Schimank, U. (2007b). On the way towards new public management? The governance of university systems in England, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany. In D. Jansen (Ed.), New forms of governance in research organizations. Disciplinary approaches, interfaces and integration (pp. 137–152). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. De Boer, H. F., & File, J. (2009). Higher education governance reforms across Europe (MODERN project). Brussels: ESMU.Google Scholar
  17. De Boer, H. F., Huisman, J., & Meister-Scheytt, S. (2010). Supervision in ‘modern’ university governance: Boards under Scrutiny. Studies in Higher Education, 35(3), 317–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell, W. W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48(2), 147–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dragsic, Z., Kretek, P. M., & Kehm, B. M. (2011). University boards: Formal authority and accountability in five countries. Paper presented at 33rd Annual EAIR Forum, Warsaw 2011.Google Scholar
  20. Estermann, T., & Nokkala, T. (2009). University autonomy in Europe I. Brussels: Exploratory study.Google Scholar
  21. Fama, E. F. (1980). Agency problem and the theory of the firm. Journal of Political Economy, 88, 288–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fama, E. F., & Jensen, M. C. (1983). Separation of ownership and control. Journal of Law and Economics, 26(June), 301–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ferlie, E., Musselin, C., & Andresani, G. (2008). The steering of higher education systems: A public management perspective. Higher Education, 56(3), 325–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Green, J. C., & Griesinger, D. W. (1996). Board performance and organizational effectiveness in nonprofit social services organizations. Non-profit Management and Leadership, 6(4), 381–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Herman, R. D., & Renz, D. O. (1998). Nonprofit organizational effectiveness: Contrasts between especially effective and less effective organizations. Non-profit Management and Leadership, 9(1), 23–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hüther, O. (2009). Hochschulräte als Steuerungsinstrument. Beiträge für Hochschulforschung, 31(2), 50–73.Google Scholar
  27. Hüther, O. (2010). Von der Kollegialität zur Hierarchie? Eine Analyse des New Managerialism in den Landeshochschulgesetzen. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jackson, D. K., & Holland, T. P. (1998). Measuring the effectiveness of nonprofit boards. Non-profit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 27(2), 159–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kahn, R. L., Wolfe, D. M., Quinn, P. R., Snoak, J. D., & Rosenthal, R. A. (1964). Organization stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  30. Kehm, B. M., & Lanzendorf, U. (Eds.). (2006). Reforming university governance. Changing conditions for research in four European countries. Bonn: Lemmens.Google Scholar
  31. Kogan, M., Bauer, M., Bleiklie, I., & Henkel, M. (2000). Transforming higher education. A comparative study. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.Google Scholar
  32. Krücken, G. (2003). Learning the ‘new, new thing’: On the role of path dependency in university structures. Higher Education, 46(3), 315–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Krücken, G., & Meier, F. (2006). Turning the university into an organizational actor. In G. Drori, J. Meyer, & H. Hwang (Eds.), Globalization and organization (pp. 241–257). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Marshall, S., & Rytmeister, C. R. (2007). Studying political tensions in university governance: A focus on board member constructions of role. Tertiary Education and Management, 13(4), 281–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Maslow, A. (1970). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  36. Meier, F. (2009). Die Universität als Akteur. Zum institutionellen Wandel der Hochschulorganisation. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Merton, R. K. (1957). The role-set: Problems in sociological theory. The British Journal of Sociology, 8(2), 106–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Meyer, J. W., & Rowan, B. (1977). Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83(2), 340–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Meyer-Guckel, V., Winde, M., & Ziegele, F. (Eds.). (2010). Handbuch Hochschulräte. Denkanstöße und Erfolgsfaktoren für die Praxis. In Zusammenarbeit mit CHE, Stifterverband der Deutschen Wissenschaft. Essen: Heinz-Nixdorf-Stiftung.Google Scholar
  40. Musselin, C. (2006). Are universities specific organisations? In G. Krücken, A. Kosmützky, & M. Torka (Eds.), Towards a multidiversity, universities between national traditions and global trends and national traditions (pp. 63–84). Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.Google Scholar
  41. Neave, G. (1994). On looking both ways at once: Scrutinies of the private life of higher education. In P. A. M. Maasen & F. A. Van Vught (Eds.), Inside Academia. New challenges for the academic profession. Utrecht: CHEPS.Google Scholar
  42. Nienhüser, W. (2011). Ressourcenabhängigkeit und Hochschulräte. Eine empirische Analyse. In: Hochschulwesen, 59. Jg., H. 6, S. 199–204.Google Scholar
  43. Nienhüser, W. (2012). Academic Capitalism? - Wirtschaftsvertreter in Hochschulräten deutscher Universitäten. Eine organisationstheoretisch fundierte empirische Analyse. In: U. Wilkesmann & C. Schmid (Hg.), (pp. 89–112). Wiesbaden: Hochschule als Organisation.Google Scholar
  44. OECD. (2003). Changing Patterns of Governance in Higher Education. In Education policy analysis, Chapter 3. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/0/20/35747684.pdf. Accessed 20 January 2010.
  45. Paradeise, C., Reale, E., Bleiklie, I., & Ferlie, E. (Eds.). (2009). University governance: Western European comparative perspectives. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  46. Pearce, J. A., II & Zahra, S. A. (1991). The relative power of CEOs and boards of directors: Associations with corporate performance. Strategic Management Journal, 12(2), 135–153.Google Scholar
  47. Pettigrew, A. M. (1992). On studying managerial elites. Strategic Management Journal 13, Special Issue: Fundamental Themes in Strategy Process Research, 163–182.Google Scholar
  48. Rytmeister, C. R. (2007a). Working together in governance? The construction of common purpose amongst university governing body members. Paper presented at the Australasian Association for Institutional Research 2007 Forum.Google Scholar
  49. Rytmeister, C. R. (2007b). Governing university strategy: Perceptions and practice of governance and management roles. Paper presented at the Annual Forum of the European Association for Institutional Research (EAIR), Innsbruck, 26–29 August 2007.Google Scholar
  50. Scott, P. (1996). University governance and management: An analysis of the system and institutional level changes in Western Europe. In P. A. M. Maasen & F. A. Van Vught (Eds.), Inside Academia. New challenges for the academic profession. Utrecht: Cheps.Google Scholar
  51. Weick, K. E. (1976). Educational organizations as loosely coupled systems. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21(1), 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wiswede, G. (1977). Rollentheorie. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter M. Kretek
    • 1
  • Žarko Dragšić
    • 1
  • Barbara M. Kehm
    • 1
  1. 1.International Centre for Higher Education Research (INCHER)University of KasselKasselGermany

Personalised recommendations