We live in a time in which major issues within the social sector or society at large — complex and nuanced issues — often emerge with little warning and gain momentum quickly, impacting nonprofits in unforeseen ways. When this happens, those at the helm of the organization — its board leaders — need to step in and address these issues in the present or prepare for the possibility of addressing them in the relatively near future. BoardSource believes that those boards that are diverse in their backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences; inclusive in their cultures; and equity-focused in their awareness of the societal ecosystems in which they operate are best prepared to do this work.
To shine a spotlight on emerging issues and help boards facing the challenge of responding to them, BoardSource is developing a series of resources titled “It’s Time to Talk About…” They include reflection questions and background articles for your board’s consideration, and have, in my opinion, several benefits, including the following:
- They provide ongoing opportunities to assess your organization’s vision, mission, and values and determine if they stand up to the test presented by the issue at hand.
- They offer real-time opportunities for your board members to share their perspectives and viewpoints and, by doing so, learn more about their similarities — and, just as importantly, about their differences.
- They build up your board’s “muscle” for decision making on complex issues by “exercising” its critical thinking skills and making informed decisions based on inputs from diverse perspectives.
- They allow your board to apply a “big-picture, purpose-driven” leadership perspective to its work, rather than acting solely in the interests of the organization. We encourage your board to view conversation starter topics through this lens.
We begin our series with a conversation starter about the implications of the recent college admissions scandal on diversity, inclusion, and equity and board oversight of programs.
The Implications of the Recent College Admissions Scandal on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity and Nonprofit Board Program Oversight
The recent college admissions scandal casts a spotlight on issues related to access, race, and inequality in our educational system, and provides a case study on how those with wealth and power in our society too often exercise their privilege in ways that are immoral, unethical, and illegal.
It is clear that the college admissions governance process failed the many victims in this scandal, including students from families (disproportionately minorities) without the financial resources to “guarantee” admission, as well as students with disabilities who may have been denied admission because students from wealthier families falsely identified themselves as being disabled to gain extra time to complete college entrance exams.
This scandal serves as a “wake-up call” as it relates to board oversight of an organization’s programs and the complex ecosystem in which an organization operates. We ask you to consider the following questions:
- What questions could a board ask that would help surface this kind of unethical behavior?
- What could a board do to invite or stop its systems and structures from being manipulated and exploited?
- What are we paying attention to that results in a “blind eye” toward these sorts of issues?
- What are some of the ways to ensure that an organization’s programs serve their intended audience, rather than those who choose to exploit a vulnerability in the system to their own advantage?
- How has this scandal affected your perspective on your board’s governance of its programs? How effective is your board in ensuring that its decisions are equity-based and not unduly influenced by those with power and privilege?
Articles & Readings to Stimulate Your Thinking
Vox article reflecting on how the wealthy see their children’s admission to a prestigious college as a status symbol.
Explosive cheating scandal illuminates hidden inequities of college admissions
A PBS NewsHour interview with Daniel Golden, senior editor at ProPublica, and Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, on issues of access, race, and inequality in higher education.
NPR overview of how parents took advantage of testing accommodations on the SAT and ACT and how that affected students with disabilities.
Opinion piece appearing in The Hechinger Report that highlights the inequitable system that allowed the college admissions scandal to occur — and allows students from wealthy families to have many other legal advantages over low-income students.