Publication Date

December 2005


[Excerpt] Trustees of public and private research universities have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of their institutions. However, actions that appear to be in the private interests of their institutions may not be in the social interest and these institutions are also expected to serve society as a whole. In deciding what optimal policies are for their institutions, trustees must weigh their institutions’ private interests against the interests of society as whole. In the next section, I discuss seven examples of areas in which trustees will need to make these judgments.

Privatization is occurring at both public and private research universities, in the sense that the institutions are becoming more dependent on revenue streams generated from third parties. Examples are increased external funding of research, attempts to commercialize research findings through start-up companies and licensing of patents, increased external support through individual, corporate and foundation giving, and increased revenue from big-time athletics. The third parties providing the funding may push for activities or decisions that are not consistent with the underlying academic values of the institution and the trustees. Section III discusses three examples of how such problems may arise and stresses the importance of the trustees retaining fundamental authority. A final section provides some concluding remarks.


Suggested Citation
Ehrenberg, R. G. (2005). Key issues facing trustees of national research universities in the decade ahead (CHERI Working Paper #85). Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site:

Required Publisher Statement
Published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, Cornell University.