All three terms refer to higher education governing boards. The rich variety of missions pursued by America’s 4,000 colleges and universities is echoed in the variations in the names applied to their boards. While board of trustees is by far the most common appellation—and the term used most often by AGB as a convenient catch-all–a familiarity with the governance parlance in different regions requires acknowledgment of numerous alternatives.
The venerable term trustee, used by most of the 1,200 institutions in the AGB member database, captures the idea of reliable citizens [and not the government] who are entrusted with holding an institution’s cross-generational future in their hands.
Second-most common is the term board of regents. Of the 50 states, 39 maintain a higher education board of regents in some form to govern or coordinate their public higher education multi-campus systems.
Heard equally often is the term board of governors. Among institutions with boards of governors are the University of North Carolina, Rutgers University, the University of New Haven, and McGill University in Montreal.
Also found in the nomenclature is board of visitors, which neatly communicates the fact that board members do not inhabit the campus on a daily basis. It is used, for example, at Harvard University, Boston University, Tufts University, the University of Louisville, the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, and Weill Medical College and Graduate School of Medical Sciences.
A considerably rare term is board of curators, which is used at the University of Missouri and that state’s Lincoln University.
A term most common in local government, board of supervisors, is used in higher education almost exclusively in Louisiana, by the Louisiana State University System and Southern University.
In a borrowing from the corporate (and nonprofit) culture, a number of single-campus governing bodies are simply called boards of directors, among them those at Wittenberg University and the University of Maine Law School.
Another Anglicism is board of fellows, a term historically applied to a faculty member (less frequently today.) It is used at Norwich University in Vermont, Santa Clara University, and the University of Tampa. Many institutions with boards of fellows use them as fund-raising bodies or specialized advisory bodies.
One final variation is the college councils, which are used as advisory boards by presidents and trustees in the State University of New York system.
Need more help? AGB’s reference librarian (available to members only) is available to research specific governance questions, provide sample documents, or recommend resources. Contact her here.