As a follow-up to my earlier post on shared governance, here is how I imagine Chicago State could operate if a genuine commitment to maximizing the effectiveness of the university’s human resources existed here. Not to disappoint some of my colleagues, but shared governance is not participatory democracy. Rather, it represents an understanding of which decisions should be made by which university groups. As a 2001 article makes crystal clear:
“Faculty sometimes defend the principle of shared governance by invoking the democratic principle of self-government, but the primary justification for the need for shared governance is not deference to the ideal of rule by the people. A college or university is not strictly speaking a democratic polity. [However,] (n)ot all the constituencies of an institution of higher education are equally positioned to make sound judgments about what is appropriate or necessary when it comes to teaching and research. Consequently, the 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, which remains the AAUP’s principal policy document on the issue, premises its defense of shared governance on the assumption that faculty ought to exercise ‘primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process,’ because the faculty—not students, administrators, or boards of trustees—have the greatest expertise in these matters.”
“Inextricably Linked”: Shared Governance and Academic Freedom, by Larry Gerber. http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2001/MJ/Feat/gerb.htm
This quotation speaks to the underlying flaws in Chicago State’s version of “shared governance.” Here, faculty are not treated as experts in curriculum, teaching, or “faculty status.” As our recent history demonstrates, arbitrary decisions regarding curriculum and faculty retention ignore or do not seek the recommendations of “expert” faculty trained in specific disciplines, privileging instead the judgment of persons with little or no understanding of those disciplines. How could this be done better?
I would argue that the key is for our administration to recognize faculty expertise and substitute a collaborative, rather than a hierarchical para-military “we decide, you make it work” approach to curricular and personnel questions. Everyone on this campus has a vested interest in our success. If the administration has concerns about the rigor or questions about the requirements of specific programs why not ask the experts on those programs? My colleagues and I frequently make changes designed to improve the rigor of our degree programs–a process undoubtedly replicated by faculty across campus. Imposition of poorly conceived curricular and graduation requirements, elimination of programs (or colleges)in spite of overwhelming faculty support for their continuation, and unsupportable decisions to terminate tenure-track faculty, have a deleterious effect on students and faculty, sowing discontent and resulting in mistrust. This toxic mix contributes to an atmosphere of disaffection that a top-down management style only exacerbates.
I am not calling for some kind of revolution here. Rather, I am arguing that an effort on the part of our administrators to return (if it ever resided there) primary responsibility for their areas of expertise to the faculty would result in a healthier campus climate, and likely help assuage faculty concerns about their lack of influence in programmatic and curricular issues. While I believe that everyone is motivated only by a desire to improve the university, we need to try a different approach. Interestingly, Northeastern Illinois offers a model for us to consider. In curricular matters, their Senate constitution reads:
NEIU Faculty Senate Constitution
ARTICLE VII: DEPARTMENTAL OR OTHER EQUIVALENT UNITS (INCLUDING
Each College and Resource Professional area is divided into departmental or other equivalent units. The embodiment of the University is the academic department. It initiates all matters regarding curriculum and must approve all curriculum proposals before they are considered by the appropriate College Academic Affairs Committee. Department/unit/program bylaws shall not be inconsistent with the Faculty Constitution.
It seems like this would work no matter how we are reconfigured.