Sunday, September 25, 2011

Shared Governance

At the end of the trustees meeting on Friday, several faculty had a chat with one of the trustees about the institutional role of the faculty at CSU and ways to improve communication between faculty and the board. While some board members(or faculty for that matter) may not be interested in either of these issues, it might be a propitious time to think about what shared governance should mean and what faculty in this institution find so demoralizing about our administrative culture.

A document from the University of Iowa supporting the 1966 AAUP definition of shared governance captures the dilemma of university governance quite well. First, Chicago State operates on sort of a diluted version of the "stakeholder" system. In this rendition, shared governance operates in a figurative sense: various constituent groups ostensibly have a "conversation" before the people in power make the final decision (or in some cases, have arguably made the decision before the "conversation" occurs). Theoretically, the opinions and ideas of the various "stakeholders" are considered, and because decision makers have sought "input" they believe that "governance is said to be shared." As the Iowa document underscores, this version of shared governance "incorporates This understanding of shared governance incorporates two suppositions: (1) when it comes to important issues, final decision-making power belongs to the president, and (2) all subordinate campus constituents are pretty much equal, regardless of function and expertise (the insidious implication of the term “stakeholder”)."

In contrast, the 1966 AAUP "Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities" articulates a vision of governance in which "faculty not only possess the right to be heard in institutional decision-making; they actually possess 'primary responsibility'—or authority—for reaching decisions in their areas of expertise, namely, “curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.” The text of that 1966 document is available here: The Iowa document here:

Thus, the 1966 governance statement recognizes faculty preeminence in certain areas. For example, "the delegation of primary responsibility to faculty in academic matters is founded upon the assumption that faculty are not merely employees, but professionals with special training and knowledge, and thus distinctly qualified to exercise decision-making authority in their areas of expertise." A final note on the 1966 statement: It represents more than a unilateral declaration by university faculty, since it results from the collaborative efforts of the AAUP, the Association of Governing Boards of American Colleges and Universities (AGB), and the American Council on Education (ACE). Chicago State University belongs to both the AGB and ACE.

The preceding material serves as a preface to the question of what changes that CSU faculty would like to see occur in the area of university governance. What follows will detail how the “stakeholder” system of shared governance at CSU has worked in the recent past. I would argue that curricular and faculty retention issues are presently more important to the efficient operation of the university than issues of hiring. In that regard, I would remind everyone that during the past two years, the administration ordered two major curriculum changes: the mandatory senior thesis and the mostly mandatory master's thesis. It seems that the administration presented both these changes as "done deals" and expected the faculty to go about the process of implementing them. To the best of my knowledge, they both came out of the president's "shock" at finding that neither component existed in specific program curricula. I remember no attempt to solicit faculty input on either mandate (if someone can correct my recollection here, I would be appreciative).

The imposition by fiat of these two curriculum changes was flawed on a number of levels. First, the administration arrogated to itself the responsibility for curriculum, a responsibility that clearly belongs to the faculty. Second, the pseudo-educational "one size fits all" approach to curriculum ignores significant differences between disciplines, their research methods, and their standards of evidence. Third, points one and two vividly demonstrate how the administration views the faculty's role in institutional governance and highlights the top-down administrative style that undercuts "shared governance." There was no pretense here of even consulting the faculty. This kind of activity continues as we are now confronted with that ridiculous "General Studies" curriculum. No one seems to know who developed that program's courses or why, exactly, the changes were necessary.

Earlier this year, following a regular cyclical review, the administration eliminated the university’s Economics department. Despite the faculty’s recommendation that the program be retained, a recommendation with which 15 of 17 members of two different committees agreed, the administration eliminated the department and program.

The administration’s haphazard and often arbitrary decisions about curriculum are matched by erratic and arbitrary decisions regarding faculty retention. This past cycle, five tenure-track faculty were denied retention, apparently by the president. It is my understanding that although all five had satisfied their colleagues, deans, and the University Personnel Committee that they had met their respective DAC standards and should be retained, the administration disagreed– based on some unknown criteria that apparently resides outside their DACs. Subsequently, the administration (read president) reversed its decision to deny retention to four of the five faculty.

Currently, institutional structures exist for faculty to express their ideas about university governance, but I am not sure how effectively we are utilizing them. During recent contract negotiations, union representatives were apparently hesitant to insist on the inclusion of shared governance language, primarily because of the anti-union activities going on in Ohio. I did not find this a particularly compelling reason to back off on the creation of contractual language that might give faculty a little more ability to use their expertise for the benefit of the institution. In the same vein, the speed of the implementation of the mandated senior and master’s theses allowed little or no time for discussion. In the only Senate meeting with those two topics on the agenda, Senators spent an excruciating seventy-five minutes discussing the university’s attendance policy, as if we were working in a high school. The Senate never got around to discussing either curriculum change.

I would argue that, at a minimum, the faculty (and students) at CSU need to be insulated against arbitrary and capricious decisions in the areas of curriculum and faculty retention. While acknowledging that the University’s administration in general, and the president in particular, have the ultimate responsibility for the functioning of the school, incursions into faculty areas of expertise should be rare and the reasons for administrative actions should be substantive and clearly articulated. I believe the best way to achieve these goals would be for the university to begin practicing, at least in part, the type of university governance articulated in the 1966 statement. I think this should be our model for a new university culture that includes the faculty in a meaningful way and does more than give lip service to the concepts of “shared governance” based on a recognition of faculty “expertise.” This may have to be done incrementally, but it seems like a worthy goal. As the Iowa document makes clear: “By assigning primary authority in educational matters to the faculty, genuine shared governance, as articulated in the Statement on Government, promotes and sustains academic excellence. It doesn’t take a doctorate in higher education to figure out why. In the plain words of one of the twentieth century’s great university presidents, ‘we get the best results in education and research if we leave their management to people who know something about them’ (Robert Maynard Hutchins, Higher Learning in America, Yale, 1936, p. 21).”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for reminding us of the AAUP statement on shared governance and the Iowa documents.

    Let's not forget about the presidential arm reaching down to the insist on the removal of a certain department chair even though the faculty had voted to retain that person and the direct prez influence in moving around administrators in Nursing without even that dean knowing about it. In some cases, I am told, decisions relating to faculty and curriculum are made without even the Provost as part of the discussion. When we start listing these administrative actions (which we will) the list will be very long indeed.

    What I think we have at CSU is a faculty that wants shared governance but a university administration that does not buy into that idea because we are unionized and hence we are "workers" and they are the "bosses" (they hire and fire/we do the work and in their ideal universe don't complain about it because we get raises with new contracts).

    On the other hand, the Administration (all those Ed.D. degrees up there--i.e. if they have advanced degrees at all) believes in and tries to practice a corporate model for managing the university which of course is a top-down model that puts power in the hands of "management" and expectes buy-in to its policies and actions from its "workers" without need to consult--remember the sneering comment a few years ago by an administrator who said "there is administrative knowledge and faculty knowledge?" Corporations have no use for workers who question let alone oppose its policies. Since most faculty resist this model (see numerous critiques of this as a model for a university) especially those who come from disciplines where we are trained to think critically and to question actions, debate, and discuss and consider implications before decision-making, the administration gets no buy-in to its fiats from the faculty along with a lot of grumbling but perhaps not enough outrage.

    So, the disconnect between faculty and administration over governance is quite wide. Can the leadership of the university--the President, the Trustees, and the two institutions that the faculty have at their disposal--the UPI and the Senate-- hammer out something different? The last presidential search was a chance for change, and a lot of people were optimistic about the potential for it, but old ideas, old political connections and cronyism rallied and we got no change in university governance. As they say with drug addicts and alcoholics, nothing is going to change until we hit rock bottom. One shudders to imagine what that will be for CSU.