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Why is Shared Governance Important?
Higher education shared governance is one of the things that makes higher education and its institutions unique and special – it is an acknowledgment that “we are all in this together, for better or for worse.”
In some ways it can be likened to an arranged marriage – some are great and some you feel “stuck” with each other.
When it works, shared governance is a thing of beauty – there is a shared vision for where the institution is going; shared values around student success; and a shared understanding of roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities within the structure. There is strong two-way communication and transparency that builds trust and the common good. Both administration and faculty embrace and are easily accountable for making changes needed to drive your institution forward.
Unfortunately, and more often than not, that isn’t the case. Poor shared governance results in gridlock in the faculty senate worse than that of the U.S. Senate. Administration and faculty are at odds. There are endless debates that result in nothing getting done. Critical changes don’t get implemented or if they do you’re left with significant resistance that hurts the institution and its reputation going forward. Or worse – faculty attempt to exert authority over areas that are not their purview.
As a dean at a large public university said to me when I asked him, “how is it going?” His response: “I’d be doing great if I could get rid of that do nothing obstructionist faculty senate.”
It doesn’t need to be this way. Shared governance does not mean shared decision-making. And that is where most institutions have gone wrong.
Shared governance means shared responsibility and shared accountability. Roles must be defined. Accountabilities assigned. Consultations and transparency made. Like with the RACI model – responsibility, accountability, consultation, influence.
For example, faculty are experts in curriculum and should have primary input on what is taught and how it is taught. But that doesn’t mean that they get to operate in a vacuum, i.e., they should include end-users (employers) in the conversation about what skills are needed for graduates. Another example is decision-making – they are not the final decision maker for curriculum, promotions, tenure, and many other things – that is the role and responsibility of those leaders who are accountable for the performance of the institution.
We’re all in this together. Let’s make it better instead of worse.
Benefits of Good Shared Governance Practices
Good shared governance practices enable a higher education institution to:
Create a structure and process for partnership, equity, accountability, and ownership that enables priority projects to move forward
Build a shared vision for the institutional direction based on a common set of values focused on student outcomes and success
Build a culture of trust and joint responsibilities
Develop new programs and make critical changes in a timely fashion
Operate with the highest integrity and ensure its institutional reputation remains excellent
Provide a mechanism for sharing information and maintaining transparency
Allow for diverse groups to be informed and give their input into decisions that will affect them before the decision is made
Create a culture that clearly defines responsibility and accountability for proper and timely execution of tasks and duties
Partner with faculty and other stakeholders to accomplish tasks and make needed changes
Understand each party’s roles and collaborate while staying “in their lanes”
Bring to light differences in values and processes and gives a forum in which differences can be worked out
Remain in good standing with its accreditor and be eligible to receive Title IV funds
Signs Your Shared Governance Needs Improvement
There are many telltale signs that an institution’s shared governance isn’t functioning properly. Unfortunately, most institutions abdicate authority to faculty on most everything, and when faculty do not get say into what they think they should, obstructionism and vocal resistance to change become the norm. In reality, if institutions practiced good shared governance, the institution, its board, and its stakeholders would be focused on what is best for student learning, not attempting to protect their own parochial interests.
In reality, these are red flags that tell us that your shared governance is putting your institution at risk.
Best Practices for Higher Education Shared Governance
There are a number of higher education shared governance best practices that institutions should follow to ensure they are helping their institutions be successful while ensuring they fulfill their fiduciary duties. These duties include the the following.
Shared Governance Best Practices for Higher Education Institutions Include:
Faculty and administration have clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities
Faculty and the faculty senate are included in all appropriate conversations, including budget and finances
There are accountability mechanisms for administration and faculty under shared governance
Transparency and inclusion in decision-making build trust among faculty, staff, and administration
Faculty hold an annual retreat to reinvent and improve shared governance practices and administration is invited and participate
Leadership and the board continually reminding stakeholders of the importance of shared governance in the institution’s operations
The board and its standing committees have at least one faculty member as an ex officio member
Faculty and administration conduct periodic assessments of the effectiveness of shared governance practices
There is student representation on the board of trustees of the institution
Faculty freely participate in leadership development programs, especially those who are interested in joining administration
How Our Services Benefit Our Clients
Unfortunately, making changes in shared governance isn’t easy – think MAJOR resistance to change – but changes are necessary to have a well-functioning institution.
The Change Leader’s proprietary processes and methods have helped multiple universities and colleges improve their governance problems, including getting them off of show-cause from their accreditor for poor faculty morale and governance practices.
Some of the areas we’ve helped institutions with faculty governance issues include:
- Established standing faculty committees, including drafting faculty governance committee charters, that increased faculty engagement with campus leadership and stakeholders, addressed ongoing needs and concerns, and provided for improved academic, operational, and strategic oversight.
- Oversaw the institution’s curriculum committee, and approved over 200 curriculum changes in the course of 4 years.
- Resolved issues with faculty to where they freely participated in building a shared vision for the institution and no longer felt that there was a culture of hostility, bullying, and retaliation.
- Made multiple recommendations, including holding listening sessions with faculty, staff, and students, that turned the institution’s culture around.
- Conducted a faculty engagement survey that resulted in significant faculty culture improvements and $4 million improvements to the institution’s bottom line.
- Improved administrator worklife and duties, including recommending new processes and procedures that resulted in improved faculty and student retention.
- Helped one institution to “better understand our challenges and critical issues, you helped us to understand our strengths and areas we should leverage to improve performance. As we are a culture which thrives on positive reinforcement, these were equally if not more important.”
Faculty Governance Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Most frequently questions about faculty governance consulting for higher education
What is shared governance?
Shared governance is the process by various stakeholder groups within a higher education institution, (e.g., faculty, administration, and governing boards) give input and have a role in the decision-making that affect college or university policies and procedures.
Shared governance is generally understood to mean input from faculty, but in its truest form, it is involvement of all stakeholders, including boards of trustees, faculty, employees and staff, administration, and students in the developing of policies and making decisions that concern the university.
When shared governance first came into being, it was a very different time in our country and in higher education. Back in that time, faculty were best qualified to run universities.
Times have changed. There are 5300 colleges and universities in the U.S. alone. Changes are happening faster than ever before. Institutions of higher learning must be run like businesses. For more on Shared Governance see our full What is Shared Governance article.
How does shared governance work?
Shared governance is highly tailored for each institution, but there are basic principles that apply to nearly all institutions.
First, faculty understand that their roles are structured and that they “stay in their lanes.” For example, faculty having a say in pedagogy and how courses are taught is appropriate. Where to build a parking lot is not in their purview.
Second, transparency and trust are critical elements that make shared governance work. As someone rises to higher levels in an organization, they have visibility into more areas and can (usually) make more informed decisions. When governance is shared, it is critical that all groups are dealing with the same information so that they can arrive at good decisions.
Lastly, with faculty have some authority and responsibility in decision-making, accountability is critical. All those involved in shared governance must accept accountability for their decisions (or lack thereof).
Where does shared governance get its authority?
The American Association of University Professors published its first guidelines on shared governance in 1920, suggesting that faculty should be involved with personal decisions including the selection of administration, budgeting, and education policies.
The AAUP’s current statement on shared governance was published in 1966, and “calls for shared responsibility among the different components of institutional government and specifies areas of primary responsibility for governing boards, administrations, and faculties.”
At a higher education institution, the “legal basis” for shared governance generally comes from the institution’s bylaws, and in the case of public institutions, may come from the State’s legislature. Accreditation also comes into play here, as most accreditors require some form of shared governance with faculty.
What are the typical faculty committees that make up shared governance?
There can be multiple committees in a shared governance system. They can include:
- Faculty Senate. The Faculty Senate is a deliberative body that provides a collective voice for faculty and enables it to exercise the responsibilities assigned to it by the Board of Trustees and by the university faculty. It has oversight of all university committees.
Curriculum Committee. The CC coordinates all aspects of the curriculum, including reviewing, analyzing, and approving changes to the institution’s curriculum.
Academic Policy Committee. The APC sets standards for articulation agreements, admissions requirements and certification for degrees; reviews and proposes policies relating to graduation requirements, grading and appeals, student conduct, performance, retention and other student issues; and assists administration in reviewing applicants to degree programs who do not meet the minimum admissions requirements and in final review of degree audits.
- Assessment Committee. The AC provides guidance and support for the assessment of institutional and program learning outcomes at institution, including assuring alignment of academic program and college level outcomes with institutional outcomes, and formulating appropriate recommendations to improve educational effectiveness based on institutional data.
Is shared governance and academic freedom the same thing?
Shared governance is the process of joint authority, responsibility, and accountability among various stakeholder groups within a higher education institution, (e.g., faculty, administration, and governing boards) to give their input and have a role in the decision-making that affects college or university policies and procedures.
Academic freedom originates from the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which says that:
- Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties. . .
- Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter that has no relation to their subject.
Can faculty say anything they want and call it "academic freedom?"
No. Academic freedom is not the same thing as freedom of speech.
Academic freedom gives faculty the “right” to research and teach what they want in their fields, but this right doesn’t extend beyond the classroom or their research. The institution’s faculty manual and various institution policies should address this.
Where this can get a bit tricky is for public institutions which, because they are “owned” by the State, cannot legislate any “laws” that go against the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.