Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On the Institutional Role of a Faculty Senate--Part 2

In On the Institutional Role of a Faculty Senate: Part 1(May 4, 2012), I considered one consequence of the idea that faculty have a role in shared governance at a university.  That consequence, that many individuals constitutes a "faculty" produces imbalances in the faculty's role vis a vis their shared governance partners in the university administration and board of trustees.  I also suggested that where the administrative officers of a university manage shared governance by faculty, especially where this management is characterized by administrative selection of individual faculty invited to the "governance table," the possibility of efficient decision-making might be furthered but such management might either corrupt or appear to corrupt the faculty role in governance. 

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2012)

In order to reduce the likelihood of administrative capture and management, the faculty voice (spoken in the singular in decision making, but operated in the plural among all individuals who together constitute "the" faculty) requires consolidation. This Part 2 considers several alternatives to the constitution of a faculty voice that represents the aggregate of the individuals who together constitute the faculty (which in turn is the locus of faculty governance power). This si a first stab at a complex subject.  Reflections and comments are most welcome.

How does one organize a faculty? I will consider four alternatives: (1) democratic organization of the faculty as a whole; (2) organization of faculty into governance units organized by field or by the administrative divisions of the university; (3) organization of faculty into a single unit; and (4) organization of the faculty that mimics the administrative apparatus, with local organizations tied to a university wide faculty representation apparatus.  I will not consider the unionized faculty.  Theirs is a distinct dynamic that approaches the sharing of governance  from a distinct framework. See Cary Nelson, Open Letter: What Faculty Unions Do, AAUP.  

Each of these alternatives, of course, mimic both corporate and political organizational approaches to the issue of representation, balancing the legitimacy enhancing direct role of individual faculty members (or shareholders or citizens) with the efficiency needs of organizational operation that both reflects the aggregate choices and sentiments of the body of rights bearers (the faculty, shareholders or citizens) but in a way that permits the university to maximize its efficient functioning in the context of its purposes (providing education, maximizing profits, increasing the welfare of the people).  Though the goals, techniques and theories are similar, the internationalization of governance will vary widely depending on circumstances and the environment in which the organization operates.  While a corporation and a state face similar organizational challenges, their distinct objectives and roles may require sometimes substantially different approaches to institutionalization of governance.  The same, of course, applies to the governance structures of universities. Unity of theory does not necessarily produce results that are easily translatable from one sort of organizational type to another.     

 (1) Democratic organization of the faculty as a whole.  This is the most direct way to reflect faculty voice in governance. At its most inclusive, this would require that all faculty participate in all decision making for which faculty involvement is required.  That in turn requires both a substantial amount of transparency directed to all faculty and the conduct of all faculty meetings whenever a decision has to be made or a position taken.   In other words, for all matters of shared governance, the faculty would be called upon to meet together and to consider the issues after having received all the information required to act.  

For that purpose, the faculty could be organized in one of two ways.  First, it might avoid organization completely, leaving it to the administration to call them to meeting and to provide the necessary information for action.  This almost purely passive role mimics to some extent the pattern of shareholder governance for corporations in the United States.  It transfers substantial active control of the affairs of the university to the administration (its managers) and leaves the faculty with a de minimus consultative role (to be determined at the instance of the managers) and a veto role grounded in the good faith of managers to process and convey all necessary information for that function.  The core of governance, course development and faculty assessment, would be devolved to the smallest local unit of governance--departments for the most part.  Otherwise, the faculty as a whole would have to be involved in all matters requiring faculty voice.

Alternatively, the faculty might be organized in a simple manner--perhaps electing a chair or other leader who would be charged with convening the faculty for action and to serve as the liaison with administrative and board of trustees officials. The difference with the purely passive organizational form is that the faculty itself can be understood as responsible for the conduct of its own meetings.  That permits a greater degree of latitude with respect to both the agenda and the actions undertaken.  It also provides a greater autonomy to engage with managerial engagement in the process (from developing information to be used to setting the agenda itself). Simple delegation of functions might e possible but always subject to control of the body of the whole. This form of engagement might consume the time and efforts of faculty, distracting them from their role in teaching and research.

In either case, direct democracy-style organizations can be cumbersome, verging on unworkable in fact even as it is invoked in form.  It requires all faculty to participate all the time in all matters. It supposes the ability of faculty to speak through multiple bodies with a single voice.  But faculties can be divided and this process offers little by way of mechanisms for considering and resolving matters of internal faculty difference before the faculty as a body weighs in as a whole. Those differences of course can also be exploited.  Administrators can, by favoring or disfavoring faculty, can quickly send out a message of conformity and reward.  The system is then corruptible.   Moreover, it favors a more reactive and passive role for faculty in matters of shared governance and tends to move decision making for the matters of greatest faculty power either to the lowest level of effective management or produce a system that is inherently cumbersome.  Thus the great weaknesses of this form of organization are its inefficiency, its tendency to vest substantial control power in management (and thus potentially act to corrupt the process) and to reduce faculty to a passive role.  As a consequence, either the role of faculty will be diminished to produce a functionally efficient organization or its role will remain substantially dependent on administrators.   

(2) Organization of faculty into governance units organized by field or by the administrative divisions of the university.  An alternative approach might be to develop a faculty governance apparatus in parallel with the administrative apparatus of the university at the operational level.  This would tend to produce multiple faculty organizations one for each of the operational administrative units of the university. Each would function as the organizational voice of the faculty through principal engagement with unit administrators.  At the university level, each of these organizations might be polled or deployed to produce an aggregate faculty view on matters of general concern.   

These faculty organizations may be organized in a variety of ways, the two principal variations of which would be an autonomous faculty organization and the second would be an organization merged into the administrative apparatus. The former would be evidenced by the self-constitution of the organization and its constitution separately from the administrative edifice in the relevant academic unit. The organization would be framed by an organizational document of some kind (its "constitution") in which its jurisdiction and form of internal governance would be specified.  The organization would be expected to generate its own rules of internal operation grounded in its constituting document and to engage in governance through the individuals recognized for that purpose to speak for the faculty organization.   Its governance could be  direct democratic (everyone participates) or representational (unit faculty vote or otherwise select representative to act for them in accordance with rules developed for that purpose). When administration or board of directors seek the faculty voice in shared governance, this faculty organization would serve as the representative voice of the aggregate of the faculty organized within the relevant administrative unit.But autonomy  carries a risk--that administrators will either ignore the organization or that it will not take it seriously.  Consultation may be respected in form, but be given little effect.

Alternatively, these unit faculty organizations could be deeply embedded into the administrative framework of the administration of an academic unit. In this variation, faculty would serve as a committee of an overall administrative structure, to be called on by unit administrators to serve whatever faculty role is assigned them.  Consultation would be easy.  An administrator consults the organized faculty the way she would any of her other parts of her "leadership team."  But the gains in efficiency are acquired at a cost of autonomy.   Administrators that control faculty organizations (and their membership) may use that control as a method of disciplining faculty, and of rewarding them as well.  "Good" faculty may obtain appointment to these positions, they may receive additional support as a result thereof and others may be denied these.  Where such selection is based on the convergence of faculty and administrative views, the system itself becomes corrupted and the faculty voice again reduced, at its limit, to a pretty gesture.

Either version produces greater efficiency. They organize faculty so that the many can speak coherently on matters of governance assigned to them as a group--the body effectively acquires a single mouth through which it may speak. Differences among faculty may be resolved internally before the faculty contributes to governance with the other university stakeholders.  Both suggest the possibility of faculty coming together to develop common positions on matters that may be assigned to them as part of their shared governance responsibilities. But the focus remains centered on the academic unit.  On matters of general university concern, faculty organization solely by unit provides little in the way of mechanics for faculty wide action.  And, indeed, faculty divided by units may be easier to divide on all sorts of matters, including those touching on faculty governance.  Unit based faculty governance can set the stage for divisive politics in which some one (administrator or board of trustees) might be tempted to set one unit off against the other.  In times of financial distress with uneven effects this can be quite destructive; or it can shift effective power upward to the central administrative authorities.  Unit division might be used strategically for other matters as well--from the construction of metrics for assessment (a common one would be, for example, to base performance on grant generation, which would tend to disproportionately favor the sciences and engineering over the liberal arts).   When attached to the administrative apparatus of a unit, the issue of capture--and the resulting corruption of faculty governance--becomes a more serious concern.  

(3) Organization of faculty into a single unit. This form of organization is a variation of the former one.  Where it solves the problem of communication with the central administrative authorities and Board of Trustees, it does less well with "local" issues. As with the other forms of faculty organization, the institutional structures can be complex and autonomous, or simple and closely tied to the administrative apparatus. As a highly institutional structure, a university wide faculty organization can be structured like the government of a state--with voting (either by unit or through universal suffrage) for representatives to a consultative body led by some sort of administrative head.  Like similarly constituted international organizations, a universal faculty organization can consist of a general assembly of all members and a set of representative bodies.  The structure as self constituted and autonomous serves the objective of producing systems that can legitimately produce faculty sentiment for shared governance.  Such institutionalized faculty organizations might also include a secretariat or other group to serve a staff function. The purpose would be to acquire a further measure of independence from administration by acquiring the ability to produce information and analysis on their own.

In contrast, a universal faculty organization loosely  would likely be integrated into the administrative structure of the university.  In effect, the faculty representative would become something like a department of the administration, to be invoked when "faculty" input is required.  Such a faculty organization would serve a quite distinct purpose from an independent faculty organization.  It's principal role would be to efficiently harvest information about faculty sentiment for purposes of consultation. In a sense, this sort of faculty organization functions like a super focus group. It would also be tasked with harvesting faculty approval of administrative acts that require faculty participation.  With respect to heavily individual tasks--course development and programs, then function might be devolved to faculty in the units which might be organized along similar lines as departments of the unit administration. 

Organized as a single entity, faculty governance could suffer the same problems of efficiency as the single direct democracy model, but now with a more efficient organizational framework. The single faculty governance unit can easily become remote from its members and the concerns at the unit  or departmental level.  The possibility of collusion and capture are also real.  The fate of the pigs at the end of the story of Animal Farm is always a warning of the weakness of this form of organization.  In this respect, it mirrors the problems of administrative isolation from its own unit administrators, and other stakeholders, something that can have disastrous effects.  Such an organization can become quite efficient, but runs the risk of becoming irrelevant, at least at the rank and file level.  Potentially viewed as individuals seeking administrative positions, the officials populating this universe could be viewed suspiciously or with interests potentially adverse to those of the faculty they are meant to represent.  Morale could suffer as the irrelevance of the organization grows and what would appear to outsiders to be a robust governance structure reaching to the highest levels could in reality be a pretty but empty vessel.   

(4) Organization of the faculty that mimics the administrative apparatus, with local organizations tied to a university wide faculty representation apparatus. Arguably the most complex and institutionally developed form of faculty governance, this variation seeks to avoid many of the weaknesses of the others without unduly encumbering either the faculty or the administration with additional administrative machinery that itself could impede both governance and the articulation of a legitimately obtained faculty voice in governance.The object of this hybrid form is to incorporate the benefits of local and university wide organization while avoiding the weaknesses of each form existing alone.

One of the difficulties of this form of organization is to establish the relationship between unit faculty organizations and university wide faculty organizations.  One variation would establish unit and university organizations independently of each other.  Because the focus of each is different, there is no reason they ought to be connected directly.  Unit and university level organizations can work together as needed, but there is no reason to require a clever relationship between them.   The difficulty, of course, is that much that is the stuff of shared governance involves both local unit and universal level concerns.  If the two levels of organization are unconnected it is sometimes difficult to either share information or form a unified position.  Faculty ability to engage effectively in shared governance is weakened as a result and the likelihood of policy incoherence grows.

Another variation would create a hierarchical relationship between university and unit faculty organizations that mirror the relationship between unit administrators and university level administrators.  While certain functions related to shared governance are delegated to local units, matters of general university interest, and those taken up by university level administrators, would be handled by the university unit.  Under this framework, either members of the unit faculty organizations might elect members of the university level organization, or university level faculty would be elected by the faculty at large.  The differences go to university culture and preference, but the effect is the same.

In terms of institutional autonomy, an integrated and multilevel faculty organization seems to offer much.  It can be crafted in institutional form to parallel the institutional forms of university administration.  That parallelism might well contribute to more efficient communication between similarly situated administrators and faculty.  It it also provides for a vehicle for university faculty organization protection of unit faculties, and the ability to muster information from local faculty. The weaknesses are complexity and the possibility of lack of communication.  The latter can produce substantial policy incoherence.  The former can increase the possibility of isolation.  That isolation of university level faculty representatives would mirror, of course, a similar isolation by university level administrators.  The result might produce a resonance that would distort both administrative and faculty shared governance at the university level compared to shared governance perspectives at the unit level.

We have moved from the simple basic presumption that faculty share in goverenance, to the approaches to the solution of the problem of institutionalizing this simple presumption.  These approaches sugegst the complexities inherent in translating the idea of faculty participation from theory to practice.  The two most significant difficulties touch on legitimacy.  The first touches on the manner of creating a structure that minimizes the appearance of overreaching by administration or board of trustees (that is, how to ensure that faculty are speaking freely and without fear of reprisal or otherwise corrupted).  The second touches on the internal constitution of the faculty organization so that it produces an independent faculty voice for effective shared governance. Together these suggest that the key to shared governance is the development of an institutional architecture that protects the integrity of the faculty voice.  That requires, to some extent, an arms length relationship between administration and the production of faculty participation.  We touch on the relationship between administration and faculty organizations in Part III.   

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