Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Evolving Governance Structures in Sub-University Governance Units--The Changing Face of Shared Governance on the Front Lines

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

In 2013, at a conference organized by the Wisconsin Board of Regents to discuss disputes over university cash reserves, the issue of the institutional inefficiencies of university governance drew substantial attention.  The conference, entitled ironically enough, “Finding Common Ground: Regent Governance, Funding, and Partnerships for Wisconsin’s Public University System,” served as a platform for legislators intent on rejecting the customs and traditions of university administration in Wisconsin to broadcast a radical reinvention of university governance. (Colleen Flaherty, New Threat to Shared Governance, Inside Higher Education, Sept. 9, 2013).
Michael Falbo, the board's president, told legislators they needed to “reboot” the longstanding partnership between Wisconsin and its public universities. . . .
During a panel discussion on board governance, however, legislators took the opportunity to start a discussion about the role of the faculty in decision making.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, said governance changes within the system were a matter of “when, not if,” and that university chancellors should be empowered to “truly be the chief executive officers.”
Vos added: "Does the role of allowing faculty to make a huge number of decisions help the system or hurt the system?"  (Ibid.).
The issue appeared to produce a short but sharp conversation.  Less than two years later, however, and again in the context of budget discussions, the issue reappeared, this time from out of the mouth of a governor with potential presidential aspirations.
Governor Scott Walker, a possible Republican candidate for president, announced Tuesday a $300 million cut to the 26-campus University of Wisconsin System. The planned cuts will come as a pair of $150 million cuts in each of the next two years.
* * *
“The people of Wisconsin deserve a government that is more effective, more efficient and more accountable,” Walker said in a statement announcing his higher education budget, “and this plan protects the taxpayers and allows for a stronger UW System in the future.”
* * *
Under Walker’s plan, tenure and faculty governance would be stricken from state code, although faculty leaders expect the Board of Regents to adopt similar or identical policies, resulting in few real changes. Usually, those tenure and shared-governance policies -- which faculty consider crucial protections -- are written into university regulations. In Wisconsin, they are enshrined in state code. (Ry Rivard, Deep Cuts in Wisconsin, Inside Higher Education, Jan. 28, 2015).
Despite the appearance of substantial formal change, the functional effect of Governor Walker's intended action will be slight.  The Wisconsin Board of Regents appears ready to embrace the long standing and conservative approaches of most other states with respect to shared governance.   Yet the Wisconsin Governor this year, and his more radical legislative colleague in 2013, raise an important issue that is worth considering seriously. How should one look at issues of efficiency when considering the role of shared governance in university administration? How do efficiency  and shared governance principles connect at the sub-university level--in the  governance styles at the front lines of university operations--its law schools, liberal arts, engineering colleges and the like?  What about shared governance adds to aggregate efficiency in the operations of the university, especially at the operational level?

This post considers three distinct governance styles that appear to be emerging the operations level of university organization.  These tend to provide different balancing of efficiency and shared governance principles that might produce substantially different approaches to governance--not just with respect to its form (and the power relations inherent in a distinct governance style) but also with respect to the objectives of shared governance.  

Efficiency is an important element of governance;  speed is not necessarily an important element of efficiency (except, perhaps, in the context of threats to health and safety).  Getting to the best institution welfare maximizing decision is a critical marker of efficiency; mindless routinization that vaunts the form of decision making while gutting its substance may contribute to inefficiency while giving the appearance of contributing to efficiency.  Moreover, efficiency requires a careful attention to issues of accountability and care, both in the monitoring of university activities and in the determination of the best decisions relating to transactions.  U.S. corporate law has long refined these notions within the concepts of the duty of care of boards of directors--focusing not merely on speed, but also  on care in the consideration of all relevant information for decision making, and the development of systems of monitoring and accountability all the way up the decision chain. These are basic premises of good governance for both the profit and non-profit sectors.  But in the context of university governance the forms of efficient participation, especially among all of the stakeholders in decision making, may well be undergoing change.

I have considered aspects of this issue  from the vantage point of university level governance (see here, here, here and here). As a general matter I have been concerned about eight categories of governance weakness.  First, faculty governance institutions have yet to master the art of communication with its constituents. Second, faculty governance administrative structures do little to contribute to their autonomy and indeed create incentives to shift effective power from faculty to administrators.  Third, faculty governance has failed to shift its focus and emphasis even as the business of university administration has shifted, and shifted in sometimes dramatic ways that produces the form of participation but robs it of its function, implicating the forms and functions of transparency (considered here and here).  Fourth, the organization of faculty governance tends to amplify structural incoherence between its structure and the administrative structures of university administration, an incoherence that makes coordination inefficient.  Fifth, faculty organizations tend to avoid the hard questions, and particularly the question of tenure and contract faculty. Sixth, faculties, like administrators, can too easily fall into patterns of cronyism that produces inefficiencies.  Seventh, cronyism also produces the possibility of corruption as senates and the administrators with whom they work develop a closed echo chamber system of consultation that effectively undermines the function of shared governance even as it appears to strengthen its form.  Eighth, the change int he focus of university administration increasingly shifts decisions that were traditionally programmatic and curricular to ones that are financial or risk management oriented, effectively locking the academic side of the house out of effective participation in decision making. 

The issues of shared governance at the university level, then, are better known, if also well contested. Little work, however, has been done at the sub-university level.  This is an important omission. Much of the work of the university is undertaken by faculties within university schools and colleges.  These sub-university units tend to have the laboring oar in formulating and implementing university policy at the operational level. Yet the organization of faculty governance at the school or college level within universities tends to be  taken for granted. It may be worthwhile, then, to consider three major forms of governance common to sub-university units in light of the eight categories of governance weakness and in the context of efficiency driven shared governance.

There are three emerging models of sub-university unit faculty governance that suggest the range of approaches currently implemented within large research universities at the operational level. Each presents its own strengths and weaknesses, each of which amplifies their effects on shared governance and efficiency, properly understood.

1. Deep delegation model.

Some form of the deep delegation model tends to be the default form of sub-unit governance in many schools and colleges within large research universities. In its most advanced forms, the characteristics of the deep delegation model  are easy to describe: 
(1) very limited role for faculty participation in institutional planning or decision making (large scope of decisions that are characterized as "administrative" or "decanal"; 
(2) focus on informational transparency (announcement of decisions and policy) but less focus on engagement transparency
(3) Dean constitutes and selects committee members to suit her interests and needs
(4) Dean sets parameters for committee work and charges committees
(5) Small number of "critical function" committees constituted
(6) Little or no monitoring or accountability functions either of administrators or of unit operations.
(7) limited connection with university governance

2. Deep Shared Responsibility Model

The deep shared responsibility model sits at the other end of the governance spectrum.  I would suspect it is less often used, especially in its more advanced forms.  Yet it also serves as an ideal, in some or all of its aspects, of traditional aspirations to shared governance. Yet this is usually tied to a conventional notion of shared governance, tied almost exclusively to participation in decision making, with monitoring understood more as a ministerial function, and accountability understood as appropriate only up the authority chain within a university.  In its most advanced forms, the characteristics of this model is also easy to describe:
(1) significant faculty involvement in establishing committees and selecting their members
(2) elaborate and comprehensive committee structures
(3) deep engagement with sub decanal administrators
(4) significant advisory-consultative role in most matters affecting institutional governance
(5) strong voice in in curricular programs and courses
(6) extensive systems of engagement and informational transparency in governance.
(7) more substantial connection with university governance

3. Oversight Model

The Oversight Model suggests that the two conventional models of sub-unit governance fail to take into account substantial changes in the way in which universities now operate, in the nature of decision making at the university, and in the way in which faculty responsibility for teaching, scholarship and service have changed over the last two decades. It is grounded on the notion that monitoring and accountability are the most efficient objectives of faculty participation in governance, while recognizing the need for strong faculty voice in the traditional core areas of faculty involvement in curriculum, programs and promotion and tenure.
(1) faculty committee structures mirror administrative organization
(2) committees monitor and assess administrative action, with some collaboration in the development of policy and implementation strategies
(3) deep engagement with unit administrators
(4) limited pure advisory and consultative role, bound up in monitoring and assessment functions
(5) strong voice in curricular programs and courses
(6) deep transparency with an assessment and monitoring objective; potential for larger engagement role
(7) deeper connection with university governance structures.

Of course, the usual caveats apply to this taxonomy.  None of these models exist in "pure" form.  Most units develop some hybrid form of governance that leans more heavily in one direction.  Unit governance p`references change over time and is likely sensitive to the character and capacities of the unit's administration, and its faculty. Both a faculty's taste for governance, and an administration's taste for delegation and accountability play a substantial role in the choice of governance model.  The mechanisms for distribution faculty power among tenure/tenure track and fixed term faculty will make a substantial difference in the appeal of one or another of these models, especially where voting is public. Expectations of faculty productivity (teaching and research) will play an enormous role in the demand for one or another of these models, and will constrain faculty capacity to engage in governance.  From the administrative side, the "tone from the top" will also have a substantial effect on institutional tastes for governance models (and toleration for deviations from standard governance model expectations). The tone form the top is also important for setting expectations about transparency, accountability, and cultures of cooperation. 

From the efficiency perspective, the models offer distinct advantages and weaknesses.  If efficiency is understood as touching on the speed of decision making, some version of the deep delegation model might offer the best possibilities. If, on the other hand, efficiency is understood as touching on the quality of decision making and its implementation then some version of the deep shared responsibility model might produce the greatest efficiencies. Lastly, if efficiency is understood as touching on operationalization and compliance, then some version of the oversight model might produce the greatest efficiencies.  Yet the oversight model sacrifices some measure of administrative autonomy and speed of decisionmaking; the deep shared responsibility model sacrifices decision making speed and a measure of accountability oversight; the deep delegation model sacrifices the value of accountability monitoring and consultation that affects the quality of decision making  and its embedding (buy in) and may produce greater need for enforcement and compliance mechanisms.

All three models posit quite distinct roles for faculty within an elastic conceptual framework of shared governance.  The deep delegation model is grounded on an "essential function" principle.  That principle is in turn based on the idea that faculty time devoted to teaching and research ought not to be reduced by service unless the substitution produces activity of equal value (or value added) to faculty production. While that valuation can produce a range of value for a large number of administrative or service activity, at its narrowest, it reduces service value to core activities in which faculty expertise may be essential--generally course review, program review, and peer review. The deep shared responsibility model values faculty participation in governance more.  It is premised on the idea that faculty have the time, expertise and duty to help shape the organization and operation of the unit, and their views are valuable and ought to be considered by administrators.  At its limit, the model suggests that faculty views ought not to be lightly dismissed; at its most benign it suggests only that administrators pause long enough to provide faculty with sufficient information to comment on a range (undefined) of administrative decision.  The oversight  model draws from the other two models in certain respects.  It accepts the premise that faculty consultation may sometimes be less helpful than it is costly, and it also accepts the premise that faculty retain a substantial role in the governance of the unit as critical stakeholder in the production of the educational, engagement and research services that are the global objectives of a unit.  But it is premises principally on the notion that the role of faculty ought to change to meet the changing realities of administration and to project its authority in precisely those function of administration where it might add the greatest value. While faculty ought to retain a direct governance role in those core activities which have traditionally served as the foundation of shared governance, it suggests a shift in focus elsewhere from efforts to participate in decision making to more robust participation in monitoring decisions made and to assess the ways in which operationalizaiton relates to objectives, and assess the value of decisions as applied. 

Clearly, most organizations understand the importance of efficiency in each of its three aspects; yet most organizations also face the problem of trade off. Maximizing all three simultaneously presents operational  and organizational issues that may themselves produce meta-inefficiencies, requiring the establishment of a governance system too complex to itself function efficient int he aggregate.  University cultures may substantially reduce the appeal of one or more of the models. Where faculties are divided the oversight and shared responsibility models may be impossible to implement successfully.  Imposition of a deep delegation model on a faculty used to governance participation may produce governance crisis and subterranean resistance that impedes overall governance efficiency. Deans that reject shared responsibility or oversight models may undermine each by creating divisions within faculty and undermining the autonomy of contract faculty and others whose continued employment may depend on administrative decision.  Oversight models may establish practices that produce more cooperative governance.  Deep delegation promotes "command and punish" behaviors, or they produce a well functioning command system that frees faculty to pursue other tasks.

The foregoing discussion suggests the wide effects that may follow the choice of organizational models for faculty governance.  Each has strengths and weaknesses, the value of which to an institution, is effectively of function of institutional values and objectives. But they values may be strongly held.  Deep delegation sacrifices substantial engagement in governance to free faculty to pursue other aspects of their work, but it widens the separation of administration and faculty (now assuming a more employee role within the institution).  Shared responsibility models represents the conventional ideal but may no longer reflect either the realities of administration in the modern university, nor may it be compatible with changing expectations of faculty in their fields. Deep monitoring models changes the focus of faculty engagement, but not the extent of engagement.  It requires a substantial amount of governance transparency, one that may be beyond the cultural limits of universities. Each provides efficiency in university administration, but in quite different ways. Together, though, they suggest that the arguments to efficiency made by political figures or others, with the object of supporting reducing the participation of faculty ion governance, may not be helpful.     

No comments:

Post a Comment