Sunday, June 16, 2013

Presentation at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) 2013 Annual Meeting: Shared Governance Under Stress

The American Association of University Professors recently concluded its 2013 Annual Conference in Washington D.C. (June 12-15).

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

The highlight of the Annual Conference on the State of Higher Education will be four days of presentations by faculty members and administrators from around the country. The presentations begin Wednesday, June 12, and continue through Saturday, June 15. Issues to be addressed include: the role of faculty in institutional decision making; collective bargaining in higher education; faculty working off the tenure track; assessment and accountability; the corporatization of teaching and research; academic freedom; the twenty-first century curriculum; MOOCS and online education. (AAUP  2013 Annual Conference website)
The Conference was notable for its lack of optimism.  It seems that in the aggregate, there is a growing sense, correct in my view, that structural forces are making the traditional form,s and premises of shared governance irrelevant, except as a veil behind which governance moves up  an increasingly hierarchical ladder and across to the non.academic and increasingly powerful finance-compliance-risk management departments.  More interesting is that these effects appear more pronounced in smaller local and regional institutions, though what is learned there is likely to leak out to more prominent institutions sooner or later.

This post provides a link to the PowerPoint of my own presentation, one that touches on these Conference themes: "Shared Governance Under Stress: Reflections of the Chair of the Penn State University Faculty Senate."

PowerPoint Here--Shared Governance Under Stress: Reflections of the Chair of the Penn State University Faculty Senate

The presentation considered:
1. The nature of institutional errors (Board of Trustees/Administration/–Faculty);
2.  The forms of Stress on Shared Governance (Institutional impediments to faculty participation in effective shared governance)
3. What the Future Brings (Complicity with cronyism; a new role for institutional faculty governance).

The stress points on shared governance, especially for faculty, can eb identified:
1. Transparency (Informational/engagement);
2. Senate Structure that enhances Administrative Control (Executive director reporting to the Provost/No participation in budget); 
3. No protection against retaliation or pressure (Especially potent against contract faculty on the Senate); 
4.  Process complexity (Senate procedures designed to make action difficult; enhance power of insiders)
5. Cronyism (Insider senate leaders/Rewards for behaving/Marginalization of “rebels”/Repeat players on all committees);
6. Solidarity Issues (Faculty easy to divide/Fear mongering by administrators);
7. Boards tend to see faculty as employees (reduce institutional support for robust governance participation on basis of importation of wage labor model of corporate governance)
8. Focus on low level administrative tasks overwhelm resources (Institutional faculty serves as a ministerial aid to department head work)
Cronyism, structural complexity to administrative work, and the increasing division of work and authority emerge as the great engines of stress on shared governance.  Faculty find it harder to meaningfully engage in governance except at the most menial level, precisely because the administration of universities no longer support the presumptions of participation at the heart of the classical model.

What the future brings:  It is possible that the future will bring an end to shared governance except as a concept that is used to mask new realities and make them more palatable.However, there is a way that faculty may evolve along with the evolving structures of university governance to retain something like meaningful participation in governance.  I make a few suggestions in that direction:
1.  Need to move from a focus on administration related tasks to an NGO model, one that focuses on monitoring, assessment and accountability.  This requires direct lines of communication with the board of trustees (overcome the faculty as mere employee difficulty)  and access to information (the transparency problem). It also requires a move toward 360 degree review--shared governance is impossible without shared and mutual assessment.
2. Abandon focus on petty functionary takes that deplete resources for focus on significant policy and governance issuesThe institutional faculty is not a secretariat for department heads--to treat them that way is to deflect their efforts and permit a larger space of uncontrolled and unaccountable power asserted, especially by the non-academic side administrators.
3. Develop the forensic function.  Though the institutional faculty has little direct governance power, they do have a significant authority to cast light on issues of governance and to supply reasoned and highly public conversations, analysis and study of those areas. 
4. Protect faculty against retaliation and bullying.  There is no possible way to avoid either but universities should build into their contracts with faculty and their basic policy prohibitions against retaliation and bullying with real and significant sanctions against administrators, especially unit heads, who abuse their authority by engaging in these acts. This is an area where contract rights, rather than law, would be most useful.
5.  Enhance transparency.  None of this is possible in the absence of transparency.  Informational transparency and engagement transparency are vital.  Yet universities increasingly treat all information about governance as extremely sensitive--as a cover usually for protecting policy development and decision making from stakeholder engagement.

Further reading:

Backer, Larry Catá, Between Faculty, Administration, Board, State, and Students: On the Relevance of a Faculty Senate in the Modern U.S. University (February 10, 2013). Available at SSRN: or 
Remarks on Assuming Duties as Chair of the PSU University Faculty Senate, April 24, 2012. Available

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