• August 30, 2015

Shared Governance Is a Myth

Shared Governance Is a Myth 1

Gwenda Kaczor for The Chronicle

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Gwenda Kaczor for The Chronicle

Where can we find human beings who don't think well of their own ideas and don't enjoy defining the circumstances of their employment? Certainly not in the academic world, where tenure and full professorship are attendant on fiercely defended favorite theories, and mastery of the classroom gives teachers a taste for controlling the institutions where they work.

Administrators appear to honor teachers' desire for influence by establishing faculty senates and placing interested faculty members on a host of committees. Young profes­sionals embrace committee assignments eagerly, believing that it is their responsibility to contribute to the governance of their colleges and delighting in the power they think this confers on them. It takes years of rank and the bitter­sweet experience of extensive committee service to realize that faculty influence on the operation of the university is an illusion, and that shared governance is a myth.

Committees report to administrative officers who are at liberty to accept, reject, or substantially alter faculty recommendations. In many cases, deans or subdeans convey to the committees they sit on what outcomes the administration considers acceptable. This not only guides deliberations but also casts a pall of futility over contrary conceptions. Only rarely does a committee offer recommendations not in line with the prior ideas of top administrative officers.

One would think that faculty senates exercise jurisdiction over a range of college life and policy. In reality, the right of many senates does not extend beyond making recommendations to the president, who is under no obligation to accept them. The processes of guiding and tempering conversations that occur on committees are even more visible in senates: Presidents or their representatives indicate what recommendations they wish to receive and, after a bit of thrashing about, the faculty members produce them.

When I served as chair of the Vanderbilt University Faculty Senate, the chancellor met once a month with the senate's executive committee. The meetings were cordial, but it was clear that the chancellor used them to inform the senate of what he wanted. When the committee challenged some of his ideas, he summarily terminated the meetings, sending his provost to tell us each month what the chancellor had done.

On another occasion, I was asked to chair a committee assigned to develop a student bill of rights. The committee worked hard and came up with what seemed to many faculty members a balanced and sensible list of student rights and responsibilities. We were thanked for our labors—and then the document disappeared down a rabbit hole. No action has ever been taken pursuant to its terms, freshmen are not informed of its existence, and a search of Vanderbilt's publications turns up no reference to it.

Realists may ask why faculty members should have any influence over the operation of educational institutions. Decision-making about the future of colleges and universities is vested in chancellors or presidents, who hire a circle of more or less professional managers. Regrettably, perhaps, no line of authority extends from governing boards to faculty members, conferring on them the right to define the nature—and chart the future—of their institutions. They have a limited right to determine what they teach in their classes, and they usually have the last word on the grades their students receive. Is that not enough authority for people who like to profess that there is an immoral element in all power?

This realist argument receives support from two additional considerations: Faculty members have no special competence in running organizations; many of them lack the practical sense required for making savvy and timely decisions concerning the complexities of institutional life. Moreover, they have little or no interest in the details of administration. They may want tenure, promotion, higher salaries, and convenient parking, but only so that they may attend to their research and teaching. In this view, faculty members are neither capable of nor interested in managing the university.

If that is right, as many a president will affirm in a moment of candor, why create the make-work charade of faculty committees, faculty membership on search committees for administrators, and ineffectual faculty senates? Why not admit the reality that the sharp line between management and labor has found a home in the university, and that faculty members are nothing more than employees? That may not be a happy state of affairs, but it would be wholesome to admit it, ridding professors of at least some of their self-importance and thereby enabling them to form a more accurate picture of their station.

A cynical person may suppose that the charade is sustained in order to exhaust the faculty with meaningless tasks so they don't actually give trouble to management. That is the view adopted by disaffected faculty members who see administrators as the malevolent lords of the university or, less fanci­fully, as the oppressive enemy. A few deans and presidents may indeed be motivated by scheming ill will, but it is unlikely that the system of powerless committees was invented to keep faculty in subjection.

A more probable source of this way of doing business is the residue of an old ideal of the university. Such survivals of previous practices are not unusual in social life. Physicians, for example, experience a struggle between two competing understandings of their field: the prevalent view that treating patients is a business, and the residue of the old ideal that it is a calling. Ministers live the same ambiguity. Faculty committees constitute the respect that today's university pays to the old notion that it is a community of students and scholars. The impotence of the committees is acknowledgment that at this time in history, institutions of higher education are business ventures, in certain ways similar to factories.

There is a simple way to judge whether the old or the new idea of the university prevails in an institution. If education is primarily a business, managers hire the faculty. If universities are communities of students and scholars, faculty members hire the managers. The difference between the two strategies is immense, because it determines the locus of power. Looked at from this perspective, it is even clearer that in today's universities, faculty members are employees with no say in the operation of their institutions.

The growing disempowerment of the faculty is accelerated by the distance of governing boards from campus processes. Board meetings are carefully choreographed events, designed by administrations to display their excellence. Many trustees believe that they occupy honorary positions and consider themselves unqualified or unprepared to ask hard questions of the managers they have hired. As a result, as long as administrators keep serious problems out of the public eye, they retain power over the faculty and enjoy considerable operational leeway.

Is this the way things ought to be? General Motors disintegrated before the very eyes of its Board of Directors. It may well be that unless governing boards make direct contact with the faculty, the meltdown of some institutions is just a matter of time.

John Lachs is a professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University.


1. kurtz1rs - February 07, 2011 at 11:44 am

An N of One hardly makes for the ability to draw the sort of sweeping conclusions Professor Lachs makes in this commentary. With all due respect having served as a member of academic senate bodies, as a department chair, dean and external reviewer for accrediting bodies I have found the experience to be generally the opposite of Lachs' findings. Perhaps it has been merely my good fortune to be associated with universities where shared goverernance is alive and thriving. Or perhaps it is a matter of perspective. Some of my colleagues do consider anything short of total victory--based on their world view--as failure or selling out. Shared governance is a negotiated process with significant ebbs and flows. Sometimes drawnout and painful and most often never easy. But, if implemented in an open and transparent manner it is a valuable asset.

2. dmh5026 - February 08, 2011 at 01:03 pm

I counter your argument with the following question: what about the reverse situation? How does the administration feel when faculty fail to inform them of new ideas, projects, initiatives, and goals? Must administration always cater to their faculty (as is done at my institution where I am an administrator)? Why must faculty be spoon-fed everything?

What cracks me up most is that you are vouching for the very thing that destroys a faculty member's credibility on a board: their insistence on self-success and total knack for complaining...all the time.

In my administrative field of development, my JOB is to support our students, faculty, and facilities. I have a committee made up entirely of faculty members that aides to directly bring money into faculty positions, labs, etc. And what happens? No one shows up to the meetings. When I try to bring faculty members out on the road to help me raise money for their chair or department, I am met with extreme schedule conflicts and whining.

In a few months, I will get complaints (like I have in the past) that my shop is not raising enough money for faculty. The hypocrisy is laughable.

And these are not from young faculty members (who show the most willingness to participate and help their institution) but tenured faculty who can do no wrong and no one slaps their hand for it.

John Lachs from Vanderbilt, I challenge you to sit on a board for fundraising efforts. That is where you will find adminstration EAGER and ready to serve faculty in whatever their needs. However, it wouldn't hurt if you gave a little back.

This article completely over-generalizes the faculty/administration relationship. Personally I've seen many universities that handle it well (yes, it's possible). Instead of complaining about the state of your affairs, why don't you offer a solution?

3. dmh5026 - February 08, 2011 at 01:04 pm

In addition, your tone and arguments prove that elitism of faculty is still alive and well in the 21st Century of higher education.

4. hill210 - February 08, 2011 at 05:31 pm

I could identify with many aspects of this article. I used to think that Shared Governance and Academic Freedom were myths, like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus...but I've actually seen a lot more evidence of the existence of the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.

5. ralphelton2 - February 08, 2011 at 09:59 pm

dmh50: Do you want some cheese with that whine. When was the last time a faculty member asked you to come and do his/her job for them.
It's your job to raise money. Do it and quit whining that you don't get any help from faculty. And it sounds like you're the elitist.

The author was dead on with regard to my institution.

The faculty are the hired help; therefore, their solutions and ideas are beneath the Administration.

Did you read the article? They (admin.) don't want input that doesn't reflect their own egotistical ideas.

As I stated, he seems to know my institution well.

6. bowl_haircut - February 08, 2011 at 10:01 pm

The analogy to GM is more perhaps even more apt than Professor Lachs realizes.

7. zefelius - February 09, 2011 at 03:58 am

To dmh,

Ad hominem arguments never work, especially in this case. I was a graduate student 5 years ago at Vanderbilt, and based on my experience Professor Lachs is one of the most genuine, generous, affable, gregarious, open-minded, inspiring professors I've come across at 8 universities where I've either studied or taught. He's beloved by many students and faculty there. He's just a really cool guy, and not in the slightest way elitist. It's probably best then to keep to the arguments and shelf the personal observations...

8. texas2step - February 09, 2011 at 07:57 am

32 years as a professor at 5 different universities and I agree with the author completely.

9. 11291652 - February 09, 2011 at 08:03 am

At my institution, which is part of an enormous state system, administrators, especially system administrators, think faculty are a pain in the neck. The system would be so much easier to run without those darned faculty always complaining that they need office space, laboratories, technological infrastructure that actually works, classrooms that are clean, temperature controlled and well lit, libraries and other perks. The easiest solution and most cost-effective solution is to create as many on-line courses as possible and farm the rest out to adjuncts who are just happy for the job, don't need actual offices and bring all their own supplies and equipment in their briefcases.

10. 3224243 - February 09, 2011 at 09:12 am

When faculty give up tenure and unionization, then they can govern/run the institution. Managers can't unionize and administrators are never "awarded" job security. You can be a faculty member and have the freedom to say what you want to whomever you want without fear of reprisal as well as lifetime employment OR you can be an administrator which puts your neck on the line every time you open your mouth and subjects you to risk of job loss every budget session.

Can't eat your cake and have it, too.

11. profmomof1 - February 09, 2011 at 09:25 am

I still volunteer to be on department-level committees, where the time I put in has some effect on how we operate. I no longer agree to serve on college-wide or university-wide committees or senates, as I have found exactly what this article discusses. It's a waste of time, because no matter what the faculty committee does or decides, the administration makes all the major decisions about direction of the university. It's easy now to discern ahead of time what conclusion they have already reached. They only allow faculty to make decisions on trivial issues.

And as for faculty participating in fundraising at the university level -- I've done that in the past, and none of the funds raised actually came to me or my department. Administrators make the decisions about where that money will go. Faculty are hired (and rewarded with promotions and merit increases) not for such committee or fundraising participation but to teach classes, get federal grants with overhead, conduct research and publish it in peer-reviewed books or journals, design their department's curriculum, advise undergraduate and graduate students, fund graduate students, edit journals in their field, serve on the boards of national and international professional organizations, etc. There's no time left to be wasted by the administration.

12. qwerty_asdf - February 09, 2011 at 09:25 am

I'm glad I don't work at dmh5026's institution. Her/his utter contempt for faculty (and I suspect scholarship, teaching, and learning) has all the earmarks of one of those academics who, having established a mediocre record in scholarship and teaching, went into administration and now resents from whence he came.

I've seen this many times.

No doubt the irony of a whining, complaining post about whining, complaining faculty is lost on the author.

As for Vandy, it is a wonderful institution that has a history of autocratic presidents going back to the 44 year term of James Kirkland.

13. sibyl - February 09, 2011 at 09:37 am

I have worked at three institutions and shared governance works very well at two of them. My experience teaches me that shared governance is good, but not guaranteed, and is well worth fighting for.

There are a couple of major centrifugal challenges that shared governance faces. One is that in the modern multiversity functions are sufficiently differentiated that it's impossible to have enough expertise to simultaneously handle scholarship, pedagogy, fundraising, marketing, financial aid, finance, payroll, compliance, and a dozen other key functions. Therefore most of these functions are handled separately with little or no institution-wide involvement. This leads to the second major problem, which is that the jurisdiction of the governance structure is not often clear. If the faculty are not responsible for, let us say, payroll issues, then it's easy for administrators and/or faculty to conclude that faculty are not responsible for hiring issues or compensation issues.

Does Professor Lachs convince me that shared governance works badly at Vanderbilt? In the absence of evidence to the contrary, sure. Does he convince me that shared governance is corrupted everywhere? Not by a long shot.

14. quidditas - February 09, 2011 at 09:50 am

"There is a simple way to judge whether the old or the new idea of the university prevails in an institution. If education is primarily a business, managers hire the faculty. If universities are communities of students and scholars, faculty members hire the managers. The difference between the two strategies is immense, because it determines the locus of power."

I think part of the problem is that universities were NEVER merely communities of "students and scholars (where faculty hire the managers)." Universities have ALWAYS been set up by varied communities of non-scholars who hired the scholars who taught the students. Where these communities of non-scholars who were the ACTUAL governing powers included prominently the wealthy, local governments, and clerics.

So, the overwhelming influence of the managerial business class on universities today is mostly the result of the rise of said class in ALL areas of American society, as deputized by the superwealthy who sit on University Boards and the boards of non-profits, and who have ALSO overwhelmed the government at all levels.

In other words, nothing has really changed in University governance except that as University bureaucracies have grown, the managerial deputies have become omnipresent to handle the increased administrative load for the governing board.

Within the same time period, the push to "professionalize" the faculty helped remove them from academic administration and student life. From the other side of this, managerial deputies view faculty as having abdicated their academic administrative responsibilities and now it's hard to take "faculty governance" seriously.

To be sure, most of the tenured faculty I know want to be off campus 20 minutes after the end of class. Those who don't likewise decamp are viewed with either contempt or fear and loathing (will they try to make me do something?) by the work at home in your bathrobe crowd.

It could be that faculty are waking up and realizing that they don't like what today's more obviously "corporate" styled governing boards are doing to their workplace, but governance by the board is not new, nor is their increasingly imperialistic style in university governance any different from what they are doing all over the country in every area of human endeavor.

To be sure, working at home in your bathrobe does not count as work anywhere else. I agree faculty should try to do what they can to reverse this trend and take back their academic administrative authority. If the tenured can't make a dent in this, then no one can.

15. quidditas - February 09, 2011 at 10:12 am

"I think part of the problem is that universities were NEVER merely communities of "students and scholars (where faculty hire the managers)." Universities have ALWAYS been set up by varied communities of non-scholars who hired the scholars who taught the students."

And the reason recognizing the "scholar and student" MYTH of the university is important is that scholars really need to realize that they were not dispossessed of something that historically belonged to scholars, it was historically given to scholars by OTHERS.

I think this is really important to recognize.

The same logic applies today. Even if you don't like what they're doing to your workplace. I'm sure a lot of the deputized managers who work there don't their working conditions either.

In fact, managers forcing faculty to find their own funding is probably about the only thing standing between you and any other non-mandatory charity case backed by the superwealthy.

I agree that such funding--as well as tuition dollars-- should not just be seized by the global administrative unit. You need to make the current business model work for you.

The biggest problem seems to be that not everyone can survive under that model.

16. ots1927 - February 09, 2011 at 10:13 am

I agree with what's being said here, though I question whether _myth_ is the appropriate term. In any case, I have to say that this state of affairs doesn't really bother me as a tenured assoc. professor. I maintain control of my classes, and to a large degree those in my small department maintain control, or least the oevrsight, of the curriculum. Beyond that, I'm relatively content to let the administrators do their jobs in running things at the college and university levels.

17. viscommprof - February 09, 2011 at 10:29 am

Professor Lachs:
You are indeed correct. Shared governance is at the very least a misnomer.
Vanderbilt is indeed not unique. As the incoming faculty senate president at my mid-sized, second-tier, state university after serving as a senator on and off for a decade, I have observed much of what you described.
I harbor no illusions. There is no shared governance. We are at best advisory, and our advice is subject to the whims and caprices of our administrators.
Nevertheless, the faculty senate CAN wield some power, even in a non-union setting. The keys is to build support and consensus among faculty, be willing to lobby behind the scenes, utilize outside pressure from the media, including writing for the Chronicle and, overall, to be as political and guileful as the administrators.
It's unfortunate that we have to be as wiley as they do, but the day of the academic ideal is long gone. It is ironic that we have to practice realpolitik in order to preserve the vestiges of the "higher calling" of academe.

18. baracoa - February 09, 2011 at 10:38 am

The greatest disillusionment of my professional career has been the heavy-handed way administrators run roughshod over faculty.

And it is easy for your once good colleagues to get co-opted; just pay them 22% or more and they forget what it is like in the trenches.

Faculty are between a rock and a hard place: Parents/students at one end, and administrators at the other. Chairs don't have the cojones to stand up to Dean's, and Dean's wilt when facing Provosts.

If U.S. faculty are supposed to be left of center, then why aren't they/we more unionized. We have no clout at all. We roll over on health benefits. There is no solidarity. Everyone is disgruntled and then gets squirreled away in their own vapid enclave.

What a shame!

19. quidditas - February 09, 2011 at 10:44 am

In fact, to push this further, it's entirely possible that the New School in NY is the ONLY school in the US formed by scholars.

Those scholars counting among them the progressive historian Charles Beard and a handful of scholars who were fired by Columbia or who otherwise decamped from Columbia after an altercation with its OVERBEARING ADMINISTRATION over WWI.


And, the New School is now and always has been a very tenuous institution with unstable finances (and unstable other things).

20. pflady - February 09, 2011 at 11:04 am

I've been on the faculty of two different universities over the past 33 years and my observations are in total agreement with Professor Lachs' observations. One thing I've learned is not to waste my time attending any forums or completing any surveys sponsored by the administration. They do what they want to do, the faculty's wishes be damned. Most recently we were saved from a particularly autocratic president when his behavior became so egregious that it hit the headlines in the local newspapers and television stations. I can tell you that, outside of a few toadies, the faculty did not support him and he finally stepped down.

21. oldphilprof - February 09, 2011 at 11:16 am

To "3224243:" My institution is public and located in a state where teachers are forbidden by law to unionize. We do not have the legal right to strike, and, if you cannot strike, you have no real power. Yet, Dr. Lachs has captured my institution very well -- more's the pity!

22. baphd1996 - February 09, 2011 at 11:44 am

My situation is similar to oldphilprof. We are unable to unionize, strike or have a work stoppage, therefore we have no leverage. Our administration with great pomp and circumstance held a signing of the Uni's shared governance statement in order to impress the accrediting agency, but they have failed to live up to their statement.

I've served on many a committee as a faculty member and department head only to see our reommendations returned to us until we made the "correct" recommendation (read as what the admins wanted in the first place).

Shared government is a farce at my Uni; I can't speak for others.

23. 11142568 - February 09, 2011 at 11:49 am

I have been at one college for 49 years, 38 of them as a faculty member and for the past 11 years as a VP. Shared governance has always been a strong tradition here, and I was a major player in it for most of my 38 years on the faculty side (I still hold a tenured faculty rank that could kick in if I decided to leave administration).

There are elements in the current situation that are matters of concern: the heavy regulatory burden that has descended on colleges from all sides, the wide-spread use of adjunct faculty who do not participate in the tenure system, and many similar forces that impact on the possibility of shared governance. On the whole though, I don't really agree with Dr. Lachs.

First of all, shared governance occurs in the general context of American higher education, where since colonial times all legal power is vested in a Board of Trustees from outside the academic situation.

Secondly, what we do in higher education occurs in many different classrooms with many different actors. As a consequence, in general power is quite diffuse in institutions of higher education.

Although we do have deliberative bodies in our institutions and there are processes that resemble those of representative government, it is a mistake to understand power in academia in these ways. Even our presidents do not have the power to just say fiat and then it happens.

The primary area where faculty participation in decisions is important is the area of curriculum and educational standards and processes. Their participation in other decision comes about in so far as those decision have some impact on the primary area.

In my experience, faculty have lots of influence in the primary area and in relatedd things. As in other cases, faculty influence is greater when they are able to line up their ducks behind the ideas they espouse: get consensus from the people immediately involved, get some support from broader cirless, line up the ways and means. This process may or may not dovetail with formal deliberative structures. Faculty ideas fly when all the ducks are line up and don't fly otherwise. And sometimes also there are vetoes from above. That is also part of a shared process of decision making.

In my experience also faculty have played major roles in various search committees, for presidents, for VPAA's, for VPSA's, for Chief Financial Officers.

Most of the time, in academia, as elsewhere, power and influence largely operate informally, through good relationships cultivated over a long period of time, through the avoidance of confrontation, through careful analyis of who the players are, who wants what, how so and so can be coopted by this tchotchke or that, by gently isolating those who are probably not going to get on board on this particular issue (though they may be part of the majority on some later issue). My observation over the years is that sometimes faculty do not understand how power works, and imagine it is like solving a theoretical problem. It is not.

Aristotle observed that in cities you have the haves and the have nots. Justice (and so successful governance) is a matter of striking a balance. You don't take too much from the haves to make them feel aggrieved, and you give enough to the have nots to give them some sense of satiety.

Peter Baker

24. drangie - February 09, 2011 at 11:52 am

After 30+ years in higher ed, teaching at an R1, an Ivy and a SLAC, I continue to be mystified by these claims of faculty disempowerment. I have never been anyplace where the faculty didn't discuss (often ad nauseam) everything, vote on everything, and pretty much always have its way on those areas that are worth worrying about: the curriculum, standards for faculty development and promotion, etc. Okay, so some administrators (who by the way, ore often/usually tenured professors themselves, who have earned their stripes in the trenches!) make some decisions on parking or whose darling daughter gets admitted, but, really. The complaining is way out of line with the reality of how much control and authority college faculty have over their work situations.

25. tappat - February 09, 2011 at 11:53 am

Spending as much time and space elaborating a good vision of what is or should be as one spends detailing a sense of the deplorable way things are and elaborating dispicable explanations for why things are in such a deplorable state would contribute to altering the situation. We only contribute to the stanglehold when we spend time and space detailing pernciousness, especially when we don't spend more time and space providing wholesome alternatives.

26. drj50 - February 09, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I find this analysis too simplistic. "Sharing" means, well, sharing. I hear too often hear faculty who seem to say that, unless all decisions go exactly their way, the faculty wasn't listened to and shared governance is a sham/myth/etc.

"Committees report to administrative officers who are at liberty to accept, reject, or substantially alter faculty recommendations." Yes, because these administrative officers are held personally responsible for the results of their decisions. Faculty who want more authority should be willing to assume some responsibility. It's not shared "governance" when one party is shielded from consequences of decisions that they favor. Sure, my school could admit fewer students with higher test scores (as many faculty would prefer), but whose job will it then be to balance the budget with fewer tuition dollars? Not the faculty. Sure, we could reduce administrative staff, but then who will manage purchasing, repair buildings, maintain network services, etc.? Not the faculty. Shared governance is not simply offering opinions and then sitting out the consequences; it requires willingness to assume responsibility for working out the implications of decisions made. In some cases I believe faculties have as much shared governance as the responsibility they are willing to accept.

ralphelton2 writes: "It's your job to raise money." OK. But donors give to something they can see and understand. A fundraiser will never understand, explain, and be as excited about a faculty project as that faculty member is. That's why fundraisers want to take faculty to meet with donors. You can't "sell" what you can't "show."

27. esgphd - February 09, 2011 at 12:55 pm

It's clear from reading this that the situation is NOT the same at all universities/colleges. My own is a large, public Health Science University that is a major campus of the state system. When I first came here some 25 years ago there were more signs of life in "shared governance". Now, however, we have truly become driven by our business model. What we do as academics has been swallowed by the need to make everything and everyone a cost center with attached lines of revenue. Since the state no longer gives much support to its so-called public universities, and since we are dictated to by politicians who know little about what professors actually do and why, faculty at our institution have been reduced to factory workers whose job is to produce a certain number of widgets per hour. Faculty "productivity" no longer refers to publications or discoveries or students educated. It refers solely to revenue. Small wonder then, that faculty and administration do not have shared values.

28. uniwashdc - February 09, 2011 at 01:03 pm

"And as for faculty participating in fundraising at the university level -- I've done that in the past, and none of the funds raised actually came to me or my department. Administrators make the decisions about where that money will go."

Really? You raised a few thousand (or more) and you are genuinely surprised the institution didn't give it to you personally? That speaks volumes.

29. writingprof - February 09, 2011 at 01:13 pm

3224243 states, "When faculty give up tenure and unionization, then they can govern/run the institution."

Really? Pretty please! Here at Highly Unethical Religious U., we have no tenure, can't unionize, and are "governed" by an army of directors of such-and-such and assistant deans in charge of whatsit. The very idea of a senate is laughable.

Unsurprisingly, the institution is falling apart. At this point, I'd be happy with the ILLUSION of shared governance.

30. emwhite - February 09, 2011 at 01:48 pm

The two key variables are the size of the institution and the personalities of the key administrators. American universities and colleges could be placed on a continuum from large institutions with political administrators (like the one so well described in the article) and small ones with educator administrators which some of us were privileged to experience. I've been part of both extremes. Happily, the myth actually is reality in a few colleges even today.

31. unusedusername - February 09, 2011 at 01:49 pm

Dr. Lachs describes the situation at my college perfectly. The frustating thing is that it doesn't have to be this way. There was a time in the recent past where professors weren't hounded about increasing their "retention rates" and being forced to "assess" their students based on "course outcomes". Now, most administators think like dmh5026, and think that they know the professors' jobs better than the professors do. Administrators should administrate. Stay out of our classrooms.

32. trillo - February 09, 2011 at 02:04 pm

At the risk of being a serial poster/spammer, I would like to post again that the Oleana Foundation was formed by a small group of people convinced that the current, corporatized, CEO-managed higher education is fundamentaly UNSALVAGEABLE, and that it is now up to faculty (and enlightened adminstrators) to find ways to create new, faculty-organized institutions.

We are in the process right now of creating a new, 4-year, faculty-residential Liberal Arts college that will seek to provide a superior private education for less than the cost of a public education. In order to achieve that goal, we are enacting the following plan:

-Procuring the campus and physical plant as part of the economic development of defunct state institutions, military bases, or distressed mill complexes.

-Employing a residential faculty to reduce salaries and to lower the costs of upkeep and maintenance of the college.

- Drastically streamlining the administration and the staffing of the college, with a goal of capping these numbers at 1/3 the size of the faculty.
- Limiting the executive authority of administration and subordinating it to the faculty senate.

-Reducing and reforming academic disciplinarity to deliver critical education developmentally, coherently, and more efficiently (the opposite of "distance learning").

-Instituting sustainability in the rehabilitation process for energy, water resources, food consumption and waste management.

-Creating collaborative relationships with the local municipality and the community as a means of creating economies of scale in day-to-day operations.

-Eliminating nonessential services and amenities that are peripheral to the mission of the college, such as multi-million dollar spa-styled sports facilities, high-rise style and apartment-type housing, and inter-Varsity athletic teams.

-Establishing an Academic-Village style senior housing community as part of the campus as a means of creating a tax base for the local municipality and for a more diverse and open educational community.

We are in the early stages and making great progress, so for those of you who are sick to death of the current system, come join us.

And dmh5026, if you are sick of faculty who won't work with you, then come join us. If you have a rolodex of donors who want bang for their buck then we're more than willing to work with you.

Apologies for perhaps crossing the line a little on serial posting, but really, the same Corporate Board-CEO management structure that wrecked this economy is now controlling an wrecking higher education. The only way we are going to successfully take back "the institution" is to withdraw from it and start over again. All you under-employed, or overemployed (you know, that 4-4 load that "teaching institutions" are famous for) who want to stop being exploited, come, join us.

33. trillo - February 09, 2011 at 02:11 pm

Whoops! It's all in the details. If you're interested in joining or talking about the Oleana Foundation's project to start a new college, write me at: trillo@oleana-edu.org

34. 11301218 - February 09, 2011 at 02:30 pm

There is plenty of blame to go around. I served as an
administrator until given the heave ho. You find a lot of micromanaging, especially at the vice presidential and
presidential level and precious little understanding,
especially if they are dealing with completely unfamiliar
academic disciplines. I lost the battle where
I was trying to constrain a major academic boondoggle in my
college that had patronage at the VP and Presidential levels
as well as a constituency among the faculty who were beneficiaries of the boondoggle and who highjacked the program (with administration approval) a decade ago. I appointed a faculty committee to conduct the review and propose a restructuring to make it more accountable to the FACULTY
who were excluded from participation. Instead, the faculty
treated this program as a third rail instead of
as an opportunity and declined to confront the real issues of high expense, low quality, and exclusionary tactics. So, the status quo continues, the faculty who could have been included are still outside looking in, money is squandered, and academic quality be damned. We have met the enemy and they is us.

35. martinmor - February 09, 2011 at 03:17 pm

IF the myth were even close to an accurate current depiction of academe, that is IF the University were truly a Union, which is what the myth of our origins maintains, then faculty unionism would not have been one of the few growth areas in U.S. unionization in the Seventies. But it was because the myth, whatever its one-time relation to reality, was long dead. (And that was in the good old days when faculty had not been turned into itinerant laborers at most institutions.)

In the "Handbook of Faculty Bargaining" edited by George W. Angell and Edward P. Kelly, published by Jossey-Bass in 1947 in a chapter "Establishing Constructive Relationships Between Administrators and Faculty Unions" by Ramelle MaCoy and Martin Morand we note: "...shared decisions can only be made by equals, and ... faculty can achieve equal legal power with academic management only through collective action (unionization)..."

It might be interesting for U.S. profs to look at Germany where worker participation is mandated by laws initiated by General Eisenhower (to prevent a recurrence of corporate funded fascism). The problem(s) facing U.S. faculty members may go beyond the campus, may be nought but a reflection of the suppression of ALL workers and their institutions of power. In which case, the solutions will also have to go beyond the campus to reform (or revolutionize?) the entire society.

It is interesting to note the similarity in style, phony "consultation" while retaining unilateral decision making, between U.S. campuses and the current Egyptian government.

36. twday - February 09, 2011 at 03:28 pm

The arrogance of the administrators who have replied to this editorial proves the point. The myth of administration's "business skill" is disproved constantly as school administrations build elegant towers to house themselves as they push educators into more and more squalid working conditions, higher work loads, and sacrifice education for administrations' unjustified salaries.

37. azprof - February 09, 2011 at 03:31 pm

What puzzles me is that Lach states the realist view clearly and then ignores it. As if some editor said if you don't balance this article it will seem too biased. Since faculty governance was implemented in the late 80s I have witnessed faculty use this policy to their own ends too many times. Shared governance is alive and well; but make no mistake when one does not have a stake in economic well being of the institutions they serve, then Universities will face the same fate that the unions put General Motors. Lachs lives in a world where high tuition insures his students will face economic hardships after graduation but what does he care... he has tenure, a guaranteed salary, and still hoping a Sancho Panza will join him in his idealogical quests.

38. notpc - February 09, 2011 at 03:53 pm

Welcome to the Corporate University!

39. daytripper - February 09, 2011 at 05:29 pm

I agree with drj50: Faculty "share" the decisions that administration is left to live with (or die professionally from!).

Faculty at my right-coast institution chair every committee, including every search committee, even though their individual interests in doing so vary from those who only want to teach, complete their research and let the administration administer, and those who want to dictate everything that happens on campus, including whether the toilet paper is placed to roll over the top or off the bottom. As a small institution with only about seven or eight faculty from the latter group (and fifty from the former), those individuals wield an enormous amount of power.

So when I came on board in my administrative capapcity three years ago, I found an institution without an enrollment plan, an advising plan, a retention plan, an assessment plan, or a career center or writing lab. An assessment plan, particularly, was noticeably absent despite admonishment in two consecutive accreditation reports.

After two years and literally dozens of meetings with faculty to pursue these, I gave up and simply drove these through the existing governance structures. While I've been criticized by such faculty as Dr. Lachs for my "top-down" mandates, over the course of this last year we now have a substantive enrollment plan, are putting the finishing touches on an assessment plan, and are trying to synchronize recent changes in our advising efforts to fit the new retention plan. Students regularly visit our new career center and writing lab. I found new ways to fund these (i.e., grants and partnerships) that didn't cost us one faculty member, one inch of research space (we actually increased this by one lab!), or one dollar of departmental operational monies. Faculty were offered the opportunity for input at every phase of every task but I simply didn't allow the "sharing process" to interfere with action.

Candidly, I put the interests of the students first, the egos of some zealous faculty members in perspective, and the energies of committed faculty members to work, and we have accomplished a lot together. But it all came from the top down. The institution had gone without the aforementioned services and plans for over a century under the view of shared governance I'd inherited, and the faculty-led search committee did not recommending me for hire to bystand and babysit the status quo.

My situation was and remains extremely unique and I consider myself extremely fortunate to enjoy very healthy relationships with most of my faculty. But in the best interests of our institution, I was forced to steel myself and shield my administrative team against the sanctimonious criticism of such faculty as Dr. Lach while defending his right to howl at the moon.

40. kaune - February 09, 2011 at 05:43 pm

On the other hand --

We have a faculty union and plenty of shared governance. Consequently we can't ever get anything done.

I've done administration (some actually are not evil) and am happily back in faculty (as chair). What I've seen is that about 80% of faculty are not the least bit interested in governing. Of the remaining 20% we have about 1/2 devoted to their special interests, not the least of which is exercising their unending loathing of evil administration. The other 1/2 are good citizens who truly wish to make a the university a better place. Everything must be accomplished during the 9 month calendar of the school year, however. Pity the administrator who tries to accomplish anything during the 3 months faculty are not around.

Faculty governance is great in principle. I haven't seen it work in practice.

41. gharbisonne - February 09, 2011 at 06:25 pm

Yet another +1 for Lachs. At my university, shared governance is a joke. Faculty still get to run searches, but in areas chosen by administrators, who get final approval on the selection. There is no penalty -- none -- for incompetence at the administrative level. One of our minideans was responsible for totally screwing up the NRC graduate survey, making several departments, including mine, lose 20 or 30 points of the rankings. Nothing happened.

A couple of years ago, our Chancellor just persuaded the legislature to turn over state fair park to the university for a research campus. Their nebulous funding plans have totally fallen through, and they've gone begging bowl in hand to the state for money. No adverse consequences. The administration runs the board of regents, not vice-versa.

As far as controlling courses...only to a point. My freshman class just scored 52/100 in the first hour exam. Does anyone really think I can fail half of them and keep my job? Not that I intend to do that, but...

42. quidditas - February 09, 2011 at 08:16 pm

"I was forced to steel myself and shield my administrative team against the sanctimonious criticism of such faculty as Dr. Lach while defending his right to howl at the moon."

That was nice. Usually they sacrifice a goat or two when the faculty howl at the moon.

43. betterschools - February 09, 2011 at 10:02 pm

"Shared Governance Is a Myth"

- As well it should be. Anyone up for shared governance in the medical profession? I'm sure the office team has a good idea or two about your upcoming brain surgery.

44. bigtwin - February 09, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Faculty acting as administrators? Let's hope it remains a myth. I haven't met a professor who could adminster their own brown bag lunch let alone run a university.

45. missoularedhead - February 10, 2011 at 02:02 am

I agree with those who say that it's a bit of a sweeping generalization to say that shared governance everywhere. And I'd like to share something that proves it DOES work. When the state of Arizona cut their 'contribution' to our campus by 78%, which was about 8% of our operating budget, our administration didn't just make cuts willy nilly. In fact, they set up an email account and asked everyone -- faculty, staff, adjunct faculty even! -- to suggest how to cut costs. And nothing was off the table. They took our recommendations, along with a good hard look at what we are, and what we want to be, and what the board wants us to be, and made cuts. Were all of the cuts popular? Heck no. But they were a lot less damaging than they could have been, and because all of us were actually involved in the solution, we're more willing to accept what needs to be done.
Sometimes all it takes is actually asking.

46. seventwo - February 10, 2011 at 06:58 am

This essay and the comments posted witness a level of such self-hatred, contempt, and moral abdication that itself stands as a substantiation of the author's assertion. However, none of this is necessary. Faculty can take back governance where it has been lost.

47. betterschools - February 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm

@ missoularedhead - You offer a great example of good leadership and management but it is not shared governance. Good organizations always solicit and pay close attention to the judgments of everyone in the organization in accordance with their role.

48. phdconnect - February 10, 2011 at 02:11 pm

My son is at Vanderbilt, so I can reiterate as a parent that the leadership needs to listen more, even to their faculty.

One other point, how many of you would have submitted comments had you been forced to sign your names.

49. archman - February 10, 2011 at 05:10 pm

What a sad and bitter article.

50. slrtarheel - February 10, 2011 at 05:19 pm

unusedusername - I'll stay out of your classroom when you build it, schedule it, furnish it, clean it, equip it with technology, pay the light bill, and stop calling my office when YOUR students show up hungover.

51. betterschools - February 10, 2011 at 05:58 pm

@slrtarheel - Best chuckle of the day. Thanks! Some folks seem to think that the cocoon drops down from heaven with their name on the title.

52. 12080243 - February 10, 2011 at 09:50 pm

Dr. Lach observations are accurate. Try his test: "If education is primarily a business, managers hire the faculty. If universities are communities of students and scholars, faculty members hire the managers. The difference between the two strategies is immense, because it determines the locus of power. Looked at from this perspective, it is even clearer that in today's universities, faculty members are employees with no say in the operation of their institutions.”

Assume you're school has Lach's business model--which is more often than not. Now, as a tenured full professor or group of tenured full professors, ask administrators to do what they should do based on clearly defined faculty handbook guidance and evidence and sound reasoning when they do not want to and see how far you get. You'll be lucky not to be fired.

No one willingly gives up power. If you want to share it or exercise it, you have to take it. New faculty should be fully schooled in this reality so that they are not duped and their career hurt by the language of "academic freedom". It's another closely associated myth.

53. fetkey - February 10, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Research does suggest that loosely coupled systems can create change and develop the shared governance processs by joint activites of adminstrators and faculty.

54. betterschools - February 10, 2011 at 11:56 pm

@12080243 - With the exception of your reference to "academic freedom," which I see as a straw man, you raise an interesting point. Would you say that the model you prefer might be appropriate for some activities we refer to as higher education but not others? Starting fresh, without preconceptions based on precedent, how would you say such a model should be funded? This is a serious question. It seems to me that society has more than one type of interest here. The largest interest is arguably in in the production of degrees not qua degrees but for the knowledge, proficiencies, etc. that they certify. Add to that, the interest of the individual student and you have something approximating economic equilibration for the system employing the professoriate as teacher. On the other hand, the kind of sponsored intellectual community you describe is neither desirable nor affordable if applied to the masses of those belonging to the modern professoriate. I believe it is in society's interest to sponsor creative intellectual and other types of communities to help us all think outside the box in which we must work to support our families, etc. Too often we have neither the time nor the disposition. In such communities, intellectuals can think and exchange ideas among themselves, safely withing the walls of an organization of their own direction. perhaps the most difficult questions go to what proportion of the current professoriate should participate in the kind of organization you describe, how membership should be decided, and how much society (the government?) should pay. I assume you don't think this model is appropriate for the entire professoriate. Keep in mind that it is not only the student body that has become diluted as higher education migrated from a small cluster of institutions serving the smart and the rich to more than 6,000 institutions serving nearly every sector and level of society. Today's professors mirror their students in every way. If you are thinking that perhaps 5% of the professoriate might qualify as those capable of and perhaps even likely to broaden or deepen the human condition, I would be inclined to agree with you. So, how much, who, and who pays? It is neither crass nor materialistic to observe that someone has to pay for anything you expect to be paid for. Recall that the system closest to what you might be describing existed in monasteries where the Monks made and sold bread or clothing to pay for their lifestyle. They did not expect others to pay for their convictions.

55. 12080243 - February 11, 2011 at 04:23 pm

@betterschools-I'm not confident I can interpret your comments. Sorry. Let me expand a bit on mine. If you enjoy the life of a professor, enjoy everyday with students, enjoy leaning everyday, enjoy research, then to preserve that life, you must participate in the power of administration whether you want to or not. And if you are to preserve that life, you must exercise real power, not the illusion that Mr. Lachs accurately observes. You, along with your colleagues, must take that power.

56. betterschools - February 11, 2011 at 05:47 pm

We may not disagree. Good leadership and effective management or administration ensure that all stakeholders have an effective seat at the table. On the accountability side, they also insist that any seat with a stake in the upside benefit must share in the downside risk. The equality tempers judgment. This is where most shared governance models break down. Faculties want a say in determining direction -- or even to determine it -- but if that direction should fail, they want to suffer no consequences. Fully shared risk models can work; one-way models tend to produce suboptimal solutions and, when survival is at stake, are rarely up to the big bets that must be taken to step away from the past.

57. 12080243 - February 11, 2011 at 06:35 pm

Agreed. I couldn't have said it better myself.

58. hildman - February 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Mr. Lachs seems very frustrated with his current situation which many writers agree with, and other writers disagree with because they have different situations and point of views. It is interesting that we go back and forth saying whether we agree or disagree. Is that really the point?

What does the optimal shared governance look like in higher ed? Should it be required of all tenure or an option? What are some other ideas to connect the administration and the faculty?

What about a Teacher/Worker program for adjuncts where they get to teach part time, and they are administrators part time? This would allow them to get paid a decent wage, to teach which is their passion, and to share in the running and decision making of the University. They might actually get paid what they are worth and this would bring faculty and the administration closer together.

Other ideas or thoughts?

59. 12080243 - February 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm

hildman, observations can be accurate without being "frustrated". An interpretation of Mr. Lach's ideas as "frustrated" doesn't advance our understanding. We all may be frustrated in one way or another, but frustrations do not have to interfere with our assessments. We may need to exercise discipline and look to colleagues who are not like minded to review our observations. Like what's going on right here.

If you are proposing a Teacher/Worker program in which adjuncts participate, you might include in your proposal/plans how to wrest power from current administrations, because they aren't going to give it to you.

60. betterschools - February 12, 2011 at 02:08 pm

@12080243/hildeman - QUOTE: "If you are proposing a Teacher/Worker program in which adjuncts participate, you might include in your proposal/plans how to wrest power from current administrations, because they aren't going to give it to you."

I have no doubt that you are correct in many instances. IHE are the most conservative among major american institutions. However, I can think of a few institutions that would welcome a sensible rational proposal for faculty, of all levels, to become more involved in a way commensurate with their role at the institution.

To me, the operative term is, "sensible." If faculties wish only to provide guidance on purely academic matters, it follows that that guidance should be accepted by administrators in an advisory capacity, thereafter to be integrated with financial, regulatory, budgetary, and market guidance. -- to name a few other perspectives that a competent administrator must adjudicate. If, on the other hand, faculties want to become involved at the administrative level, they incur two additional burdens: (a) to become knowledgeable and proficient in the other perspectives that I mentioned and (b) to share in the risk. If a decision in which they were instrumental increases or decreases available revenue, departmental budgets and even compensation should reflect these logical consequences of their actions. I will say this, and not in any way to discourage higher levels of faculty involvement, upon learning the high informational burden, most faculties do not want to become involved at the deeper levels of administration; they simply want their guidance to be given due consideration. If they are mature, they realize that this guidance is sometimes overruled by financial or other matters. Even in the private sector, the extreme example being employee owned companies, employees soon decide that it is in their interest to hire the best executives they can afford and stay out of their way in day-to-day matters.

Again almost anything is possible with some negotiation but the many presidents I have worked with over the years lament that their faculty bring only the demand side of the equation to the table; they have no interest in becoming accountable for their advice. That is why they often receive a cold reception from administration.

61. 12080243 - February 12, 2011 at 04:28 pm

Let me be very clear, faculty can make tough decisions and administer a university. The current political process of hiring an administrator is not the least concerned with finding leaders who enjoy students, learning, and research. If those academic principles are to be preserved, the current crop of administrators have to go. For example, I have never met an administrator in 30+ years of university life who was competent to say no to shortsighted faculty requests. Faculty proposals for new course offerings should pass a crucible and not be rubber stamped because it's easy to say yes during flush financial times, then weeded out during periodic financial crises--a common practice among spineless administrators. Principled decisions are a daily practice that would include cutting back the every growing number of administrators and their assistants.

62. betterschools - February 12, 2011 at 08:57 pm

@12080243 - Given your experience, I agree completely. It sounds like you have had the misfortune of working under incompetent administrators. Too bad. They muck up the works for everyone.

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