• September 2, 2015

Speakers See Threats to the Concept of Shared Governance

The concept of shared governance is in serious jeopardy at American colleges and universities, four scholars said Friday during a panel discussion here at the annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors.

That might sound like a dog-bites-man story; the AAUP's central reason for being, of course, is to defend faculty rights against encroachments from administrators and trustees. But the speakers on Friday's panel were not necessarily admirers of the AAUP's positions on academic governance. In fact, at least one of them seemed to be trying to get under the skin of the faculty activists in the room.

The panel was organized by the right-of-center American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an organization that rarely sees eye to eye with the AAUP (though the two organizations have collaborated recently on efforts to oppose speech codes on college campuses).

One central problem with shared academic governance, the panelists said, is that few people agree about exactly what the concept means. In 1966 the AAUP, the American Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges produced a joint statement on tripartite governance, but Friday's speakers argued that the concept has not been put into practice in consistent ways in the last 44 years.

"When I was in government, I saw that when competing groups had trouble reaching compromise, they would sometimes write legislation with vague words that allowed each side to claim victory," said Hank Brown, a former U.S. senator who served as president of the University of Colorado from 2005 to 2008. "That's what I'm afraid has happened with this term 'shared governance.' It means different things to different people, and those different understandings give rise to frustration."

Faculty vs. Board

Michael B. Poliakoff, the council's policy director, said faculty members "tend to see trustees as bottom-line-oriented micromanagers, and trustees see the faculty as obstinately resistant to change. The result is a sad and unnecessary stalemate. We need to work collaboratively and constructively to address questions of cost and quality."

A decade from now, for better or worse, trustees will generally have much more control over academic programs than they do today, said Donald L. Drakeman, who is a visiting lecturer in politics at Princeton University and a member of Drew University's Board of Trustees.

"Many factors outside of anyone's control will drive that change," Mr. Drakeman said. Among other things, he cited state laws that are giving college trustees stronger fiduciary responsibilities, the shorter terms that most college presidents are serving. and the decline in the proportion of faculty members who are tenured.

"I'm not advocating this change, and I'm not opposing it," Mr. Drakeman said. "I'm just saying that it's going to happen."

Mr. Drakeman said that he feared that programs in the humanities and social sciences would suffer as trustees throw resources toward career-oriented academic programs in business and medicine. But he said that if faculty members want to preserve humanities programs, they should make sure the programs are not politically monochromatic.

If humanities programs seem to be purely left-wing, Mr. Drakeman said, "trustees will legitimately wonder whether students are being exposed to the full range of arguments about human flourishing." Mr. Drakeman has helped to finance a high-profile effort to promote conservative scholarship on an Ivy League campus, the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton, and he is chairman of its board of advisers.

'No Use' for Tenure

The panel's most combative speaker was Mark S. Schneider, a former commissioner of the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics who taught political science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Mr. Schneider, who is now a vice president at the American Institutes for Research, said that emerging technologies will make many present-day faculty roles obsolete. An example of such technologies that he cited are online courses like those developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Open Learning Initiative.

The medieval system in which all students were mentored by individual scholars cannot survive, Mr. Schneider said. "Higher education has worked on a craft model for hundreds of years," he said. "But when handicrafts meet mass production, handicrafts almost always lose."

Administrators, trustees, and state legislators have been too deferential to faculty members' wishes, Mr. Schneider argued. At major research universities, too many senior faculty members are released from teaching courses and yet do not actually publish much research, he said. And such universities often do a bad job of nurturing and monitoring their faculty members' effectiveness in the classroom, he added.

"When I taught political science at Stony Brook," he said, "I was a content expert. But did I know anything about testing? About instruction? Zero. And yet when I walked into a classroom with 15 students, essentially everything the taxpayers of New York had invested in that class was in me."

And in a final toast to his audience, Mr. Schneider said, "I want you to know that I have no use for the concept of tenure. None whatsoever."

After all of those provocations, the question-and-answer period was civil. But most members of the audience were clearly unpersuaded by many of the arguments they had heard. The erosion of tenure and the decline in the proportion of tenure-track faculty are central to any understanding of struggles over academic governance, several people said. Two audience members pointed to spiraling administrative costs as the real reason for declines in the effectiveness of colleges' instruction.

But several people in the room also thanked the panelists for opening up the conversation. "There are enough problems here that we can place blame on every single stakeholder in education," said Annette E. Craven, an associate professor of management at the University of the Incarnate Word.


1. timlincoln - June 14, 2010 at 09:10 am

Yes, shared governance means different things in different contexts. There is no pristine standard for what it "really" looks like. There is no Goodmanian real world against which to compare various versions.

In the current debates about accountability, the villains often seem to be faculty who are [a] lazy; [b] disdainful of teaching; [c]only concerned about maintaining their traditional privileges. Perhaps there are faculty members who actually hit this a-b-c trifecta of loathsomeness.

Some schools, however, might have granted tenure to motivated faculty who are good teachers and shoulder a portfolio of committee service. This will, presumably, damn those schools to doing precisely the kind of things that the acountability-istas want.

Perhaps our perceived problems will not be solved simply by focusing on faculty.

Perhaps we will realize that the end point of "doing more with less" is asking administrators and faculty to work for free. I do not predict such an approach lasting very long. Even Homer Simpson knows that it is impossible to give 110 percent.

2. 22067030 - June 14, 2010 at 09:43 am

A very useful story. ACTA has been kind enough to put their agenda on the table. It is a fait accompli only if we accept it as such...


3. intered - June 14, 2010 at 10:27 am

One of the Most Significant Barriers to Innovation

Only in higher education do we think that individuals who may or may not be able to manage their classrooms can, collectively, manage an institution. Even more shameful is the fact that some who participate in shared governance are organizational behavior and management professors who know perfectly well how scientifically bankrupt is the construct of management by committee. Shame on them, at least. Others can plead ignorance.

Shared governance institutions are distinctive in their organizational indirection and resultant low productivity and poor service to students. http://www.intered.com/higheredbriefing/2010/6/13/barriers-to-innovation-part-i-culture-leadership-management.html

4. a_voice - June 14, 2010 at 10:42 am

intered above hit on an interesting point by bringing up management. "Shared Governance" is not about management. It is about decision-making and leading. We continue to discuss a bunch of issues that have been discussed at length in all kinds of panels and books, but we are not capable of envisioning compelling models.

5. greeneyeshade - June 14, 2010 at 11:03 am

That boards are exerting too much influence on academic matters is no doubt a major worry for acadamicians.

But pitty universities like ours where academicians have such strong influence that the board and administration are completely dominated by the faculty.

There is a certain tension that is healthy for any organization. The federal government is a good example where the separation of powers is effective.

But allowing the faculty to decide (not simply provide comment on) the shape and wording of such purely administrative policies as codes of ethics, expense reimbursement policies, audit rules, is a recipe for abuse.

6. prof_truthteller - June 14, 2010 at 12:02 pm

intered #3 above is selling a product and the use of this comment blog as commercial advertising space is highly unethical, verging on abuse. The link provided goes to this consulting firm blog and the comment is just a cut and paste from that blog, an "executive briefing" that cites only the consultant's personal expertise. I've seen intered commenting elsewhere and it's all the same: a clip from one of these "briefings" and a link to the business site.

7. prof_truthteller - June 14, 2010 at 12:24 pm

In California, shared governance is NOT about sharing management and administration, although due to local variation, some colleges may include some aspects of that in their interpretation. The idea is sound even in the private sector: that those most closely involved in the work have some understanding of it that should be considered when decisions or changes need to be made. Faculty generally need to be involved in decision making on issues relevant to their work: curriculum and prerequisites; course and program creation, continuance, revitalization, or discontinuation; hiring of faculty in their subject discipline; peer evaluation; grading; degree requirements; definitions of faculty roles and participation; faculty professional development; program review; planning and budget development; and "other" issues mutually agreed on. Why the shared governance model is considered "old school" management I fail to understand and have yet to see any solid supportive evidence for that argument. What is truly "old school" is the Big Boss style, where the leader makes all the decisions and orchestrates all the changes and everyone else is supposed to just eat it. Even when those decisions and changes mandated are poorly planned, poorly executed, and just plain bad for the students and the college.

8. eacowan - June 14, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Alarming to me is the posture taken by Mark S. Schneider, who declares that he has "no use for the concept of tenure." There are two things that protect the academic freedom of the faculty, namely tenure or a union. Where there is no tenure, there must be a union to protect the faculty's academic freedom. An assault upon tenure is an assault upon academic freedom, and anyone who assaults the concept of tenure has to be an enemy of academic freedom.

All of these corporate types have in common the concept of faculty as "employees" who are to be "managed", and only the corporate managers know what is good for the company ... er ... university. Hence we get corporate fixations upon concepts such as retention and graduation rates, both of which are alien to the academy. Another is "teaching effectiveness," which is, in reality, a non-existent entity. The students are not "customers" but "probationers," people who have, by entering an academic institution, submitted themselves to the discipline of the faculty. It is their business to demonstrate "learning effectiveness." Learning by students is not "caused" by the teaching of the faculty.

To the end that students be enabled to learn, they should be encouraged to form study groups (say, minimum three classmates, but fewer than around five or six), who can periodically "hack out" the materials for an upcoming class and prepare themselves to "shine" in the classroom. --E.A.C.

9. intered - June 14, 2010 at 01:47 pm


Please do your homework a little beyond skimming a website. The firm I work for has neither offered nor sold a service to faculty in its 16 years of existence. So far as I know, it never will. College presidents are its exclusive customer.

I made the comments I made because, for 25 years, I have observed the dramatic differences between shared governance and other institutions in their ability to envision and implement change that would reach larger audiences, improve the quality and impact of their education, and increase their efficiency. I referenced the Executive Briefing because it identified shared governance as one of the top three barriers to innovation.

I am unaware of the depth and breadth of your professional experiences but I can back up my assertions with more than two decade's of professional experience spanning at least 250 institutions.

Instead of trotting out an ad hominem attack (the kind you presumably caution your students against making), might I suggest that you address the issues. Unmoved by the facts that both you and I cash our paychecks, I am pleased to consider your judgments on their logical and empirical merits. I will accord them special attention if they are informed by deep experience beyond a professor's singularly worm's eye view of the higher education landscape. Let us know what you know and how you have come to know it. Are you a senior decision-maker? Have you build and managed higher education programs and institutions and led them through multiple crises? Do you have any skin in this game beyond showing up to teach?

10. abichel - June 14, 2010 at 02:58 pm


Interesting post. I appreciate the portion about students being "probationers," but I think you are letting faculty off the hook too easily at the end by invoking a causal argument. Even the most dedicated and disciplined students will fail in the face of incompetent instruction and supervision.

I decidedly do not agree with your remark about those who assault tenure being the enemies of academic freedom. If tenure was being employed as an effective tool I might feel otherwise, but the discipline of the practice has long ago faded in memory. Too many faculty, and we all know of whom I speak, have taken economic refuge behind the iron curtain of academic freedom and tenure, rather than boldly producing their research and intellectual pearls as the terms themselves suggest. More simply, too many faculty are wasting the proctections that they so crave, nay demand, in order to function effectively in contemporary institutions by NOT exercising the privleges that come with the "rights." Shame on them all.

To that end, what value is tenure to administrators, probationers or board members? As Dr. Schneider said - none at all.

11. schultzjc - June 14, 2010 at 03:48 pm

The only thing rarer than faculty who lead (much less cooperate with each other) is an administration that knows how to manage.

We're doomed.

12. eryx1959 - June 14, 2010 at 07:01 pm

I am an (elected) trustee for my local library. Our role is to provide oversight of the way that the budget is spent and to help in identifying new sources of support. We examine the activities of the library in detail, ask many questions, and make many suggestions, but we do not micromanage the library director, who is given the responsibility to RUN THE LIBRARY. The library director in turn provides the detailed accounting of library functions that we need to effectively perform our oversight, and works with us to improve the service of the library to the community. We are doing very well: we have a brand new building and are increasingly acting as a local magnet for all kinds of activities for persons of all ages.

I contrast this with the Board of Trustees at the University where I teach. These board members (appointed by the Governor) do not preform their oversight in the financial sense at all well, and have not done so for a long time (we have had a lot of negative bad press as a result). They meddle in things such as admissions criteria (one trustee's relative could not jump over our foot-high bar for admission). Their process of hiring our current President was a joke, and was rife with cronyism (while also wasting money on an outside search). There were many faculty members (and administrators) on the search committee and their input was completely disregarded. In his first few months, our new President has demonstrated that he knows nothing about how a University actually works. As might be expected, he also does not show any evidence of listening to the faculty.

We have several new board members at our University, so I'm looking to see where they will lead us. So far, not so much.

13. pkling5596 - June 15, 2010 at 09:08 am

So students are merely probationers? Silly me -- I thought they were the future generations of leaders and citizens we were preparing. And if they are the future, then what they learn has to make better sense than absorbing tired lectures, old style curriculua, and tenured academic egos enforcing discipline.

14. spc09lib - June 15, 2010 at 12:30 pm

[From #8] "Learning by students is not "caused" by the teaching of the faculty."
This is especially true when the faculty, protected by tenure, is not teaching.
They send "assistants" who often cannot speak English at an acceptable level and who may be less than two years out of the same course to do the teaching. The student, paying fees that are increasing by 2 to 4 time the rate of inflation, are stuck with an instructor they cannot understand, who cannot answer half the questions asked, is not the instructor listed in the course catalog, and who has no experience in the real world. Tenure is shield for people more interested in research or coasting to retirement as often or more often than it is a protection of academic freedom.
None of the above excuses poor administration or ineffective Board action, but clean your house before your critcize that of another.

On the idea of shared governance, I'm not sure there should be such. The faculty's job is to teach [OK add research] and the administration's job is to govern. Consultation with faculty and staff [all the way to the lowest level] is necessary for great leadership, but it isn't a "let's vote on it" kind of thing.

15. goacta - June 15, 2010 at 01:51 pm

ACTA was pleased to be a part of the 2010 AAUP conference--for the second year--in what we hope will be an ongoing, constructive conversation. Our panel focused attention on how faculty and trustees can work together to tackle the pressing matters of cost, educational quality, and accountability in a manner that respects academic freedom and avoids micromanagement. Historically, faculty and trustees have tended to view each other with suspicion (if not outright hostility). What is lost in this standoff is true shared governance and shared expertise. Trustees are the ultimate fiduciaries of their institutions--and it is ACTA's conviction that they simply must step up and become more engaged. The Chronicle's characterizations notwithstanding, engagement of the sort ACTA recommends is not a conservative or liberal issue. Rather, in an era of shrinking funding, governmental intrusion, and declining public trust, this is a matter of higher ed's sustainability and survival--and should therefore concern everyone who cares about the future of our colleges and universities.

In this regard, one of the real takeaways of Friday's discussion was articulated by Senator Brown and echoed by the audience: Governance focused on appropriate goals, measurement of outcomes, and an informed public really does work. For example, re-directing limited resources to instruction rather than administration--as Senator Brown did at the University of Northern Colorado--does make sense. Similarly, ensuring that tenure remains robust through a rigorous system of post-tenure review--a theme ACTA has outlined at length in the AAUPs own magazine, Academe (http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2008/SO/Feat/neal.htm), and that Senator Brown himself develops in an article that we distributed at the session (http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2007/03/26/brown)--is an essential part of this equation.

Michael Poliakoff

16. intered - June 15, 2010 at 03:35 pm


You speak disparagingly of government intrusion. It is good for you that governments (AKA taxpayers) do intrude. In addition to an average tuition of $7,200, taxpayers pay an average of $10,500 a year to support each student who attends a state university. This is by far the highest of all institutional types.

You speak of redirecting limited resources to instruction rather than administration. May I presume that this is code for paying faculties more? And for what? For the last 50 years the full-time tenured U.S. professoriate has been given outsize salary increases for teaching less and less. The UNC system that you mention is at least 25% less efficient than it was 50 years ago. Why would you want to do more of that?

You speak of shared governance "working." To what end? You mention nothing that the public cares about.

You are right to note the declining public trust. Schools that are adapting are growing and prospering. Institutions dedicated to perpetuating the guild that has lived beyond its time are not.

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