Shared Governance: What is it?

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—by John A. Koropchak, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Dean

I have recently received a number of questions about shared governance. As a researcher, my curiosity drove me to investigate. Here's what I found.

Universities, like all complex organizations, need some form of governance, which according to Webster's Dictionary has the aim of keeping in a straight course or smooth operation for the good of the individual and the whole of the organization.

The American Association of University Professors' (AAUP) Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities (1) provides clear indication that the governance system of SIUC is very typical of American universities. Administrators are hired as presidents, chancellors, deans, and chairs to provide overall supervision of the university, and ultimately are responsible for all of the decisions and the performance of the university. By state law at public universities, these administrators are overseen by a Board of Trustees that has the final authority for approving decisions.

How then do faculty share in the governance of universities?

The AAUP and the American Conference of Academic Deans recently sponsored a survey of higher education governance (2). Over 72% of the institutions surveyed reported that the primary means by which faculty members participate in governance, express their views to the administration, and/or shape policy is through institution-wide bodies of governance. Over 23% reported that the primary means for faculty participation was either through governance structures operating at the college/school level or through department chairs; these systems of shared governance would generally have less impact than institution-wide systems. Three percent reported that faculty input occurs through the faculty bargaining unit, and 1.5% reported none of the above.

At SIUC, the primary institution-wide faculty governance bodies are the Faculty Senate, which according to the SIUC Employees Handbook provides recommendations on a range of personnel, governance, and academic policy issues, and the Graduate Council, which formulates policy in regard to graduate programs and research. The Faculty Senate consists of about 30 faculty members elected by all of the faculty on campus. The Graduate Council consists of faculty members elected by all of the graduate faculty on campus, plus a number of graduate students elected by the Graduate and Professional Student Council (which is elected by all of the graduate and professional students on campus). There are also constituency bodies for undergraduates, civil service staff, and A/P staff.

How do these constituency groups share in governance? A recent example of shared governance by the Faculty Senate was the vote, by a two-thirds majority, for the need for continuance of the budget-planning process initiated by Chancellor Wendler (the so-called 5%-10% plan) considering the growing state budget deficit. Several years ago the Graduate Council pointed out the need to increase graduate assistantship stipend levels; as a result of this recommendation, the Graduate School developed a proposal to increase stipends by 10%. This proposal was approved by the Graduate Council last year and was given highest priority in the campus Resource Allocation Management Plan (RAMP) that is currently pending at the state level.

In addition, all new academic programs proposed on campus must be approved by these groups: undergraduate programs by the Faculty Senate, and graduate programs by the Graduate Council. Recent examples of new programs include the digital communication bachelor's degree in the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts that was funded through the RAMP process in FY03, and the Ph.D. in Applied Physics, which recently received partial funding through the strategic faculty hires initiative.

How else are faculty involved in governance at SIUC? One way is by a myriad of ad-hoc committees. One example is the budget task force recently established to evaluate the 5%-10% budget plans. That task force includes a large number of faculty, including those nominated by the above faculty constituency groups. Another example is the long-range planning group (Southern at 150), which consisted of over 200 members from on- and off-campus, including about 70 faculty members, as well as representatives from all other constituency groups. The plans developed by the latter group provide a road map for decisions at SIUC for years to come.

In short, shared governance is alive and well at SIUC. Faculty input is provided by institution-wide groups elected by all of the members of those groups. And these groups provide input regarding all important institutional policies, including budgetary, programmatic, and planning decisions. Our system is consistent with those at the majority of universities, and better than many.

I invite all faculty, staff and students to also participate informally in governance, by providing me input, feedback, and advice regarding graduate programs and research administration at SIUC. Open exchange of ideas is at the very heart of any great university, and the more voices that are heard, the better.

I might add that most administrators on campus are also faculty members and are regular participants in academic activities within their respective departments. As an example, I still supervise a research group of several students, hosted the visit of a Fullbright Fellow to my laboratory last fall, had two research papers accepted for publication last week (early January) and submitted two others, and have a proposal pending with the National Institutes of Health.