Shared Governance Need Not Be a Charade
(Originally posted March 13, 2011 on the
Chronicle of Higher Education Web site)
To the Editor:
I strongly disagree with the central premise of John Lachs's commentary "Shared
Governance Is a Myth" (The Chronicle, February 6). Mr. Lachs's
views are overly cynical, and his arguments overlook the important role of
shared governance—particularly, perhaps, at an institution the size of mine.
Salisbury University, with approximately 8,500 students, is a community and a
place where individual and collective voices do matter.
Importantly, faculty senates, staff senates, and student-government associations
provide the means through which consensus building can take place. A
shared-governance body represents a collective voice, without which a cacophony
of loud, individual voices can emerge predominant.
While it is true that the role of faculty, staff, and student senates and
committees is often largely advisory, the recommendations of these governance
bodies carry great weight. During my 15 years as a university president, I've
learned that the best decisions are made only after listening carefully and
seeking input from representative constituent groups. Administrators are charged
with the day-to-day management of our institutions. Further, we ultimately are
the ones who are accountable and bear the responsibility for fiscal management
and other decisions. However, the best strategic directions and ideas for
mapping the future course of a college or university emerge from broad
consultation and consensus building.
Do I, as president, sometimes wring my hands upon receiving a recommendation
that seems impractical or impossibly idealistic? Sure. Are governance processes
and committees often slow and sometimes convoluted? Without a doubt. But to term
the work of governance groups a "charade" misses the point. As the author
himself suggests, when governing boards and university CEO's lose touch with the
faculty (and, I would add, staff members and students), our institutions can,
and often do, go down the wrong path. Shared governance, however flawed, is one
mechanism that helps assure that administrators are making decisions consistent
with an institution's character, future aspirations, and mission.
I can hear the cynics now: "Of course a president is going to say that she cares
about shared governance, but is this only lip service?" Let's face it: At the
end of the day, I know that members of my administration and I had better
listen. Why would we not want to work together as harmoniously as possible? Most
days I enjoy the camaraderie, the debates, even the challenges and
disagreements. Sound a bit naÔve? Sometimes I even forget to take off my faculty
hat to don that of the Dreaded University Administrator.