Office of the President

 

Holloway Hall

Shared Governance

(December 2000)

From time to time, I will want to use this venue to speak to the Salisbury University community about my observations, concerns, and vision for the future. I am now in my fifth month as campus president, and I have been working hard to get to know as many of you as I can and to gain a deeper understanding of this exceptional university family. There is so much here to be proud of the energy and creativity of our students; the dedication of our faculty and staff; and the incredible beauty of our campus home. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for making the beginning of my tenure here so enjoyable and stimulating.

What I want to talk with you today about is shared governance at SU. I want to be absolutely clear that I am committed to the idea of an open campus where all community members feel that they are heard. Supervisors at all levels need to seek input and welcome opinions regularly from those with whom they work. They are obliged to take these suggestions and ideas into serious account when they make their decisions. Then, the rest of us are expected to support these decisions, knowing that a fair process has taken place.

I have been hearing from too many quarters of the University that people are feeling disenfranchised, that confidence and trust are lacking. I have been told that some on our campus fear retaliation should they express their unhappiness to their supervisor or take their complaints to Human Resources or others in the administration. This is not acceptable in a modern and enlightened workplace; it is not acceptable at Salisbury University.

It may be that a tradition of open expression and solicitation of broad input has not been fostered at SU. There is no more appropriate place for freedom of expression to be encouraged that at a university campus. So how does a "discussion-challenged" campus develop the ethos and structure for openness? I know that I play a role in demonstrating my whole-hearted support for shared governance. I pledge that I will solicit your input on the important decisions that will guide this University over the next decade and beyond. But I need your help if the idea of shared governance is going to be worth more than the paper used to describe it.

As we look ahead towards how we can make SU a better place, I believe the University Forum has an important role to play. We need to recognize that there are certain times and issues where we need to come together to share concerns. I am troubled by the sunset clause in the bylaws of the Forum that threatens the Forum just as it is beginning to establish itself. How can we begin to talk about issues that are important to this campus with a sword of Damocles swaying over our heads? How can we get shared governance to work if there isn't a university body created to bring the community together for purposeful discussions? Critical Forum committees are just beginning to find out who they are and how they can best function. We don't have our act together yet, but we are moving in the right direction.

As the person charged with leading our campus community, I'd like to offer some suggestions related to the committee structure. For a start, the long-range planning and fiscal advisory committees should be combined; the two are related and can't operate logically without one another. We also need to examine the membership of all Forum committees to be sure that the people with pertinent information are included in the debate. I have asked the Space Utilization Committee, for example, to add as permanent invited guests a number of administrators who can bring broader perspective and important information to the table.

I see two important characteristics that Forum committees must strive to develop. First, it will be crucial that committee members represent the entire community and not permit themselves to be bound by history or personal power bases. Recommendations that benefit the entire University must be uppermost in their deliberations. Second, there needs to be an effort and commitment to communicate with each other so that the work of Forum and Senate committees gets conveyed beyond their respective members. Mike Burton, Forum President, has already set up a Forum website where information on the by-laws, committee structure and membership, and minutes can be seen. Communication is important if we truly mean to be inclusive.

At times this fall semester I feel that I am back in Civics 101 in a heated discussion on the merits versus drawbacks of democratic structures. Decisions will necessarily be slowed while we seek input from faculty, staff, and students. I can't even tell you that decision-making will be improved or that decisions arrived at in our past weren't right on the mark. But I can tell you that Salisbury University has hired a president who believes in the intrinsic value of shared governance. I ask that all of you be as committed as I am to inclusiveness on this campus. Help me build trust and confidence in a shared governance that genuinely works to enhance the community and future of Salisbury University.

JDE