Making Shared Governance Work

we-need-youProfessor Brad Hansen, Presiding Officer of the Faculty Senate, and I share a common goal of increased participation and collaboration between faculty, administrators and our board of trustees to support student learning and success.

I invited Brad to write a guest blog on this subject:

This definition of shared governance was proposed by Gary Olsen in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Shared governance is a delicate balance between faculty and staff participation in planning and decision-making processes, on the one hand, and administrative accountability on the other. It has come to connote two complementary and sometimes overlapping concepts: giving various groups of people a share in key decision-making processes, often through elected representation; and allowing certain groups to exercise primary responsibility for specific areas of decision-making. The key to genuine shared governance is broad and unending communication. When various groups of people are kept in the loop and understand what developments are occurring within the university, and when they are invited to participate as true partners, the institution prospers. That, after all, is our common goal.”

Let’s make a few assumptions about values that our Board, the Administration, and the Faculty share. We are all committed to providing a quality education for our students, to communicating frequently and honestly with one another, and to participating fully.

Let’s also agree that, if decisions are to be made in a collaborative environment we will include and respect diverse points of view, share information needed for joint decision-making, and take responsibility for our actions. This leads to building trust, cooperation, and accountability. (OK, at this point some readers are LOL. But trust has to begin somewhere.)

What can our Board of Trustees do to participate?
Our Board can assess the state of shared governance and develop a plan to improve it. They can support faculty governance of academic programs, and maintain a commitment to three-way transparent and frequent communication. They have already begun to increase social capital between Board members and faculty members by inviting faculty to present at Board meetings, and by involving faculty in subcommittees.

What can Administrators do to participate?
While faculty are invited to forums and presentations about initiatives, there could be more active roles for faculty to contribute their perspective as administrative bodies make decisions. We have administrative consultants on Faculty Senate committees, but few faculty consultants on Administrative committees. We have a system of divided, rather than shared governance. This is because the primary responsibility for curricular and instructional matters lies with the faculty, and responsibility for resource allocation lies with administration. This should not set up an inherent conflict if we are all indeed committed to providing a quality education for our students.

What can Faculty do to participate?
We can accept the challenge to make shared governance work better by seizing opportunities to join key department/unit committees, as well as Faculty Senate committees. Volunteer for Task Forces and subcommittees (The EPC is seeking help with Online Education right now). Regularly monitor the Board of Trustees website for important documents and policies. Learn more about our financial condition, and the priorities that determine how funds are distributed at PSU.

How can we improve processes that enable shared governance?
Shared governance gives a voice to those who advocate for the quality of our students’ education. Along with the tenure system, designed to protect those willing to speak out in support of educational quality, shared governance requires us to listen and communicate openly about real issues. As you read this, legislation is being proposed in Iowa and Missouri to put an end to the tenure system in state institutions of higher education, following in the footsteps of Wisconsin. Faculty can be more involved in the AAUP, and push back against this growing trend.

Many concrete suggestions were proposed in the discussion at Faculty Senate this month. We could develop ways to recruit and find roles for more junior faculty in governance. Improve our survey mechanism for involving faculty on Senate committees. Keep our sights on student learning, and avoid corporatization. Streamline processes that waste time for faculty. Stress the importance of participating on committees that have far-reaching and meaningful influence. Advocate for providing input in the selection process for our Board of Trustees. Invite Board members to attend Senate meetings. Open more channels of communication, both informally and through committee structures.

One method to advance communication that is advocated by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the American Council on Education (ACE), and the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) is to form a “standing liaison committee.” This group would bring together members of the Board, Faculty, Staff, and Administrators. The committee could contribute to a repository for documents such as the minutes of meetings, policies, guidelines, MOUs, contracts, and financial statements to help us develop a broader understanding of our university.

I appreciate Brad’s call for all of us to understand that we have a shared responsibility to make shared governance work.  I hope faculty see this as a call for meaningful engagement.

Brad has invited faculty to share with him their views on this topic. You can do so by commenting on this post or emailing Brad directly at


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