What is Shared Governance?

And why do faculty have a responsibility for it? 

The concept of shared governance in an academic institution is laid out in the AAUP Statement on the Government of Colleges and Universities, which informs the institutional understanding among Franklin & Marshall's Board of Trustees, Faculty, and Administration.

The Board of Trustees entrusts the creation and maintenance of the academic program to the care of the Faculty. This is a great honor and a great trust, but it is also a great responsibility.

Such honor and trust are part of the social contract within the academic community and beyond it vis-a-vis the larger society within which the academic enterprise exists: the professoriate will be ensured of autonomy in its pursuit of knowledge and truth, but it must accept responsibility to govern itself prudently. The system would rapidly decay without the implicit agreement within institutions of higher learning to hold themselves accountable to public trust by maintaining the highest standards of ethical and moral codes regarding academic freedom, peer review, assessment, and intellectual integrity.

So while the Trustees give over the administration of the academic program to the Faculty, there is wider societal trust that the Faculty will act in a professional manner in all of its endeavors. Other professions are governed, at least in part, by a similar social contract. The legal and medical professions have internal mechanisms for self-regulation, for example, in addition to external requirements for licensure. Arguably, the academic professoriate has the widest latitude and most exceptional range of self-governance in society.

This privilege is certainly worth protecting because it ensures academic freedom in the creation of new knowledge, but inherent in its preservation is the assumption that faculty will participate fully in its ongoing construction and maintenance. Shared governance inevitably evolves as societal needs change, as the institution's student body changes, and as the Faculty diversifies and broadens its perspectives. While core principles of integrity and academic honesty may remain constant, shared governance must be continually negotiated as faculty roles and responsibilities change and as external pressures emerge. 

Faculty involvement in shared governance is crucial to the institutional environment that allows the profession and academic freedom to flourish.

How do faculty participate in shared governance?

At liberal arts institutions such as Franklin & Marshall College, faculty directly participate in the shaping of the academic program by serving at both the departmental and all-college level.

Within the department, all tenured and tenure-track faculty are involved in hiring, and tenured members take on central responsibility when serving as chair.

At the institutional level, faculty convene on committees, either formally designated or ad-hoc. Participation in forums where the central business of the faculty is reviewed and discussed, such as in regularly scheduled faculty meetings, is crucial.

The nuts-and-bolts work of deciding on the general education component of the curriculum, number of courses permitted for majors, and even the scheduling of classes is determined by the faculty, with committees working to distill and articulate faculty opinion into motions on which the faculty votes.

Larger institutional concerns are often brought to the faculty through participation in Trustee committees, ad-hoc committees for a specific initiative, or budget or facilities-related committees.

Elected committee members, such as those on the Professional Standards Committee, serve as representatives for the entire faculty to advise the Provost, President and Board of Trustees on decisions concerning degree requirements for faculty (the Ph.D. or equivalent terminal degree is required), standards for teaching and scholarship for interim, tenure, and promotion review, and other issues comprising the maintenance of professional standards.

Faculty work with Admissions staff in crafting incoming student classes, work with College facilities professionals on campus facilities and sustainability issues, and so forth. The work is important as it clearly reminds faculty that they have a vested interest in their workplace, the setting where the academic program is realized in its many dimensions. Faculty should view service to the College, through participation on committees, as a crucial aspect of a career at a liberal arts college.

Ultimately, faculty fulfill the responsibilities of their role (Faculty Handbook, Section IV) through teaching, scholarship, advising, and participation in shared governance.

Faculty Community & Responsibility 

What are the challenges of shared governance? 

Institutions of higher learning, particularly liberal arts colleges, are being challenged by society to justify their expense, their facilities, and even their intrinsic worth. It is the flip side of the social contract that such institutions must clearly articulate why what they do matters to the public, why it has long-term positive consequences for society, and why the costs and expenses are the way they are.

Franklin & Marshall College faculty must be ready and able to provide a deeply thought-through rationale and clear explanation to a potentially skeptical public. Each faculty member can be an advocate for the key role of residential liberal arts colleges as incubators of leadership and innovation in our society.

The second challenge to shared governance may come from within institutions themselves. As faculty strive to be excellent teachers, become renowned scholars, and participate in their lives outside of the institution, they may become wary of governance and look upon institutional service as a regrettable diversion to which they can ill afford to devote time.

To counter this wariness, Franklin & Marshall College strives to maintain a deep level of trust between and among faculty, administrators, and board members. This trust undergirds the ideal that all parties are working towards a common goal, that governance service is inclusive and meaningful, and that such work is valued in real terms, such as at tenure review and promotion. 

What is good governance? 

Shared governance will be successful when there is an overt acknowledgement that tensions may exist between different parts of a given institution, but that differences will be approached through a spirit of collaboration and cooperation, rather than acrimony and dissent.

Effective communication throughout the institution is a key element in generating good governance. Institutional decisions should reflect the underlying social contract between the academy and the public, maintaining internal standards of integrity and honesty, which must be upheld throughout the institution’s structure.

Faculty have a pivotal role in the social contract through their creation and dissemination of knowledge in the classroom, through their research and scholarship, and by means of their full participation in shared governance.