November 2009

The idea of shared governance is critical to our well being but one aspect of it has to do with who is actually doing the sharing. The many faculty committees that have been formed to make important university wide decisions have much influence (more than a simple faculty comment or vote on an issue) but, how were the membership of these committees chosen? Was it “the best fit”, “faculty senate”, etc. I believe a significant number of our faculty are being left out of this part of the process because of internal politics or old fashioned thinking that you have to pay some dues first. That’s shared governance based on a hierarchical model and may not be the best one for our future.


“The outcomes of shared governance processes, such as recommendations, must be respected. Leaders who go against the recommendations of committees are exercising the nuclear option and do so at their peril.”

I would like to add that I agree very strongly with this assertion. I think there must be some measure of accountability in Shared Governance if individuals are to be expected to invest themselves emotionally in the process. It’s unreasonable to ask members of the community to dedicate themselves to a year’s worth of service on a committee, only to discover (directly or indirectly) that the recommendations they’ve developed have been ignored. I realize that there may be times when a recommendation cannot be followed. However, if recommendations and input are only followed when it’s convenient, Shared “Governance” is a misnomer.

Joe McLaughlin Says:
November 11, 2009 at 1:35 pm e

In the interests of getting a conversation started, I would like to offer five key qualities of shared governance, in the form of a list.

1. Shared Governance = Shared Decision Making: We need to develop and respect processes that allow us to set priorities and goals based upon the collective and historical wisdom of the community, rather than on the current agenda of individuals and “experts”. Democracy should be the default and votes are better than input. In those instances when democracy becomes too slow or unwieldy, the community needs to know that its leaders share its values.

2. Transparency: Information needs to be shared. We need to know who is making decisions, what process is being followed, what facts are being considered and not considered, and what the rationale was for making decisions.

3. Trust: The outcomes of shared governance processes, such as recommendations, must be respected. Leaders who go against the recommendations of committees are exercising the nuclear option and do so at their peril. The community must believe that committee members have not been “cherry-picked” to produce a desired outcome. We cannot believe that committees are only listened to when they say things decision makers want to hear. Shared governance is not a public relations stunt.

4. Humility: While we all have principles and priorities, shared governance will not work unless the participants are open to persuasion. Listening is as important as speaking.

5. Integrity: I’m not sure this is the right word, but it’s the best one I can come up with for a nexus of things. Change in a university happens slowly. This is one of our greatest weaknesses because it can prevent us from responding to changes flexibly and quickly. This is one of our greatest strengths because it prevents us from blowing in the wind in response to the latest fads. Our hesitancy can also prevent “mission drift” and inconsistency from one administration to he next. We have to remain aware at all times that this is both a weakness and strength. The need for flexibility must be balanced with deliberation. The question “Who do we want to be?” is not more important than the questions “Who have we been?” and “Who are we?” We need explore how other schools handle particular issues without being driven by a need to “keep up with the Joneses.”

I’m curious to hear what I’ve left out or what I need to reconsider.

New readings have been posted.  Suggestions for additional readings?

What should be the role of students in shared governance?

The University of Wisconsin has a unique approach to that question see Associated Students of Madison Shared Governance Committee Blog.