What college presidents really think about shared governance

Presidents say trustees and faculty need a greater understanding of each other's responsibilities

College presidents and trustees overwhelmingly support shared governance, but have concerns about how it is executed, according to a new report from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB).  

The organization, in conjunction with the American Association of University Professors, surveyed 300 college presidents and several thousand board members earlier this year.

The vast majority of presidents and board members reported that shared governance is very or moderately important to decision-making on campus. Most also said that it's important or moderately important to higher education as a whole.

But few respondents viewed shared governance as sharing "equal rights" with other stakeholders, including faculty. Most said the practice should be a matter of getting priorities in order.

More than 80% of respondents supported faculty participation in overseeing academic programs, and the majority also said challenging conversations among the board, faculty, and administration are carried out in good faith and with trust.

However, the survey also showed that presidents believe that board and faculty members need to better understand each other's roles. About 30% of presidents said board members understand faculty members' work well or very well, while 20% said faculty members understand the work of the board well or very well. 

Help faculty see the big picture of university operations

"Presidents perceived board members to have greater awareness of faculty responsibilities than the reverse, although in neither case was the answer impressive," the report states. "Perhaps more remarkable is the tepid degree to which presidents believed members of either group typically understand the work of the other."

How shared governance is perceived depends on one's status, says Susan Whealler Johnston, AGB's executive vice president and CEO.

"If you're part of the growing percentage of part-time faculty and adjunct and contingent faculty and you're excluded, it can look like a big failure," she says. "And if you're part of the declining percentage of tenure-track faculty and you're reeling from the pressure of taking on the burden of full shared governance, then it can also look like a failure" (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 9/29).  

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