Academic Senate

Op-Ed: "Shadow Governance"

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Op-Ed: Shared Governance
Capitol Watch
Resolution Summaries

Susan Gubernat (East Bay) Member-at-Large, ASCSU Executive Committee

There are blatant violations of shared governance (as when a university dissolves its faculty senate) but there are subtle ones, too.

The ASCSU is considering a resolution to highlight and protest such subtle violations, a resolution we will be voting on during the March plenary. (See AS-3160-13/EX/FA: “Selection of Faculty Representatives” as summarized in this newsletter.)

Perhaps you’ll find this kind of subtle violation to be a more recognizable kind, whether on your own campus or system-wide: administrators appointing particular faculty to represent all faculty. I say “subtle” because on the surface the administration’s appointment of such faculty is often alluded to as having enabled, or fulfilled, faculty’s right to consultation. There’s a faculty member, or members, in the room, or on the phone call, isn’t there? So an administrator can claim there was consultation.

But I also use the word “violation” to reconfirm the “gold” standard that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has set for shared governance: The AAUP’s classic 1966 statement on share governance quite clearly states that “faculty representatives should be selected by the faculty according to procedures determined by the faculty.”

All this may appear redundant and obvious unless and until we examine the way in which administrators get around the spirit of the AAUP principle either by setting up special groups or task forces populated by faculty whom they choose—shadow governments?—or even when administrators ask for a “slate” of possible faculty candidates from which they might select those they think would best serve the administration’s purposes. Even worse when, unlike senate meetings, faculty consultation and deliberation (on other than “personnel issues”) by such hand-picked bodies occur in secret, behind closed doors. Suddenly, "collaboration” takes on a whole new meaning.

Why and how do such subtle violations of shared governance occur? Often the rationale is timing: someone is needed “right now,” and faculty processes of election proceed too slowly for the administration. Everything these days looks like an “emergency,” and respecting process, and sometimes even democracy, gets in the way of the business of the university. But haven’t the age-old values of deliberation and consultation been at the heart of our enterprise? Haven’t they often saved us from making mistakes based on whim, or on an individual’s, vs. a collective, vision?

And always with our students’ well-being in mind, we should continue to advocate for the deliberative, consultative nature of shared, not “shadow” governance: it’s the kind of slow-cooking that doesn’t result in scaled-up, fast-food solutions but rather in the true nourishment that quality higher education must provide and that will sustain us all in the long run.