Shared governance a great system

By Michael Grossman

Shared governance is what makes a good university great. Governance of a great university, such as Illinois, is most effective when the governing board, administrators, faculty, students and staff cooperate. Shared goals and interests, as well as collegial relations, make Illinois the best place to teach, to do research, to be creative and to serve the people of the state.

At Illinois, we have had more than 100 years of experience with a known and effective system of shared governance. It has served us well. Shared governance has had a convincing record of accomplishments, especially in the last few years. The faculty has a fundamental responsibility, I believe, to participate in shared governance of the university.

Faculty members have many opportunities to share in governance at the level of the university, through the University Senates Conference; at the level of the campus, through the campus senates; and, even closer to their disciplines, at the levels of the college and department. Illinois has a tradition, for example, that faculty members play critical roles in the appointment of the president, the chancellor/vice president, the provost, deans, and department heads or chairs. Faculty members also advise administrators about academic appointments, reappointments, non-reappointments and promotions.

The long tradition of faculty participation in shared governance at Illinois is grounded in the University of Illinois Statutes. According to statutes, "As the responsible body in the teaching, research, and scholarly activities of the University, the faculty has inherent interests and rights in academic policy and governance."

All participants in a system of shared governance, including the governing board and the administration, must recognize that "the faculty is the university." The faculty shares in governance of the university in all matters related to educational policy, broadly defined, because the faculty is in the best position to set educational policy. The faculty, therefore, governs each academic unit. Shared governance, to rephrase Abraham Lincoln, is governance of the faculty, by the faculty, and for the faculty.

The faculty must remember that it has a collegial, not adversarial, relationship with the administration. Faculty and administration have a shared goal, although the administration may not take all advice that the faculty offers. The administration must remember that to accomplish its goals, it must get the "buy-in" of the faculty. The faculty must have a substantial role in decision-making processes so that they have an investment in those decisions.

Some people might want to replace a successful system of shared governance and past decades of known results with, say, a system of adversarial governance and future decades of uncertain results. When comparing the two systems, as a scientist, I would require evidence that adversarial governance performs significantly better than shared governance, before I would adopt it as my new system of governance. I would not adopt adversarial governance, however, if it were merely "as good as," and certainly not if it had the potential to be "worse."

Faculty members who believe that the campus or university administration does not respond to their concerns have the right and obligation to participate in the current system of shared governance before they decide to risk over 100 years of success at Illinois for promises with uncertain results. Shared governance is what makes a good university great.

Michael Grossman, who has been on the Urbana campus of the University of Illinois since 1969, is a professor emeritus in the Department of Animal Sciences.

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