This commentary by our President, Jim Barrett outlines our views on a vital topic for all faculty, shared governance. We welcome feedback.
The Importance of Shared Governance and Some of Its Limits
by Jim Barrett, President, Campus Faculty Association
From its origins, the Campus Faculty Association (CFA) has strongly supported our system of shared governance. We support it in principle, as in our statement of purpose. More importantly, we have supported it in practice, as in the work of dozens of CFA members as senators and on a host of senate committees, including the Senate Executive Committee and the University Senates Conference (USC), the elected body over the university’s three campus senates. Indeed, we feel certain that CFA members have made the senate and other representative bodies stronger and more vital.
For these and other reasons, we also serve on our department and college executive committees and on a variety of other bodies throughout the university.
Shared governance affords faculty the opportunity to discuss issues of concern to them and to other campus citizens. Through their elected representatives, individual faculty can play a role in the governance of one of the world’s great universities. At their best, these institutions can effect important change on campus.
But the system of shared governance has limitations and it is important for all concerned to recognize these. Collective bargaining could help faculty to address some of these limitations.
First, faculty representation at the highest reaches of the university remains limited. For example, though students on each of the campuses do have formal representation on the Board of Trustees, faculty do not. CFA has pushed in the senate, on the USC, and in the state legislature for such representation, a provision that applies at a number of large institutions around the country.
Second, a broad range of important issues are beyond the province of the senate. This limit in itself would justify the effort to achieve collective bargaining in order to guard salaries, pensions, health insurance, and other benefits that are now clearly in jeopardy. Through its connections with the state-wide labor movement, the union has vigorously defended pensions and health-care benefits. Collective bargaining could provide real power for faculty in guarding our interests.
Finally, most senate recommendations are considered advisory. The university administration holds ultimate power. In some cases, the senate as a whole has not even been consulted on important initiatives. A recent example is the decision to join Coursera, the private on-line education project. This is a bold initiative that might well work to the university’s and the public’s advantage, but Chancellor Wise reached this major decision regarding course delivery without ever discussing it in the senate. Too often, the administration has simply side-stepped the senate, even on vital decisions. As a corporate style of decision-making continues to develop, we can expect more of this.
Administrative influence does not diminish the importance of the senate and other shared governance bodies, but it does suggest their limits. Unionization could enhance the faculty’s role in shared governance by contractually guaranteeing a more substantial role for the senate.
CFA will continue to support and strengthen the senate, even as we work to represent faculty on salaries, benefits, and other issues beyond the senate’s reach. We urge all faculty to support us in both endeavors. To join the movement, email to firstname.lastname@example.org!