Every public research university really has two missions. The primary mission is the stated academic one: to educate students, produce and disseminate knowledge, and serve the community. The secondary mission is the implied financial obligation: to remain fiscally solvent, provide administrative structures that enable the academic mission, and adapt to the changing priorities of students and their families, legislators, and donors.
It is surprisingly controversial to acknowledge the mutual interdependence of the dual missions. The academic life of a university cannot exist without money and administrative support, and the financial wellbeing of the university depends on the academic credibility of having a faculty set and deliver the curriculum, train graduate students, maintain robust research activities, and serve the academic and local communities.
Shared governance is the glue that binds these two missions together. It is the space where faculty and administrators work together to advance the entire mission of the university. Faculty are responsible primarily for the academic mission and administrators for the financial mission, but these roles cannot be, should not be, and usually are not mutually exclusive. That is why, at UO, Senate motions include financial impact statements, and the Office of the Provost invests time and resources facilitating faculty-led academic committees. Faculty leaders need understand and care about the financial mission (for example, through the work of the Senate Budget Committee), and the best administrators often come from the faculty and are committed to the academic mission. In the end, we are all responsible for the whole mission of the university.
Effective shared governance takes on an even more important role in the competitive marketplace for student enrollments, state support, grant revenue, and donations. Students and their families seek, among other things, assurances that they will get a good education that will benefit them on graduation. The task of shared governance is to make sure the university not only genuinely provides that education, but also proves to potential and current students that it can and does. In the terms of evolutionary theory, universities use costly signals (think peacock feathers) such as academic accreditation, high proportion of courses taught by tenure-track faculty, and membership in organizations including the Association of American Universities to show their commitment to high quality education, scholarship, and service – even if those things come at a financial cost.
Shared governance is threatened by an imbalance between the academic and financial missions. Faculty are vigilant for administrative excesses that are not tied in an obvious way to the academic mission, as they should be. And, at the same time, administrators are wary of academic programs that undermine the financial viability of the university, as they too should be. If shared governance were a verb, it would mean to continuously maintain the mutually beneficial status of the academic and financial missions. Shared governance is an activity required of each and every one of us.
It is against this backdrop that I encourage Senators and other campus leaders to consider new proposals, whether they be academic or financial. The driving questions are: To what extent does the proposal advance the academic mission? Or the financial mission? Does it advance both, or does it favor one over the other? If one is favored, what is the long-running benefit to the other?
Recent events make me sanguine about the status of shared governance on campus. The following are just a handful among many examples where the Senate and administration worked together to advance our mutual goals. Each illustrates a case we worked together to reach consensus on programs whose benefit to the university outweighed the costs.
- Academic Council governance over academic policies during the pandemic and beyond. From the start of the pandemic, the Senate’s Academic Council has generated guidelines for remote teaching and flexibilities to approved courses. The Academic Council continues to provide faculty-led direction on academic and curricular matters. These policies are fully supported and often implemented by the Office of the Provost.
- Senate and Provost leadership on teaching evaluations. The Senate’s Continuous Improvement and Evaluation of Teaching (CIET) Committee has undertaken a multi-year effort to overhaul the system for the evaluation of teaching on campus. The CIET developed new student experience surveys and is in the process of creating a teaching evaluation framework and a new system for peer evaluations of teaching. Implementing the new system will require investment, but one that the Office of the Provost and Senate are both willing to make. We are working together to support units in implementing the system.
- Joint investment in equity and inclusion. The Senate and its partners are developing a robust platform for faculty self-education on equity and inclusion in the academy. We are using our own funds to support this development, and this investment has been matched by support from the Division of Equity and Inclusion. The programming will begin in February and extend into the Spring term, and then pick up again in the Fall. This work directly advances inclusive teaching and equitable access to education.
- Academic Administrator hiring policy. Last year Senate leadership reached agreement with the President and Provost on a Policy on Hiring and Promotion of Academic Administrators. What began as Senate legislation is now the official policy of the University of Oregon. This resolution illustrates a successful collaboration between faculty and administration to reach a common space that all parties agree is in the best interest of the university.
- Provost’s Fellows. This fellowship program provides one year of funding to enable faculty members to focus on service projects related to teaching, mentorship, and leadership. Each of the projects is something that faculty members have requested. The Teaching Fellow was created in response to and with input from Senate leadership, and the work of that Fellow will further the activities laid out in the Senate’s anti-racism resolution. I will elaborate on the value of this Fellowship program in a subsequent post.
There are many other examples, including the School of Languages and Global Studies, which is thus far a true joint product of faculty and academic administrative leadership, and the Research Commission (on hold during the pandemic), where faculty members have been empowered by the Provost to identify ways UO could further advance its research mission. The Leadership Academy, now entering its 3rd year, brings together faculty, administrators, and OAs around a common purpose to increase faculty and OA engagement in leading the university.
Despite these successes, there are barriers to shared governance that the Senate is monitoring. The first is the way service is allocated, tracked, and rewarded. Service is part of what faculty are paid to do, but typically counts 10-20% in merit and tenure and promotion reviews. That small amount is shared among unit, university, field, and community service, so only a tiny quantity of our work is apportioned to university service. As a result, most substantial service assignments required of shared governance amount to volunteer work. The inequities this introduces are well known. Programs such as the Provost’s Fellows, which compensate faculty to participate in shared governance, are a welcome deviation from this norm but need to be expanded further. We call upon the administration to continue to engage faculty in the academic leadership of the institution. We are eager to work with administrators to provide fair, thoughtful, transparent, and meritorious access to resources.
The second is structural. The UO Constitution charges the Senate with responsibility over academic matters “as commonly understood” but the Senate has no executive agency. Senate resolutions must be enacted by the administration, and the President can veto any Senate action simply by not endorsing it. This reality could be altered by modifying the Constitution, which is not off the table but would be laborious. In the meantime, the only productive solution is to work together on areas of shared interest and mutual benefit. As the examples above illustrate, this approach can work when all parties have a commitment to the whole mission of the university.
- Senate President Elliot Berkman
There is more to come on this blog about these topics. If you would like to write a guest post, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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