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Apr 23, 2018

Shared governance: The joys and responsibilities

We have exactly three more weeks of instruction left. The semester is winding down, everyone is tired, and there is so much more grading to do. I just want to remind that we have some of the best jobs in the world. It is never boring, we make real difference in many students’ lives, and we get to decide many things for ourselves. University faculty can shape their own work lives, do what is interesting and meaningful to them. That is not the case in many industries, where organization cultures mat be much more hierarchical, and much less participatory.

The freedom always comes with responsibilities. One obvious responsibility we have is to serve the public. We are a public university, owned and to a large degree funded by the people of California, and we sought our jobs because we value the public service. There are two sides to this: one is pragmatic and another is ethical. Let’s assume that we decide to limit special education options (too expensive, too difficult) and the press got a wind of such a decision. How do you think the legislative session would go where the budget for the CSU system is discussed? This never happens, because we feel responsible for our mission. The ethical side is no less compelling: thousands of California kids are in desperate need of special education teachers. Do we have still have choice? Yes, we do, and we want to make the right choice. If I wanted the freedom to ignore the public needs, I would have chosen another career.

Another responsibility is to the campus and to the system. The 1966 AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities spells out a university presidents responsibility:

“As the chief planning officer of an institution, the president has a special obligation to innovate and initiate. The degree to which a president can envision new horizons for the institution, and can persuade others to see them and to work toward them, will often constitute the chief measure of the president’s administration.”

Our President identified priorities for us integrated teacher preparation programs and shortening time to graduation. That includes the integrated teacher preparation programs. Can we ignore those priorities? Well, in theory we can, but would we? Those are sound, rational ideas, and universities are committed to the pursuit of truth. If we do not support good ideas, all we gain is a reputation of a troubled, recalcitrant bunch. What I have learned from my 30+ years in Academia is this, reputation is the only currency. As a faculty group, we want to be known for creativity, for initiative, for new things we bring to the table, for being team players. There is never enough faculty lines, budgets, space, and anything else. It is only logical that units that support the university priorities get more, and those who do not get less. It is not any kind of vengeance, just good management.

There are times when faculty should say no, when there is a strong and plausible argument, when administrators might be making a mistake, or where faculty expertise in a specific field warrant a different approach.

Open dialogue is always the best way to engage in shared governance. It requires mutual trust, openness, and a commitment to listening. Most importantly, we do not have much of a value conflict. We all want to do our best to serve the State and its youth; we all are committed to justice and diversity. We have the best jobs in town, we get to hang out with lots of smart people, and we have much freedom that comes with responsibilities, naturally.

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