I have been thinking quite a bit over the summer about shared governance and the delicate balance between faculty and staff participation in planning and decision-making processes, on the one hand, and administrative accountability on the other.
In Nevada, all legal authority resides with the Board of Regents. The Board then delegates certain authority to the Chancellor and to the presidents of the institutions. I, in turn, also delegate certain authorities. The Nevada Board of Regents has also delegated certain authorities and privileges to faculty senates and to student government associations.
Since the 1960s, however, shared governance has become an ambiguous concept; some would say it’s an entitlement, and others that is a hollow phrase, quite meaningless.
I disagree with both views. The best governance of a college is a collaborative venture with lots of communication. As a result I believe in giving student and employee groups a share in key decision-making at CSN, typically through elected representation.
That’s why I meet regularly with the three leaders of the Faculty Senate, our student body president, the leaders of the Classified Council and Administrative Faculty Association. These folks are also on the President’s cabinet so coordination regularly occurs.
And that is why I think it is important that we develop a part-time position of ombudsperson to be a resource for faculty in implementing governance. That is also why I have asked the general counsel to add “compliance” to its current list of duties to ensure we operate in compliance with codes, statutes, regulations and rules that affect us.
“Shared” means consultation and participation. It means I’m obligated to share information so prudent decisions can be made, and it means faculty and staff should stay informed, without relying on rumor, fear mongering, innuendo, or other agendas before engaging in a discussion, concluding a search, or recommending a policy.
But “shared” doesn’t mean that every constituency gets to participate at every stage. Someone has to exercise due diligence. No one person is arbitrarily making important decisions absent the advice of key constituents; CSN stakeholders participate in well-defined parts of the process.
“Shared” governance also does not mean that any constituency exercise complete control over the decision-making process. For example, a search for a new hire cannot be a simple matter of a popular vote. Someone has to exercise due diligence and be held responsible for a lack of due diligence because committees and groups cannot be held accountable for poor decisions in the same manner as an individual. Another example of this often seen on college campuses is that the student senate receives primary, but not total, responsibility for devising policies relevant to student governance.
True shared governance attempts to balance maximum participation in decision making with clear accountability. That is a difficult balance to maintain. And, frankly, sometimes we fail to be as inclusive as we should be. Our goal, however, is for genuine shared governance to give voice (but not necessarily ultimate authority) to concerns common to all constituencies as well as to issues unique to specific groups.
The key to genuine shared governance is broad and unending communication. When various groups of people are kept in the loop and understand what developments are occurring within the College, and when they are invited to participate as partners, the institution prospers. That has been our experience during our cycles of budget cuts, during the development of policies, and that remains our common goal.
I believe creating an ombudsman role to facilitate this communication and ensuring CSN has its own watch dog to make certain policies and procedures are followed will go a long way to strengthen faculty governance at CSN.
More information about the ombudsperson position, its role and responsibilities was sent forth from the VPAA’s office earlier this week. It is my hope that we can work to make the college a national model in shared decision making.