Campus Responsiveness to Community Needs: The Role of Faculty Senates

By Pope, Myron L.; Miller, Michael T. | The Catalyst, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Campus Responsiveness to Community Needs: The Role of Faculty Senates


Pope, Myron L., Miller, Michael T., The Catalyst


Colleges and universities have a natural task of providing support and assistance to their local host communities. This basic construct was part of the fabric that led to the establishment of Harvard College in the 1600s, and was reinforced with various federal initiatives, including the Morrill Land Grant Act of the 1800s. The philosophy of utilizing colleges and universities as a research framework for federal initiatives, such as military defense research, further demonstrates that institutions have a role in community service. The community college sector, in particular, has been noted for its role in economic development activities and workforce development, although virtually all 2 and 4-year institutions define part of their function as serving their community.

The function of institutional service has been elaborated on and defined in many studies and in a sizable body of supporting literature. Despite this definition, there is a lack of description and understanding of why and how institutions choose to be involved in providing service. Although fiscal gains to the institution and legislative mandates may be one clear source of motivation, the internal mechanisms of the institution that empower and drive institutional decision-making for external service activities is largely undefined. Birnbaum (1988) among others attribute institutional leadership as the primary motivator, but there are clearly multiple levels of decision-making and interpretation of institutional responsibility to external constituents (see also Rosovsky, 1990).

How institutions make decisions has been the subject of a broad base of scholarship and best and worst practice reporting (Caesar, 2000). A critical element in these reports is typically the role of faculty members, whether they be independent scholars or in collective efforts. Individual activities are abundant, and personal narratives of sponsored programs and service-activities are plentiful (Rosovsky, 1990). Collective activities, however, have been primarily relegated to faculty senates and councils, and their role in internal decisionmaking. As a frequently cited critical element in institutional decision-making (Miller, 1999), little has been studied in terms of how these governance units reflect community needs and interpret how institutions should respond to the task of providing services and goods to their host communities or states.

The current study was subsequently designed as part of a larger study of faculty governance units, their activities, and those who lead faculty senates. Specifically, the current study sought to develop a catalog of activities and issues that faculty senate leaders perceive to be important in helping colleges and universities provide community support and service.

What Faculty Senates Typically Do

Faculty governance units are designed in a number of different fashions, including all inclusive faculty town-hall meetings to representative democracies based on the principle of constituents and two-way communication (Birnbaum, 1991). Gilmour (1991) estimated that 90% of all colleges and universities make use of some type of faculty governance unit, and Miller (1999) noted that these groups are often charged with different tasks and responsibilities. Miller also noted that the decision-making authority of faculty governance units is not necessarily tightly coupled, and that these bodies can often exist for the purpose of identifying and clarifying issues, and not specifically to make decisions.

The tasks of faculty governance bodies vary greatly - from traditional curriculum management and addressing issues of student integrity to campus planning and budget management. Carlisle and Miller (1999) observed several trends in faculty senates over the past ten years, including administrative reviews of campus leadership and addressing specific campus-based business management issues, such as operational policies.

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