Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Developing a Mission Statement for a Faculty Senate: The Mission Statement Stakes the Faculty's Claim in the Institutional Decision-Making Process

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Developing a Mission Statement for a Faculty Senate: The Mission Statement Stakes the Faculty's Claim in the Institutional Decision-Making Process

Article excerpt

The role of faculty in institutional governance has been the subject of much debate, argument, and angst on campuses across the nation. This has been especially true in recent years as educational institutions have faced financial challenges tied to the economy, increased market competition, and increasingly centralized governance (Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis 2003; Lee 1991; Mortimer 1971). Faculty participation in shared governance has traditionally been institutionalized in a senate or similar body. While some had predicted that the senate model would wane with the advent of campus unionization, faculty senates have endured. For example, Birnbaum (1989) found that as late as the 1980s, 60 to 80 percent of campuses had senates or similar bodies. However, the effectiveness of faculty senates continues to be questioned.

Effectiveness of Faculty Senates

In a study by Minor (2004a), 87 percent of faculty respondents to a national survey felt that shared governance was a key component of their institution's value and identity, yet more than half reported not being satisfied with their role in campus decision making. While many believe that faculty involvement in shared governance is important, the vehicles used for shared governance are often considered ineffective. (1) Birnbaum (1989) noted that one such vehicle, the faculty senate, is commonly characterized as inept, vestigial, weak, ineffective, and unresponsive. (2)

The effectiveness of faculty senates has been discussed in the literature. However, there is a paucity of quantitative studies that dispassionately examine the degree to which faculty senates effectively contribute to institutional governance and/or the characteristics that can be associated with the effectiveness of these bodies. Minor (2003) is a notable exception. In a survey of 763 institutions, he examined the perceived effectiveness of faculty senates and the characteristics and activities that contribute to effectiveness. He found that faculty involvement is the most important factor contributing to faculty senate effectiveness.

As their perceived legitimacy diminishes, faculty senates may face existential threats from a variety of stakeholders. For example, Boston College disbanded its faculty senate in the mid-1970s as it reformed its governance structure in the wake of financial pressures. Given the faculty senate's lack of efficacy, Helms and Price (2005) noted that this "was not a contentious move. Indeed, many faculty members supported it" ([paragraph] 4). In 2001, the University of Notre Dame's faculty senate voted to disband itself because of its lack of influence (Kellogg 2001). Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's provost suspended its senate in 2007, and in 2008 the president of the University of the District of Columbia attempted to disband its senate shortly after taking office (Moran 2008).

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing faculty senates is apathy among the faculty about their activities and role in shared governance (Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis 2003; Kezar and Eckel 2004; Minor 2003). Kezar and Eckel (2004) listed several factors that almost all faculty can relate to as barriers to participation in faculty senate activities or, more broadly, shared governance. They also considered the challenges a senate faces in influencing important external constituencies such as state legislators. Addressing these barriers in a meaningful way requires clarity of purpose, competency in action, and a level of responsiveness appropriate to a changing academic environment. These characteristics, when combined with factors that have been associated with senate efficacy, point to critical elements that must be embedded in a faculty senate's mission statement in order to promote its effectiveness.

The Key Role of a Faculty Senate's Mission/Vision Statement

Clearly, if faculty senates want to maintain a place in the modern university, then they must be both effective and viewed as such by faculty, administrators, and other campus stakeholders. …

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