Faculty Communication with Governing Boards
Tiede, Hans-Joerg, Academe
This article was written by a member of the Association's Committee on College and University Governance, who, with the committee's encouragement, prepared it for inclusion in this issue of Academe.
College and university governance works best when every constituency within the institution has a clear understanding of its role with respect to the other constituencies. It works best when communication among the governing board, the administration, and the faculty (not to mention the staffand students) is regular, open, and honest. Too often the president serves as the sole conduit for the governing board and the faculty to communicate with each other. While this practice may be efficient, it rarely enhances understanding between governing boards and faculties.
Whether through committee work, senate activities, or collective bargaining, faculty members and administrative officers are ordinarily engaged in governance activities through both formal meetings and informal discussions and encounters. By contrast, communication between faculty and board members, when it occurs at all, tends to be tightly controlled and very formal. Direct communication between the faculty and the governing board is typically ritualized, infrequent, and limited to specific agenda items.
This comparatively stilted and restricted communication between faculty members and governing boards has been exacerbated in recent years. At the same time, governing boards, encouraged to assume approaches to decision making that are based on corporate models of top-down management, are becoming involved in areas in which the faculty should have primary responsibility. Financial stresses faced by colleges and universities have heightened concerns about the sources of revenues, budgetary priorities, and management of institutions by governing board members who have always been heavily drawn from the business community. However, within the general corporatization of higher education, top-down management styles are becoming more prevalent. As a result, direct communication between the faculty and the board is sometimes actively discouraged. A publication by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni on the role of governing boards in program prioritization asserts that "to the degree that the board has permitted-even encouraged-ex parte communication with faculty, the role and success of the president is jeopardized."
A disturbing lack of consultation in areas of primary faculty responsibility has occurred in a large number of program closures that have taken place in recent years. A recently published draftreport from Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, The Role of the Faculty in Conditions of Financial Exigency, reinforces the need for faculty participation in decision making and close communication between the faculty and the governing board when closing academic programs and terminating tenured faculty appointments.
A report on faculty-board communication issued by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) in 2009, Faculty, Governing Boards, and Institutional Governance, recommends that, in order to "enhance mutual understanding and respect," institutions should provide "opportunities for faculty and trustees to interact in meaningful ways, in formal as well as informal settings" and through "faculty membership on board committees or participation in committee meetings." The report states that faculty members make presentations to the board at 87 percent of 417 institutions surveyed. About onefourth (27 percent) of the institutions include faculty members on the governing board, and the head of the faculty senate serves as a member of the board at 14 percent. More than half of the respondents (56 percent) reported that their institutions had faculty membership on board committees. The report also states that faculty members at independent colleges and universities were almost twice as likely to serve on board committees (61 percent) as those at public institutions (32 percent). …