College and University Governance

By Gerber, Larry G. | Academe, January/February 2015 | Go to article overview

College and University Governance


Gerber, Larry G., Academe


Most discussions of the AAUP's origins and subsequent history focus on the Association's role in defending principles of academic freedom and tenure. From shortly after its beginning a century ago, however, the AAUP has also played a crucial role in advancing the principle that faculty members, by virtue of their professional expertise in scholarship and teaching, ought to be centrally involved in college and university governance. The AAUP's efforts to formulate and implement the principles of what has come to be called "shared governance" have included the issuance of policy statements, formal investigations of institutions I where available evidence has indicated major violations of i AAUP-recommended governance norms, occasional surveys of colleges and universities to determine the state of actual governance practices in American higher education, sponsorship of conferences and training workshops focusing on the issues of governance, and individual casework by national staff members.

POLICY STATEMENTS

The Association's foundational document, the landmark 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, prepared by a committee of fifteen eminent professors, was premised on the idea that faculty members-like doctors and lawyers-are professionals who require significant autonomy to carry out their mission. In emphasizing the special "nature of the academic calling," the declaration proclaimed that the "conception of a university as an ordinary business venture, and of academic teaching as a purely private employment," demonstrated "a radical failure to apprehend the nature of the social function discharged by the professional scholar." That function, the committee explained, "is to deal at first hand, after prolonged and specialized technical training, with sources of knowledge; and to impart the results of their own and of their fellow-specialists' investigations and reflection, both to students and to the general public, without fear or favor." Faculty members might well be appointed to their positions by college or university trustees, but they were not "in any proper sense the employees" of those trustees, because "once appointed, the scholar has professional functions to perform in which the appointing authorities have neither competency nor moral right to intervene." These functions included not only evaluating the qualifications and performance of fellow faculty members but also exercising primary responsibility for such academic matters as the determination of the curriculum and the establishment and maintenance of academic standards. From its inception, the AAUP recognized that academic freedom and faculty governance are, as a 1994 statement put it, so "inextricably linked" that one could not thrive without the other.

The centrality of governance issues for the nascent AAUP resulted in the Association's voting at its third annual meeting in 1916 to establish a Committee T on the Place and Function of Faculties in University Government and Administration (now the Committee on College and University Governance). Beginning with the earliest AAUP investigative reports concerning instances of administration abuses of academic freedom and tenure, these reports have also included significant statements about the need for meaningful faculty involvement in governance. The first such report, which dealt with the termination of the appointments of four longtime professors at the University of Utah and the resignation in protest of seventeen others, expressed particular concern about the lack of adequate procedures and peer review in the dismissals. The investigating committee noted "with much satisfaction" that the university administration had sought to resolve the crisis that followed the dismissals and resignations by accepting a faculty proposal for establishing a new system of shared governance that gave the faculty a far greater voice, not only in dismissal proceedings but also in most other areas of academic decision making. …

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