“Shared governance is a long-time feature of American higher education, yet it remains a frequently misunderstood and often maligned aspect of academic life,” states Rebekah Basinger in a 2010 In Trust article (originally published in a longer version in Volume 44.2 of Theological Education as “More than simply getting along: The goal of shared governance in theological schools”).

In her article, Basinger acknowledges that board members, administrators, and faculty of theological schools often express doubt or confusion about shared governance and the way it works. However, if done properly, shared governance allows theological institutions to further their missions and “advance God’s purposes for the church.”

To clear up some confusion about the concept, Basinger provides a little background on the development and implementation of shared governance and its purpose in promoting collaboration and distribution of decision-making responsibilities. She acknowledges that shared governance is not implemented the same way at every school, but in each iteration, the essential definition of “the process of distributing authority, power, and influence among campus constituencies” remains a constant.

Basinger also lists some shared governance myths that often cloud the perception of the concept and cause doubt in its suitability for theological schools. Among these myths is the belief that everyone must be involved in making every decision to the same extent. On the contrary, Basinger provides guidelines for how decision-making should be distributed:

  • Legislative. The board has primary responsibility, shared with the president, and the faculty has input.
  • Institutional. The administration has primary responsibility, as delegated by the board, and employees have input.
  • Educational. The faculty has primary responsibility, with administrative and board oversight.

In order for shared governance to be implemented correctly, institutions must identify their stakeholders, the decisions facing their school, and the roles each group of stakeholders will have in these decisions. In addition to the guidelines above, Basinger provides steps for facilitating this distribution of responsibilities.

Regardless of the model of shared governance used (and these are also outlined in Basinger’s article), implementing some form of shared governance is important to develop trust and collaboration among a seminary board, administration, and faculty. Doing so will ultimately benefit the mission and morale of the whole school.

We’d like to hear from our readers on this subject. How have you seen shared governance implemented at your institution? What role do you serve in the decision-making process? Has the use of shared governance on your campus been a success?

To read Basinger’s article, click here. (You must log in to read the article. If you are affiliated with an In Trust Center member school or organization, you can create on online account and log in.)

To read more on shared governance, check out “The role of the faculty in shared governance” (no login required) or “Defining shared governance” (login required).