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Every institution has some kind of governance -- perhaps an all-powerful founder who makes all decisions, or a board of directors, a bishop, or an executive council. 

Board roomBut theological schools, like other institutions of higher education, have "shared governance." That means that various groups share the legitimate authority over the school. In most schools, there are three or four groups sharing authority:

  1. Board. The board of directors or trustees hires and fires the president, sets long-term goals, approves and oversees the budget, and monitors strategic indicators.
  2. President's office. The president's office includes not just the single person of the president, but also the "cabinet" or chief administrative officers.
  3. Faculty acting as a group. The faculty generally have an official responsibility for curricular decisions. They work with the president's office and the board on major decisions like creating new academic programs. Individual professors are generally not part of the "shared governance" matrix. Rather, the faculty's authority comes from acting in concert.
  4. Church body. In some (but not all) schools, a church leader (like a bishop or denominational president) or ecclesiastical body (like an annual conference or executive council) has authority to appoint the president, elect board members, or exercise other governance functions.

Shared governance is a perennial problem at some theological schools. So In Trust's program developer, Rebekah Burch Basinger has assembled a few articles that can help illuminate shared governance. Click on the titles to read the full text.

"Faculty Professionalism: Failures of Socialization and the Road to Loss of Professional Autonomy." By Neil Hamilton. Appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of Liberal Education. An excerpt:

As the American tradition of academic freedom evolved over the course of the past century, boards have acknowledged the importance of freedom of inquiry and speech to the university's unique mission of creating and disseminating knowledge. Accordingly, they have granted rights of exceptional vocational freedom of speech to professors in research, teaching, and extramural utterance without lay interference on two conditions. The first condition is that individual professors meet correlative duties of professional competence and ethical conduct, and the second is that the faculty, as a collegial body, assume the duty of peer review to enforce the obligations to be met by individual professors.

"Shared Governance: Democracy Is Not an Educational Idea." By Stanley Fish. Appeared in the March/April 2007 issue of Change. An excerpt:

The difference between management and shared governance is that management is, by and large, aware of its instrumental status -- it does not define the job but helps to get it done. Meanwhile, those who preach the gospel of shared governance tend to think of it as the model of organization that belongs naturally to the job. Indeed, in their minds the job, or at least a large part of it, is being democratic.

"What If the Faculty Really Do Assume Responsibility for the Educational Program?" By Jerry G. Jaff. Appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Liberal Education. An excerpt:

The evidence is widespread that the governance of colleges and universities is in need of reform. Jack Schuster and Martin Finkelstein declare that "almost no one is pleased with the way campuses are governed: not faculty, not administrators, not governing boards, not external observers."

Faculty members, administrators, and trustees have an opportunity to reinforce traditional academic and educational values by revising the traditional structures and processes that once supported those values, but that now interfere with them.

"Where Are the Faculty Leaders? Strategies and Advice for Reversing Current Trends." By Adrianna Kezar et al. Appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Liberal Education. An excerpt:

It is easy to stereotype faculty leadership as merely a thorn in the side of administrators, but faculty leadership has a rich tradition that has helped create innovative and intellectually challenging environments. We are convinced that campuses, students, and learning environments will suffer if the current trends affecting faculty leadership are not addressed. We hope that courageous administrators will attempt to reverse these trends rather than take the convenient path of allowing current conditions to snuff out faculty voice and participation.

"Who Decides What?" (pdf) By Michael Rao. A shared governance matrix has helped one university clarify decision-making responsibilities and create a generally collaborative working culture on campus. Appeared in the November/December 2007 issue of Trusteeship. An excerpt:

Successful shared governance often means that trustees and administrators take an interest in an demonstrate an understanding of what professors do in their disciplines, while faculty members show an understanding and respect for the responsibilties held by the university's leaders.


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