Defining shared governance

In autumn 2014, the board of trustees of Multnomah University adopted a new statement clarifying the roles of the board, the president, and the other stakeholders in the university’s system of shared governance.

Shared governance is a topic of frequent confusion and misunderstanding in higher education. This statement offers an example of how one school has defined shared governance and identified each of its principal stakeholders. It makes clear that the ultimate responsibility for the institution lies with the board of trustees, but it also explains the president’s “delegated authority” and the faculty’s “delineated authority,” both under the board’s final authority.

In this document, “delegated” means that the board has empowered the president to act with the backing of the board’s authority within broadly specified parameters, such as in hiring faculty and staff. “Delineated” refers to more focused authority in particular areas, such as the faculty’s responsibility for curriculum design.

Multnomah president Craig Williford has given permission for In Trust to publish excerpts from the statement, which was adapted from a similar document produced at Cedarville University.

The full statement from Multnomah is available at

At Multnomah University, we want biblical principles to guide our service together. We desire our policies and practices in shared governance to be informed by our faith commitments. Therefore, we choose to begin with a series of covenantal commitments and integrate these into our shared governance philosophy and approach.

The following document outlines our approach to how we serve together through relationship-based shared governance that honors the dignity of all persons while considering the views of the board, faculty, staff, administrators, and students on matters in which they have direct responsibility and reasonable interest.

Shared governance is a term commonly used to denote the delineated responsibilities of those charged with accomplishing the task of educating students and assessing the enterprise of education. The overarching purpose of shared governance is to involve all stakeholders in the educational process in order to work toward excellence in the education and training of students.

Definition of shared governance

Shared governance is a complex concept and difficult to effectively implement. It is a delicate balance between: board governance; faculty and staff participation in planning; work and decision-making processes; and administrative leadership/accountability. Authentic shared governance attempts to balance maximum participation in decision making with clear accountability.

Stakeholders in shared governance

The board of trustees. The final administrative authority of Multnomah University is vested in the board of trustees. They retain the fundamental responsibility and ultimate authority for the institution’s legal, fiscal, academic, and operational well-being.

The president. The president is the chief executive officer of Multnomah University and is appointed by the board of trustees to exercise general supervision over all the affairs of the university, including the academic division. The president has final delegated authority over the educational activities of Multnomah University. The president assures that all actions and policies are in harmony with the institution’s corporate and educational mission, doctrinal statement, and appropriate Christian lifestyle. The president delegates responsibilities to other members of the administrative team.

The faculty. The faculty (as a whole and individually) is responsible to the chair of their department, the chair and/or dean of their respective division, the provost, the president, and — through the latter — to the board of trustees. The trustees and president have given delineated authority and responsibility to the faculty, as a whole, for matters related to the curriculum of the university and for all generated educational standing and special committees of the university.

The staff. The staff is responsible to their direct supervisors, area vice presidents, and ultimately to the president. In support of the university mission, staff members carry out many of the critical administrative processes of the university. They have delineated authority through their reporting structure to complete their tasks.

The students and additional stakeholders. Students are the institution’s main educational focus and have a legitimate interest in matters affecting their ability to complete their education. When appropriate, the faculty, administration, and board of trustees should initiate communication with students.

Alumni, individual supporters, and supporting churches are constituent stakeholders whose perspectives and insights are valuable and should be considered when appropriate.

Roles in shared governance

The role of the board in shared governance

The board of trustees acting as a whole — not as individuals — possesses the final authority for accomplishing the mission of the institution. The board’s role is one of policy-making and oversight, not management or implementation of policy. Trustees have rightful access to all information necessary for successful oversight relating to the institution. It shall be within their power to formulate policies and to authorize all legal and business matters necessary to carry out corporate policy. Board members delegate authority to the administration, which delineates authority to faculty and staff.

Administrative and faculty decisions are subject to review by the board of trustees as defined above. Board members normally concur with the administrative and faculty judgments except in rare instances and for compelling reasons. In cases when the board of trustees has to veto an administrative or faculty decision, they will communicate the decision and its rationale in an open, clear, and timely manner.

The role of the president in shared governance

The president is the chief executive officer of Multnomah University and is appointed by the board of trustees to exercise general supervision over all the affairs of the university, including the academic division.

The president has final delegated authority as described below:

  • The president, as the chief executive officer, is responsible for the execution of the policies of the board of trustees and for the administration of the entire institution.

  • The president, by virtue of office, shall be a voting member of the board of trustees and an ex officio voting member in all its committees.

  • The president shall uphold the mission of the institution and its distinctive educational aims and objectives.

  • The president shall safeguard the doctrinal standards and the spiritual vitality of the institution through the selection of faculty and staff members who are wholly dedicated to Jesus Christ and competent in their chosen fields of service.

  • The president shall delegate responsibility and authority to faculty and staff as appropriate to form an efficient organization that advances the institution’s mission.

  • The president shall be the chair of both the undergraduate and graduate faculties, delegating those duties as appropriate.

  • The president is responsible for the hiring, promotion, and termination of faculty and staff of the institution, delegating as appropriate those decisions to faculty or staff administrators and retaining veto power over faculty and staff recommendations.

  • The president is responsible for the financial soundness of the institution and shall recommend an annual budget for trustee approval.

  • The president shall represent Multnomah to academic, church, and community constituencies in a Christ-like manner.

The president serves in three roles: board member, chief administrator, and faculty member. He or she will delegate appropriate levels of authority and responsibilities to others so they can effectively participate in the fulfillment of Multnomah University’s educational mission.

The role of the faculty in shared governance

Faculty, as in any institution of higher learning, plays a significant role in the oversight of Multnomah University. Under the final authority of the board of trustees and the delegated authority of the administration, the faculty collectively will exercise delineated authority over instruction and curriculum and will share responsibility for many standards and policies. The recommendation of major changes in policy or the provision of advice to the administration or board of trustees on central issues of concern rests with the faculty as a whole.

Delegated authority. The board of trustees delegates the structure and operational processes of the academic division to the faculty as a whole or to properly established committees, schools, and departments under the supervision of the department chair, the chairs and/or deans of the respective schools or divisions, the provost, and the president. The faculty will exercise their authority through the following:

  • Formal action in faculty meetings

  • Committees

  • School meetings

  • Department meetings

The latter three areas are designed to implement established policy, to develop and recommend changes, and to interpret policy as necessary. Under the final administrative authority of the board of trustees and the delegated authority of the administration, the faculty is given responsibility for establishing a workable committee structure for the operation of the academic division and its respective divisions and departments for its implementation.

Delineated authority. The faculty has delineated authority through the administration and the board of trustees for the development of curriculum, subject matter, methods of instruction, research, faculty recruitment and status, and many aspects of student life that relate directly to the educational process — including the assignment of grades. Faculty members also set requirements for the degrees offered in courses, determine when the requirements have been met, and authorize the president and the board to grant the degrees achieved.

The faculty exercises three distinct roles:

  • A decision-making role. Faculty assumes a decision-making role in all aspects of the academic division outlined under “delineated authority” above.

  • An advisory role. The faculty has an advisory role in some areas of university governance. This would include the selection of leadership within the academic division, policies related to admissions requirements, and faculty standards. In an advisory role, the faculty participates with the administration and the board of trustees in the decision-making process. This role gives the faculty voice in key decisions while trustees retain final authority.

  • A consulting role. The faculty has a consulting role in some areas. Faculty input may come in the form of representation on committees and task forces, surveys, open forums, focus groups, etc.

The role of staff in shared governance

The staff has delineated authority through the administration and the board of trustees for the development and implementation of logistic processes critical to the success of Multnomah University. Supervisors will outline the scope and principles to guide staff decision making. Matching appropriate levels of authority with responsibility boosts morale by ensuring that staff members have freedom to lead in their areas. Staff members possess valuable expertise and firsthand information about how best to serve our students and potential students. When possible, faculty, the board of trustees, and administrators should seek input from the staff when considering university changes and new initiatives.

The role of students and additional stakeholders in shared governance

Students, alumni, individual supporters, and supporting churches are constituent stakeholders who have valuable perspectives and insights. While they have no primary initiating or implementing function, these constituencies have opinions that trustees, administration, and faculty will wisely factor into long-range planning, assessment, and decision making.

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