I'm hooked on my GPS. No more messing with maps I can never refold. No more disagreements with my wife about which way to turn. No more MapQuest printouts. I enter my destination in my GPS system, set my options, press go, and I’m off without a worry. 

I’ve imagined a similar tool for guiding the faculty, president, and board through the apparent morass called shared governance — a governance positioning system, if you will. Although valuable for anyone involved in institutional decision making, this kind of GPS would be a particular boon for board members who don’t often travel the academic roadways. 

A trustee traveler could enter a desired governance destination — approval of a new academic program, for example. Instantaneously, the prescribed decision pathway would appear on the screen. The numbers 2.3.2 would pop up in the lower right hand corner, indicating the estimated time to a completed decision at two months, three weeks, and two days. Of course, I would need to update my GPS from time to time, syncing the internal maps to changes to the college’s governance documents. Knowing the president and board chair have limited patience with the Sunday drivers who populate faculty committees, I’d include a “fast track icon.” Tap it, and up come directions for reaching the desired destination ASAP. I’d leave it to the GPS to warn about speed limits that would have to be violated and possible “fines” for breaking the rules of the road — fines like a loss of social capital with the faculty. 

Until technology catches up with my imagination, I’m making do with a color-coded governance diagram that I created as a companion piece to the Messiah College Educator Handbook. It’s been helpful to my colleagues to see our decision-making bodies at work on the campus, color-coded and lined up side-by-side on a single page. And I believe it has aided members of the board’s Education Committee in understanding how decisions move through the campus-based governance channels. 

At the end of the day, the global positioning system in my car won’t do the driving. It can’t force me to obey traffic laws and is only as accurate as the information loaded on it. Similarly, my “governance positioning system,” even if it existed, could not make decisions or force compliance with governance policies. It would only be as good as the governance systems that actually exist. Technology can only do so much. It can’t force us to value and implement shared governance. But with the right hardware and software, it could make the journey a lot easier and much more fun. 

For now, I push on with my color-coded governance diagram in hand. Tomorrow, maybe technology will catch up. 

A route to a new major

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