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College Faculty Senates and University

Since the 1960s the concept of shared governance has both blossomed and withered. Founded on the principals of western European worker-participation models, the practice of instituting faculty senates at universities and colleges throughout America was intended to alleviate the growing pains of the higher education system brought about by the influx of baby boomers (persons who were born between the years of 1946 and 1964, and who enrolled as traditional college students between the years of 1964 and 1987). The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) first suggested formalized shared governance schemes in the 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities. As a result, many institutions began to experiment with various shared governance arrangements, primarily in the form of faculty senates.

According to Barbara Lee, the ebb and flow of shared governance has been guided by two driving forces: politics and economics. Valerie Collins, however, contends that during the 1960s and 1970s a unique set of political factors, including the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, converged on American campuses. In response to the unrest and mistrust this politically ripe time instilled in students, faculties began using senates to ensure their influence over decisions that would affect an increasingly large portion of campus life for both students and faculty. A third interpretation, as expressed in William Tierney and Richard Rhodes's work on faculty socialization, addresses the effect of culture: the culture of the discipline, of the institution, and of the profession. They argue that the culture of the profession engendered a need for faculty service roles in the institution and that this need created a condition that allowed for the inception of faculty senates.

Faculty senates have shared responsibilities, ranging from a limited role in program approval and review of tenure decisions to a more comprehensive role that includes budget review and allocation, senior administrative recruitment, and strategic planning. Faculty senates have been studied to show their effect on participation and influence of faculty members and to critique their inabilities to meet with campus financial constraints. As a result, they have met with both praise and criticism.

The majority of faculty senates operate under a mission statement. These mission statements give the senates guidelines and provide them with an outline of their areas of authority. Jack Blendiger and colleagues list six strengths of academic senates, stating that they provide the means for: (1) determining short-and long-range interests and needs of faculty;(2) articulating expectations of faculty, staff, and students; (3) developing goals and planning strategies; (4) establishing standards and procedures for the review and evaluation of proposed administrative action dealing with curricula offerings, budgetary practices, and faculty recruitment and retention;(5) increasing knowledge and understanding of issues in departments and units; and (6) allocating resources equitably.

The debate about the worth and ultimate viability of faculty senates lies in these senates' missions. In cases where so-called corporate mentalities have infiltrated campuses, the fault has often been in the shortsightedness of the faculty senates' missions. Sheila Slaughter and Larry Leslie describe a case at San Diego State University when the administration attempted to lay off more than 130 tenured faculty members (the layoff ultimately did not go through); the faculty senate was up in arms yet was powerless to act because their mission had left them devoid of power in financial situations. Conversely, in some situations the university administration may have no ability to adjust faculty levels and program existence due to lack of authority or shared authority and may be perceived as weak by the public and by its board of trust.

As the baby-boomer enrollment gave way to the baby bust (individuals who were born between 1970 and 1985, and who have been enrolled in colleges as traditional students since 1988 and will continue to be enrolled through 2007), many colleges and universities began to feel the economic effects of declining enrollment. The shortages of students brought about an era in which streamline, retrench, and economize were common words spoken at most campuses, and in which all aspects of campus governance began to come into question.

Faculty senates and the institution of shared governance remain a vital part of academia. While it is true that universities must maintain financial solvency, they exist in their own microcosm that allows for adherence to cultural artifacts, regardless of their economic efficiency. As Robert Birnbaum has suggested, academic senates may not always work, but they will not go away.


BENDIGER, JACK; CORNELIOUS, LINDA; and MCGRATH, VINCENT. 1998. "Faculty Governance: The Key to Actualizing Professionalism." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, New Orleans, Louisiana, February.

BENJAMIN, ROGER. 1994. The Redesign of Governance in Higher Education. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

BESS, JAMES L. 1982. University Organization: A Matrix Analysis of the Academic Profession. New York: Human Sciences Press.

BESS, JAMES L. 1988. Collegiality and Bureaucracy in the Modern University: The Influence of Information and Power in Decision Making Structures. New York: Teachers College Press.

BIRNBAUM, ROBERT. 1989. "The Latent Organizational Functions of the Academic Senate: Why Senates Do Not Work but Will Not Go Away." Journal of Higher Education 60 (4):423–442.

COLLINGS, VALERIE H. 1996. The Faculty Role in Governance: A Historical Analysis of the Influence of the American Association of University Professors and the Middle States Association on Academic Decision Making. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Memphis, Tennessee.

DOUGLAS, JOEL M. 1995. "An Investigation of Employee Involvement Schemes and Governance Structures in Professional Employment." National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions Newsletter 23 (4).

LEE, BARBARA A. 1979. "Governance at the Unionized Four-Year College: Effects on Decision Making Structures." Journal of Higher Education 50 (5):565–585.

MILLETT, JOHN D. 1978. New Structures of Campus Power. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

RIDGELY, JULIA. 1983. "Faculty Senates and the Fiscal Crisis." Academe 79 (6):7–11.

SLAUGHTER, SHEILA, and LESLIE, LARRY L. 1997. Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.


1993. "Enhancing Promotion, Tenure, and Beyond: Faculty Socialization as a Cultural Process." AHSE-ERIC Education Report 93 (6).


GARY. 1986. "A Matter of Degree: Faculty Morale as a Function of the Involvement in Institutional Decisions during Times of Financial Distress." Review of Higher Education 9 (3):287–301.


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