When Shared Governance and Process Efficiency Collide

Policies in Higher Education: When Shared Governance and Process Efficiency Collide

Written by ComplianceBridge Policies & Procedures Team on October 28, 2016

This blog was contributed by Lynda Lloyd, M. Ed., Director of Policy, Adjunct Faculty, NWACC

Many of us who came to publicly funded higher education from the private business sector experienced a few weeks of, well, shock, at the amount of bureaucratic red tape necessary for decision making and process implementation. At some point, you either decide you love the environment, and stay forever, or…you run!

Compliance and Shared Governance

For those who stay, just about the time you make the “red tape” transition, you discover another concept distinctive to higher education: Shared Governance. The idea of shared governance became popular in the 1960’s when academic institutions began to liberalize processes. This new philosophy was subsequently endorsed in the mid-60’s by the American Association of University Professors, the America Council on Education, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. I muse that shared governance is often carried about in faculty circles as if it were the Holy Grail. And frankly, that’s not too far from the truth!

Non-academics may ask, “What is shared governance? What does it mean and how does it work?” Believe me, many higher education administrators ask the same question. One of my favorite articles, “What Exactly is Shared Governance?” was published in The Chronicle of Higher of Higher Education (Olson, June 2009). In this article, two complementary, overlapping concepts of shared governance are defined:

  1. Everyone has a role
  2. Certain constituencies are given primary responsibility over decision making in certain areas.

In everyday terms, this is pretty much how it goes on campus: faculty firmly believe they should have a voice in all matters within the organization. No one can dig their feet in any deeper than a faculty member who feels that shared governance has been violated. Considering that we have between four and five hundred full-time and adjunct (part-time) faculty at my institution any given time, some of these feet can really get stuck in the muck! Now I give my disclaimer, this is a generalization and I am only at liberty to poke fun since I am adjunct faculty in addition to my job with policy management. The dilemma comes with the second concept, specifically, who are those “constituencies” in relation to faculty voices.

“So what?” you ask. Imagine implementing new and revised policies within organizations where hundreds or thousands of well-educated and outspoken individuals clamor for a voice. A utopian concept? Maybe, but as a policy manager respecting the notion of shared governance while striving to work efficiently within that culture, you must learn the delicate balance of figuring out how to provide a voice in decision making to various and often large groups of people while maintaining primary responsibility for specific, smaller groups of administrators.

Communication Key to Compliance and Shared Governance

Between May of 2015 and May of 2016, a committee comprised of our faculty, staff and administrators met for the sole purpose of reviewing and improving policy making, specifically addressing methods to improve communication. And there you have it, in its simplest form, shared governance is all about communication. Faculty and staff alike just want to be kept informed about “what” and “why”. They want to be kept in loop with confidence that their voices are heard along the way.

What transpired was implementation of three distinct policy process models for:

  1. General Administrative Policy
  2. Academic Policy
  3. Compliance/Regulatory Policy

So far, the balance is working with only a slight tipping of the scale here and there. Is it easy? No. Do frustrations and miscommunications still arise? Yes. But the bottom line is that within an organization that endeavors to achieve efficiency in processes, reveres shared governance, and yet continues to be inundated with federal and state requirements for compliance, communication is growing and policy processes are flowing.

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