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Shared Governance Is Focus of 2018 ACM Institute on College Futures

Published: April 24, 2018

Shared Governance Is Focus of 2018 ACM Institute on College Futures

Discussion at the 2017 ACM Institute on College Futures.

A controversial speaker, invited to a liberal arts college campus by a student group, is met with vehement protests by students who say the speaker’s views are an affront to the values the college espouses. Other students counter-protest. The president refuses to establish a ban on similarly divisive speakers in the future. Deep fault lines emerge, splitting the campus community over questions of academic freedom and campus discourse.

In difficult situations like this, what are the roles of the college’s top administrators, faculty, and board of trustees in resolving the crisis? Where are the pressure points? How are the lines of authority and responsibility drawn? Are there inclusive, decisive ways to resolve campus issues and conflicts, especially when quick action is required?

These and other questions focusing on shared governance at liberal arts colleges will be explored at the 2018 ACM Institute on College Futures (ICF) on July 13-14 at the ACM office in Chicago.

“This year’s institute will look at the big picture of shared governance, beginning with a keynote by Steven Bahls, the president of Augustana College who has written extensively on the topic,” said Brian Williams, ACM Vice President and Director of Faculty Development and Grant Programs. “He has written that shared governance at a college or university relies on active engagement by faculty, the administration, and the board of trustees to work collaboratively to achieve institutional missions. The model is much different from the way a business is run.”

How can decision-making processes be improved to promote greater transparency, efficiency, and trust, and also be able to adapt as times change?

The seminar is aimed at current and emerging faculty leaders at ACM colleges, especially those who take active leadership roles on campus and are on committees that participate in strategic decision-making. For the initial pilot institute on shared governance, two participants from each ACM campus will be designated by the college’s president and academic dean.

“The goal is for participants to gain a broader understanding of the complexities of strategic decision-making within shared governance structures at their colleges,” Williams said. “What needs to be in place to make shared governance work well? What are the challenges or issues that can get in the way? How can decision-making processes at their colleges be improved to promote greater transparency, efficiency, and trust, and also be able to adapt as times change?”

Sessions at the institute will cover four main topics:

  • External and internal pressures that complicate strategic decision making in the context of shared governance structures
  • Locus of authority in various forms of governance on liberal arts campuses
  • Necessary pre-requisites to effective shared governance
  • Enabling a flexible approach for issues and crises that require agile decision making

Each session will include an opening discussion followed by breakout discussions in which small groups engage with the topic in the context of case studies. The controversial speaker invited to campus (referenced above) is one of the cases. Other cases include a major change in a college’s commitment to access and diversity in its admission policies, a proposal by the dean to disband an academic department as students’ academic interests shift, and a budget crisis triggered by significant drops in enrollment and tuition revenue.

In another set of case studies, the faculty will examine situations that require quick action, making regular shared governance processes problematic.

Supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, ICF has sponsored annual seminars for the past five years to build faculty knowledge of higher education economics and strategies to strengthen ACM colleges' finances. With funding from the Teagle Foundation, ACM also created a set of videos and the ICF Online mini-course on college finances to make the curriculum from those seminars broadly available.

“With the success of the ICF seminars on college finance,” Williams said, “the ACM presidents and deans want to pilot the same model for faculty professional development in shared governance, which is so central to the future of our institutions.”



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