preparation for shared governance

Some of the most rewarding things I’ve done since leaving graduate school are under the umbrella of shared governance: faculty input on the direction and operation of the university. UNC is fortunate to have a generally well-operating, open, and respected faculty governance system and an administration that is relatively respectful of that system. I’ve been a member of Faculty Council (our Faculty Senate), the Educational Policy Committee, an appointed committee to reform the Honor Court system, and am currently on the Faculty Athletics Committee. And tomorrow at the Faculty Council meeting I’ll be rolling out the first part of Carolina’s contextual grade reporting effort: an online reporting tool that will provide instructors broad ability to assess their own grading patterns relative to colleagues across campus.One thing I’ve learned in this process is that implementation is a lot harder than policy, and policy is hard enough! The process of reforming UNC’s broken honor court system has been going on for 2 1/2 years now, and there’s only a faint hope that implementation will happen this semester. For contextual grade reform, there’s been a failed effort to take one approach, followed by years of study and deliberation, a policy decision, another year of implementation work at the legislative level, and a year or so of weekly meetings among me, the registrar’s staff, and the information technology staff to get this report off the ground. I feel good about these innovations, both personally and because I think in both cases we are offering better educational quality–incrementally–to the public we serve. Particularly when budgets are so tight and morale is low, being able to offer innovations in educational quality is terrific.

I’m impressed, too, though, that whatever skills I have in this area were certainly not taught or cultivated in graduate school, where my other faculty-related skills (research, writing, teaching) were developed. I was minorly involved in our graduate student union, but it was not an important focus for me. I think most faculty view graduate students’ involvement in leadership and policy matters as a distraction from their appropriate focus on academic work. Rather, whatever skills I bring to this effort come more from my political activism in high school and college (beginning in the 1980s at Nashvillians for a Nuclear Arms Freeze!). Since coming here I participated in, and learned a ton from, UNC’s Academic Leadership Program, but I think in a certain sense it’s too late – should we provide better ways for graduate students and/or junior faculty to learn about and appreciate the principle and practice of shared university governance as they begin their academic careers?

Of course, one of the major threats to shared governance is that so many Ph.D.’s will be employed on an adjunct basis and may therefore be written out of the governance process, although I would contend that fixed-term faculty ought to be very much part of shared governance. And of course different people will have different tastes and propensities for participation in that process. But I think the questions are important enough, and the value of faculty engagement high enough, that it would be worth some thought about the early-career preparations for it.

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

One thought on “preparation for shared governance”

  1. Hi Andrew,

    I don’t mean to necropost but I just found scatterplot and thought your comments here were very interesting. I’m a graduate student now and have been thinking about these very same questions. I’ve been working with several students, faculty, and administrators at my university to create more resources and opportunities for computational social science and have come to feel that the process is teaching me much more about governance than about being a sociologist. I too did much more in terms of mobilization (political and otherwise) as an undergraduate and feel like those experiences offered me far more wisdom for university participation than any course or departmental work.

    Looking at my situation now, the ways I could be involved, and what other students do; I see a number of avenues for introducing graduate students (I’m not going to feign talking about assistant professors) to governance. I’ll go into two for the sake of space. First, organizing conferences are a great exercise. You have to navigate administration, coordinate fickle speakers, live and die by advertising, and be the point person everyone holds responsible for mishaps. Event management experience in general is a really great and difficult set of skills to learn. Second, entrepreneurship is always one of the best ways to begin to understand how governance works. Acting from the outside and/or getting people to address things they haven’t thought of before can reveal a lot in terms of the basic values, heuristics, and decision-making structure of the organization as people try to interpret and work out the implications of something new. Getting graduate students involved with any generative process; whether new grading systems, a new honors college design, or any sort of reform; would significantly contribute to a familiarity with governance. Beyond these examples, experience in university committee meetings, any role requiring managing people and delegation, and work with journals or disciplinary associations could be great experiences.

    The problem I see, and one I worry about in my own situation, is that I don’t have to live with the consequences of my action. As a graduate student, I will almost certainly leave my university when I (knock on wood) finish my dissertation so whatever I do will affect other generations and probably not me. Faculty will have to live with my success or failure for however long they stay in the job. This is not to suggest that faculty have expressed such things, but that is what I imagine them thinking and I’m very conscientious of this inequality of affects.

    Maybe I’m missing something in my list of ways to get graduate students to begin seeing themselves as a part of university governance and overstating my hesitations about pursuing more student development. But, I definitely agree that this side of academia should be more directly incorporated in graduate education and I think there are many ways and potential benefits to doing it.

    Thanks for the post!


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