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What Is Shared Governance?

What Is Shared Governance?

Shared governance is a set of guidelines about the various roles and authority of the board, faculty, and administration in such things as academic decisions, budget decisions, selection of the president, and other operational decisions. But seeing shared governance as creating boundaries and rules of engagement does not lead to the give and take among the faculty, president, and board that builds high-quality, timely decisions.

Effective shared governance more often takes the form of a systems approach, one in which faculty, board members, and administrators actively engage to share responsibility for identifying and pursuing an aligned set of mission-driven sustainable outcomes and priorities.

Shared governance as a system for alignment has two primary parts.

  • The first part is a system for creating alignment of stakeholders on issues of institutional direction by developing common understandings of the challenges the institution faces.
  • The second part is a system of checks and balances for decisions regarding operational issues such as academic programs, tenure and promotion policies, budgeting, and student life.

Shared governance takes a different form on every campus and at every institution, but it should align the faculty, board, and administration in common directions for decision-making regarding institutional direction, supported by a system of checks and balances for non-directional decisions. This tradition of both academic freedom and constituent participation is strikingly different from that of business and more akin to that of other peer-review professions, such as law and medicine.

In seeking to understand shared governance, faculty members often focus on the 1966 AAUP “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities.” Boards often turn to the 2010 “AGB Statement on Board Responsibility for Institutional Governance.” While distinct in many ways, they are both grounded in the understanding that the board and the faculty share a commitment to educational quality and results. As those best positioned to facilitate the successful achievement of institutional missions, they must work collaboratively in pursuit those objectives.

The above was excerpted and adapted from Shared Governance in Times of Change: A Practical Guide for Universities and Colleges by Steven C. Bahls.  Additional resources include the Trusteeship article "How to Make Shared Governance Work: Some Best Practices" by the same author and the AGBU video with AGB President Rick Legon.

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