The search will soon begin for a new Vice Chancellor for Human Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine here at UC Davis Health. As we search for a leader, many are asking more questions than ever about how we are led and how others outside of administration get to participate in governance in our school, on the campus, and in the department. The University of California (UC) system of shared governance, first established in 1920, is considered one the attributes that has made us one of the world’s greatest universities. Shared governance is not present everywhere. Even here at UC, most of us are not very sure what “shared governance” actually means. In fact, this very question came up at the recent Council of Chairs retreat when a participant shared his opinion that he had not seen much evidence of shared governance recently from campus or from the UC Office of the President. Over my 30 years at UC Davis, I’ve often heard similar comments – especially during challenging times when there are tough decisions to be made about distribution of resources, leadership choices, policy implementation, and lots of other things. I therefore thought the concept behind shared governance was worth exploring and sharing in this blog so that we all better understand our roles and opportunities, and so we participate as fully as possible.
An article from the Chronicle of Higher Education shares the example of a leadership search in which a committee composed of faculty and other stakeholders vet candidates, conduct preliminary interviews, determine finalists, and provide unranked input re: these finalists to the dean whose role it then is to use this input to identify a finalist, negotiate with that finalist, close the deal, and ensure the success of the individual chosen.
Shared governance is formally defined by the UC Board of Regents as a partnership between the University officers (the President and his/her administration, the campus chancellors and their administrations), and the faculty through the Academic Senate. Each of these governance partners have broad areas of authority and responsibility outlined in the Bylaws and Standing Orders of The Regents.1 Via the Academic Senate, the faculty are given primary responsibility for curriculum, admissions, and awarding degrees. The Academic Senate also provides advice to the President, the campus chancellors, and their designees on many issues of academic policy, including budget, library administration, and the appointment and advancement of faculty members. This is accomplished through many Senate committees, including the Faculty Executive Committee, the Faculty Personnel Committee, the Curriculum and Student Progress committees, and more.2 A bone of contention has been that not all of the medical school faculty are members of the Academic Senate – but faculty in the Health Science Clinical Professor series and Adjunct series participate in governance through the Academic Federation which is consulted regarding Senate processes and decisions. As Daniel Simmons, a professor of law at UC Davis has written:
“The faculty becomes a partner with the administration in working out common ground from which to face the challenges of the times…. Without mutual participation in decision making the faculty and the administration would stand apart on opposite sides of a table unproductively complaining each about the recalcitrant position of the other as is the case in some universities with a unionized faculty.”2
Despite Professor Simmons’ optimism, we faculty do sometimes “unproductively complain” – but this may be because faculty expect the processes of shared governance to be just like the democratic process we experience in our state and federal government. Clearly, at UC, few decisions are made by a simple faculty vote, be it for selection of faculty or leaders, promotions or merit advancements, curricular changes, budget, or other major decisions. An article from the Chronicle of Higher Education notes that shared governance means each partner has a role, though they do not participate in every stage or in the same way.3 The article shares the example of a leadership search in which a committee composed of faculty and other stakeholders vet candidates, conduct preliminary interviews, determine finalists, and provide unranked input re: these finalists to the dean whose role it then is to use this input to identify a finalist, negotiate with that finalist, close the deal, and ensure the success of the individual chosen. 3 Clearly, in this example, the faculty and administrative level share in the process, though each has a unique role, and both greatly influence the final decision.
In our department, faculty participate in shared governance in many ways. On the department level, we have many faculty committees, including our Finance Advisory Committee, Advisory Committee on Research, Advisory Committee on Education, Residency Advisory Committee, Faculty Work-Life Committee, Mentoring Committee, search committees, review committees, and other ad hoc committees. I greatly appreciate the advice that these committees provide to me – the job of chair is too big to do alone. I’m also proud that our department faculty have a long-standing history of strong participation in shared governance on the school-level. Department faculty currently or previously serve as chair and/or members of various curriculum committees, Student Progress Committees, Admissions Committee, Faculty Personnel Committee, Faculty Executive Committee, Institutional Review Board, search committees for a variety of positions across UCD Health, and more. We participate on the campus level, too, through department representatives to the Academic Senate, and as members of other campus committees. Getting involved is important – not only does this meet service requirements in the academic advancement process, it is an important opportunity to influence the direction of our school and campus, as well as a chance to learn how the various units operate which can be important if faculty want to pursue leadership opportunities in the future.
What is the role of our department administrators and other administrative staff in shared governance? Faculty expect administrators and staff to serve them by facilitating their programmatic needs – and our administrators and staff certainly do that. However, department administrators are an important bridge between shared governance partners. It is the duty of our administrative team to support faculty by enforcing the rules of our university – this ensures that goals are met and accomplished in a timely manner, and that the values of the University are upheld. Enforcing rules are not always pleasant or easy, and I am grateful to our administrative team for taking on this often unpopular but necessary task – they do this because they care about UC’s commitment to excellence in research, education and clinical care as much as the faculty do.
Lastly, as department chair, I am also a bridge – when I gave my vision statement as a candidate for chair, I shared that one of the chair’s most important roles is to serve as the communicator that links the “inside” of our department (our faculty) to the “outside” (ie., leaders in the school and campus, such as deans, vice chancellors, provost and chancellor). I am therefore sometimes a faculty member representing the faculty to administration as part of shared governance. And I am sometimes an administrator representing the views and priorities from the higher levels to the faculty. Clearly, this is is a middle-management job, as one department chair remarked at our chairs’ retreat. But that doesn’t mean it’s not influential – the departments are the engines that achieve the University’s missions, and the rainmakers that bring in dollars so that we can achieve even more. Our faculty’s voice is therefore important, so I encourage everyone to participate in shared governance as fully as possible.