Shared Governance

Campus Governance Leaders Toolkit

What is Shared Governance?

"Shared governance" in higher education refers to structures and processes through which faculty, professional staff, administration, governing boards and, sometimes, students and staff participate in the development of policies and in decision-making that affect the institution. You are now the head of your campus governance body, an important component of your college’s shared governance structure.

While the administration and governing board of the institution are compelled to consider the campus governance body's resolutions and recommendations, they are not required to accept or implement them. After the submission of resolutions, the CGL should work with the administration to assure their acceptance. If conflict arises, ongoing negotiations should be conducted to arrive at the best possible result. Thus, rejection of resolutions or recommendations should occur rarely and then only for specific compelling reasons which should be communicated to the governance body. Rejection of resolutions, however, is NOT the best possible result and should be only a last resort.

committee votingThe campus governance body takes different forms at different community colleges within SUNY. Some colleges have a body of the whole (in which, for example, all members of the faculty and all members of the professional staff have a vote). Other colleges have a faculty senate, in which elected senators from among the faculty each have a vote. Still other colleges have a college-wide senate, in which elected senators from among various constituencies (faculty, professional staff, support staff, and students) each have a vote. The structure of your college's governance body is described in its bylaws.

Regardless of the structure of shared governance at your college, faculty should retain purview over and primary responsibility for the curriculum, methods of instruction, academic standards, program development, degree requirements, and academic student affairs.

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How does Academic Freedom link to shared governance?

While many understand the principle of academic freedom in relation to intellectual pursuits, pedagogical decisions and the advancement of knowledge and learning, academic freedom also provides for the faculty right to participate in shared governance and to inform and critique institutional policies. In fact, SUNY Board of Trustees policy for all SUNY institutions establishes the right to academic freedom and the SUNY Board of Trustees regulations for community colleges specifically establishes that faculty has a right and a responsibility to speak on policies related to the institution. The vehicles by which community college faculty participate in this right and responsibility are the local shared governance system and, at the state level, the Faculty Council of Community Colleges.

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What is the difference between unions and shared governance?

Labor unions are concerned with the “terms and conditions of employment” of their members and of workers in general.  Unions negotiate labor contracts (collective bargaining agreements or CBAs) with employers on behalf of their members, and educate their members about labor issues. CBAs often include provisions regarding salaries, benefits, working conditions, job security, grievance procedures, and guidelines for hiring, firing, promotions, etc. Once signed by both sides and ratified by a vote of the membership, these contracts are legally binding on both sides.

Any provision in the CBA is the province of the union leadership and can only be changed through negotiation and legal agreement between management and elected union leadership. A shared governance body cannot negotiate contractual language with either management or the union, but shared governance may have a legitimate interest in the academic implications of labor agreements. Similarly union leadership may have a legitimate concern with the labor implications of any action taken as a result of decisions made through a shared governance process.

Shared governance should address all important issues of the college, not only employment issues, from a viewpoint that supports the overall academic quality of the institution, not only the fair treatment of employees. The more union organizations and shared governance structures work together to clarify their respective roles and not interfere with each other’s legitimate work, the better governance and union will function and the better the institution will function. 

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