The Institute on College Futures changed focus in July to explore the important topic of shared governance in the residential liberal arts college setting. Participating in the two-day pilot session were faculty members from all 14 ACM member colleges, along with one president and three deans who served as facilitators.
“The last five institutes were designed to help faculty better understand the financial model and the financial pressures under which their colleges operate,” said Brian Williams, ACM’s Vice President and Director of Faculty Development and Grant Programs. “Approximately 250 faculty members from the 14 member colleges were able to participate in those sessions. This pilot offering adds a new dimension to the topics the ACM might cover in future iterations of ICF.”
“Every college has a shared governance structure that has been developed and shaped over time,” Williams said. “As a result, on the 14 different campuses there are 14 different ways that shared governance works.”
The premise in hosting an ICF on shared governance is that while faculty members, administrators and board members may disagree on how shared governance should work, they would agree that outcomes of the shared governance processes occasionally are not commensurate with the effort expended.
Faculty participants explored four issues common to shared governance structures across the 14 campuses, including: external and internal pressures that complicate strategic decision making; locus of authority; necessary pre-requisites to effective shared governance; and enabling a flexible approach for issues and crises that require agile decision making. Case studies were developed to enable faculty to explore these questions in multi-institutional break-out groups. The goal was to offer a curriculum that would enable participants to envision and support more strategic decision-making processes on their campuses.
A survey of the participants elicited generally positive feedback on the workshop, along with some constructive criticisms.
One participant rated the gathering as “one of the most programmatically useful conferences I have ever participated in. It gave me immediately useful tools and ideas to carry back to my campus and my work.” Another noted that “The workshop-based model considering case-studies with breakout groups was very productive. My group was full of astute thinkers who brought a variety of perspectives to problems.”
The feedback also included a suggestion that faculty members lead some of the sessions, while another expressed interest in hearing the perspective of board members.
The ACM consortial office is exploring how the model for these Institutes could be used for ongoing faculty development programming through a series of seminars in Emerging Topics in the Liberal Arts. The goal is to make the shared governance and the higher-education economics content available to ACM faculty and staff, but also to other liberal arts colleges.