Advise and Consent
Taking faculty governance seriously

"Part of what makes universities special is the idea that decisions are made collectively by a group of scholars. It's an important goal that needs to be sustained."
Robert Schapiro, Associate Professor of Law

"I think there are limits to faculty governance; it stops short of management."
Micheal Giles, Goodrich C. White Professor of Political Science

Standing governance bodies at Emory

Citizenship or Sandbox Politics?
Two models of faculty governance

Fostering Frank and Healthy Communication
The Past and Future of the University Senate
William T. Branch Jr., Carter Smith Sr. Professor of Medicine and President, University Senate

Crossing the Great Divide
Enhancing faculty-trustee communication
Karen Stolley, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese

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Some angst usually arrives with a nomination to a faculty committee. On one hand is the call to civic duty and a genuine desire to make a positive contribution to the university. On the other is the dread of endless meetings, neglected scholarship, and doubts about whether the work will make a difference.

But recent campus debates about the organization of the arts and sciences and cuts to employee fringe benefits have stirred new enthusiasm at Emory for an effective, efficient faculty governance system that encourages and rewards participation. This renewed interest, says associate professor of sociology and former University Senate president Frank Lechner, is no surprise.

“I think most people are concerned not about governance structures per se, but about outcomes. If things go more or less as they like, they are not concerned about governance. But if there are decisions not to their liking, then faculty governance becomes a problem.”

The purview of faculty governance within each school is usually clear; it usually encompasses curriculum and academic policy and planning. But what precisely faculty may govern at the university-wide level is much murkier. Should the Faculty Council and the University Senate (or the University Advisory Council on Teaching, the Commis-sion on Research, or any such group) have a voice in the fiscal management of the university? Should they have power of consent, or should they merely advise?

Voices and Vision

“There are people hired to run the university—the president, the vice presidents, the provost,” says Professor of Medicine Michael Lubin, a former University Senate member. “They are directly responsible for what happens in the university and therefore, from my perspective, the final decision is theirs. But I do think it’s important for the faculty to have a strong voice—a moral, ethical, and, we hope, dispassionate view. When faculty feel they have been left out of the decision-making process, things get contentious.”

Luke Johnson, Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins and also a former University Senate president, holds to a more definitive view. “When it comes to teaching, research, programs—our intellectual life—I strongly feel that the faculty role goes beyond simply advice. In these matters, I think the faculty is the university, and governance should enable that.”

Johnson also points out that the strictly advisory model can set up a reactive style of governance. “It is difficult for faculty governance bodies to set a positive agenda for the university,” Johnson says, “and not to descend to the trivial, because the money and authority do not rest with them, nor are they in a position to have oversight of the whole. Unless they are really partners in the conversation from the beginning, they end up trivializing and resisting.”

Lechner places responsibility on faculty for joining that partnership. “In principle, I am in favor of strong faculty involvement. But I also think if we want a greater role, then we must take the role much more seriously than we have so far—doing much more careful research, making more careful arguments. On some issues, the faculty needs to engage in thoughtful deliberation and take the time to do that well.”

But faculty need persuasive reasons to take on such demanding work, alongside research and teaching. “Faculty governance is good and effective insofar as it does not take away from the central concerns of the faculty and the mission of the school, but rather enhance them,” Johnson says. “The issue, of course, is what things enhance and what things detract?”

Lechner adds, “We need a sense that the stakes are high enough and that they’re worth the payoff. It’s partly a matter of how governance efforts by faculty come across to the administration and actually influence the course of events.”

Harriet King, senior vice provost for academic affairs, who sits ex officio on the Faculty Council, argues that faculty governance as it currently exists does influence decisions, although that influence is not always evident. “There are not institutionalized mechanisms by which faculty know their advice has been heard. I think one of the things the administration does not do well is make clear how the faculty has influenced decisions.”

In fact, suggests business school assistant professor of organization and management Joe Labianca, who studies organizational networks in academia, faculty may not be in the best position to determine an institution’s overall direction. “Faculty can be in some instances limiting,” he says. “Sometimes their view of what the university should be like may not be very well in touch with what’s going on in the environment of higher education in general. The administration’s role is to understand how that environment is changing, and in a lot of cases, the faculty can’t keep up with those kinds of changes.”

Who, then, leads the charge to define an intellectual vision for the university? Lechner and Labianca both believe it requires intertwined, though distinct, efforts of the administration and faculty. “The administration should not be in charge of the intellectual vision,” says Labianca. “Vision is an emergent property of the faculty’s interaction, and as faculty and circumstances change, the vision changes. Administrators should interpret that emergent vision for external stakeholders to garner the resources necessary for our continuing work. Having the faculty try to articulate a unified vision is an enormous waste of time.”

But Lechner believes some underlying consensus drives conversations about the university’s direction. “Faculty governance is a concern right now because we are in a critical period—we have made significant advances, but how are we going to get past this plateau? It’s fair to say that many initiatives recently to define the direction of the university have involved significant numbers of faculty, even if they did not go through the formal channels of faculty governance. Never-theless, there is some work to be done in setting the university’s academic direction: what does it mean to be excellent these days, and in what areas can Emory be excellent?

“It’s not just a matter of formulating a strategic plan; it’s also developing a culture of planning, where everybody in the administration and faculty is held accountable. I’m not sure the existing structures of faculty governance are necessarily the right instruments for that.”


A number of ideas have been bandied about for improving the present structures. One focus is strengthening the connections between university-level governance and school-level governance, particularly in Emory College. “The college has several representatives to the Faculty Council [of the University Senate],” says Emory College interim dean Bobby Paul. “And we have an Executive Committee within the college, but there isn’t much interchange or overlap between them. If we want to make our voice heard through the proper channels all the way up, the Faculty Council is the recognized means for doing so. Policy proposed in the Executive Committee needs to find its way to the higher administration through the Faculty Council.”

Others have raised the notion of greater formal contact between university trustees and faculty, perhaps through faculty positions on the board of trustees (see page 7). “I would advocate that as one possibility,” says Goodrich C. White Professor of Political Science Micheal Giles. “Without that structured relationship, all the information the trustees are getting is through the president. And that colors the kinds of information that gets passed to them.”

King says, “It is critical for the board to have information from faculty and for them to be in conversation together. But that does not require that faculty have a representative on the board.” A.O.A.