Advise and Consent

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

Advise and Consent:
Taking faculty governance seriously

"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

Return to Contents

Academic Exchange (AE): Do you think our university-level faculty governance works?

Robert Schapiro (RS): I just finished two years on the Faculty Council, and from that perspective I can see some things that seem to work fairly well and some things that other structures might handle
better. It’s certainly good to get people together from different parts of the university once a month to talk about certain, discrete issues—things like criteria for the University Teaching Fund or various kinds of awards. The Faculty Council also got acquainted with some special issues, such as the intellectual property policy, and helped on that. I think it is a good forum in which the interests of the different parts of the university can be represented. And I do think there is a certain benefit in just having the ability to talk to the administration, in having a question-and-answer session with the president and provost.
I think it is hard, though, for that group to deal with larger issues, things like budget and benefits issues. The administration is very good at presenting the budget to the Faculty Council and answering any questions we might have. But it was difficult for that group, just meeting once a month, really to be able to grapple with the full range of
budgetary issues.

AE: What kinds of powers, structures, and processes exist among the law school faculty?

RS: One of the main functions the faculty has at this level is on appointment and promotion decisions, and faculty are very involved in those. We have ongoing faculty committees that deal with appointments, admissions, curriculum, and other matters. It’s always an issue as to what extent faculty will be involved in allocational decisions—how to spend the law school’s money. Should it be on lowering the class size? On hiring new faculty? On increasing compensation to faculty? And that tends to be handled more informally, with the dean making decisions in consultation with the faculty. I think the smaller scale makes it an informal structure in which faculty can still have some say. It’s easy enough to get necessary information. You see people on a daily basis, so you are more personally in touch with those kinds of decisions. Things like that are difficult at the university level because there are all kinds of cross-university issues you’re not really aware of: how does the money work with regard to health sciences? It really requires a kind of specialization to look into those kinds of issues. That’s what can be hard about having a council that meets once a month, as opposed to committees or some other kind of continuing, smaller, more intense institution.

AE: Is it appropriate for faculty to have power of consent over some of these decisions?

RS: I think the custom that universities are governed by faculty is an important concept, that they are in a way self-governing bodies, with decisions made by a collective group relating to the overall mission of the university. 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. On the other hand, universities are ongoing, complicated, large-scale organizations requiring detailed financial planning, and it can be difficult for the faculty to be involved in all of those kinds of decisions. The challenge is to educate the faculty and provide them with the time and the structures really to be able to participate in that kind of enterprise. I think it can be done; I think there’s a certain way it can be inefficient.

AE: Being involved in faculty governance requires a commitment of time and energy, yet many say that’s not a priority as academics.

RS: We’re scholars, we’re teachers, and we’re citizens of the university. All of those are important roles. It does require some sacrifice of time to be involved in faculty governance. But it is possible to set aside the time to work on issues, become acquainted with issues, and then have an impact on issues. And that may be a rotating function. That may be an obligation that people take on, but they then can move on to other things.
I think being aware of what goes on in the university is something that in a sense we all need to do. It’s like reading the morning newspaper. That’s part of being a citizen.