Advise and Consent

Crossing the Great Divide
Enhancing faculty-trustee communication

Karen Stolley, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese

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

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On many campuses, both public and private, as corporate decision-making structures have replaced traditional faculty governance and academic policies are increasingly held accountable to market forces, shared governance and faculty-trustee relations are facing a crisis. It’s no surprise that Emory has joined this lively debate.

The push to improve communication between the Board of Trustees and the faculty stems from a double imperative: first, to ensure that in its deliberations the Board of Trustees has access to a broad range of perspectives on Emory’s educational and intellectual mission and, second, to ensure that the faculty are more fully informed of the impact the challenges facing higher education in the United States today may have at Emory. In the past, there might have been a general consensus that faculty involvement in university governance was most important (and best limited) to those areas in which we had clear expertise and experience—curriculum, tenure, and academic standards—and that administrators’ and boards’ involvement was most appropriate (and best limited) to those areas in which they had expertise—finance and management. More recently, however, the neat divide between these roles has become increasingly blurred. In times of economic crisis the relationship between the financial and intellectual well-being of an institution is often hotly contested. Our separate but necessarily overlapping spheres of activity impinge on one another, making consultation and collaboration necessary.

There are several key premises we should take as our starting point. One is that corporate and academic governing boards are different. Academic boards face the need to balance multiple goals, to weigh intangible and often long-term outcomes, to balance the allocation of limited fiscal resources with the needs of a diverse community and an overarching academic mission usually defined in extremely general terms. The unilateral decision-making process that often characterizes the corporate world doesn’t sit well in academic circles. Another key premise is that trustees are interested in issues of higher education and committed to Emory’s history and future. A third and final operating premise is that faculty, by virtue of their education and experience, are uniquely qualified to speak to the pedagogical and intellectual mission that is, after all, the ‘business’ of a university.

Structures and Players

The resolution approved unanimously at the April 30 meeting of the College faculty, known as the “Statement of Grave Concern,” invoked the principle of shared governance and resolved that “formal mechanisms for ongoing and cooperative communication with the Board of Trustees be established that might include elected representatives from the university faculty, with the right to vote, on the Board of Trustees.” The resolution deliberately suggested such representation as only one of a number of possible avenues for enhanced faculty-trustee communication. (Currently the chair and chair-elect of the University Faculty Council serve as non-voting representatives to the Academic Affairs Committee of the board.) Most faculty, board members, and administrators agree the existing structures could be more fully utilized, and many feel that new structures are needed as well.

The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges,
a national organization of university and college presidents, board chairs, and trustees, cautions that faculty participation on boards may lead to partisanship or inefficiency. The American Association of University Professors, on the other hand, warns against tokenism and co-optation, stressing that nominal faculty
representation on governing boards should not be seen as a substitute for regular, substantive, and unmediated communication between the faculty and board members. While agreeing to disagree on a number of issues, these two groups are working together to develop structures and principles for enhanced faculty-board communication.

Among the specific avenues for communication they have suggested are joint ad hoc committees, standing liaison committees, and biannual meetings between selected trustees and faculty. For board members, multiple lines of direct communication with faculty and other interested groups are clearly helpful, and access by all players to unbiased, relevant, and timely information is key for good faith consultation—not mere lip service—to occur. Participants must practice ‘fair fighting’ and learn to disagree—at times vigorously—while preserving a working relationship.

Practices Elsewhere

About 11 percent of private institutions include faculty from within their institution as voting members on their governing boards. The practice appears to be increasing, however. Another trend is for a more transparent selection process aimed at seeking board members with diverse backgrounds and experience.

Cornell University is an example of a highly visible board that includes alumni-elected trustees, student-elected trustees, and faculty-elected trustees, as well as term trustees (those elected by the board itself). At a general open session, the trustees hear reports on the state of the university by the president and graduate and undergraduate student leaders. The working committees of the board regularly devote the first part of their meetings to an open session before adjourning fora closed business meeting. The trustees also hold a question-and-answer session with the local news media, including the Cornell News.

Duke University is another noteworthy example. President Nannerl O. Keohane’s summary report to the Board of Trustees in the fall is available on the university website. It’s a predictably upbeat yet substantive “State of the University” report, with reference to the issues trustees will discuss during the upcoming academic year and detailed reports of faculty accomplishments. Duke faculty are represented on the board, and their involvement clearly redounds to the benefit of the university. After a national search for a new provost, Duke recently named political science professor and former vice-provost Peter Lange to the position. Lange, who had been involved in university internationalization and led a revision of the undergraduate curriculum, also at one time served as the faculty representative on the Board of Trustees’ Business and Finance Committee. Faculty representatives sit on the boards of Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, and California State, just to name a few.

Some colleges and universities turn to their own alumni with doctoral training and experience in higher education, tapping them for alumni trustee positions (alumni trustees generally serve shorter terms, but these often lead to a full-term trustee position).
For example, Frank A. Welczek, a professor at the Center for Theoretical Physics at MIT who received a BS from the University of Chicago, is on the board of his undergraduate alma mater. Catherine E. Rudder (Emory College ’69), who now directs the School of Public Policy at George Mason University, served a distinguished term on Emory’s board.


As part of the process of addressing the issue of faculty involvement in governance, it will be important to invigorate existing structures for faculty governance, particularly the University Senate and the related governance body, the University Faculty Council. This has already begun to happen under the leadership of William Branch, current President of the University Senate. The meeting last May between members of Emory’s Board of Trustees (including Chairman of the Board Ben Johnson), representative faculty from the College Executive Committee and the University Senate, and members of the administration (including President Chace) resulted in a frank and wide-ranging exchange of views and information that laid a promising foundation for future engagement. Richard T. Ingram, President of the Association of Governing Boards, reminds us that collaborative governance calls for faculty members, administrators, and trustees to find new ways of communicating with one another: “Let’s find ways to open and sustain civil conversations that will advance higher education.” We at Emory would do well to heed his exhortation.

Karen Stolley has just been appointed to a five-year term as alumni trustee at Middlebury College, her undergraduate alma mater.