The Enemy is Partly Us

Faculty governance beyond the right to say "No"

Gray F. Crouse

Professor of Biology, Past-President, University Senate, and Past-Chair, Faculty Council

When asked to comment on Professor Ginsberg’s article, I was less than enthusiastic about accepting. The issue of unsustainable increases in college costs and the associated relative increases in administrative costs are real concerns, and no faculty member wants to be even perceived as arguing for administrative bloat. I believe the topic requires faculty engagement, however, so I will comment, restricting my remarks to the situation at Emory.

Although we are not completely in “Pogo Land,” we are part of the way there, in that the enemy is partly us, the faculty. The first responsibility we must shoulder is that faculty governance at Emory is relatively weak. Weak faculty governance can allow administrative proliferation to occur, essentially unchecked. In addition, Emory has experienced unusual growth in the past few decades, rising rapidly from a relatively small regional university to one of the best national universities. We have benefited greatly from the generosity of various donors during that time, and although our resources have never been without limits, until the Great Recession we enjoyed relative abundance and were spared from making difficult financial decisions, either academic or administrative. This circumstance has made administrative growth both easier and less visible. 

My view of effective faculty governance, at least in the Emory context, appears to differ from that of Professor Ginsberg, who states, “Professors have begun to do battle with their administrators. Angry professors have succeeded in forcing the resignation of a president here or a provost there.” I don’t view “doing battle” as a constructive way forward, and his view plays into the model of faculty governance in which we as faculty exercise our rights to say “NO.” Ginsberg goes on to say, “Undertaking the construction of faculty senate budget committees to conduct regular audits of administrative practices might seem to be a good start.” Again, his notion seems to be that we look at the budgets to say “NO” rather than to participate in their construction and strategic direction.

What would strong faculty governance look like in the context of dealing with administrative costs? I have argued previously that as faculty we need to adopt a model of “shared responsibility,” so that, for example, we participate in developing sustainable models for university financing. It is not enough to look at administrative budgets and say “NO.” Rather, we must participate in reshaping the university to reduce administrative costs where possible, at the same time enhancing support for our teaching and research. As part of that, we have to realize that old models of faculty governance are not compatible with a twenty-first-century Research I university. Those old models assume that all faculty have the time and interest to participate in faculty governance and can collectively express our will in faculty meetings of the whole. That model doesn’t work here and hasn’t for quite some time. 

The solution, at least for our larger schools, has to be some form of a representative system, and elsewhere in this issue (pages 8 and 9), others discuss such progress in the School of Public Health and Emory College. To make real progress in tackling the issues of administrative costs, those governance structures have to work in collaboration with—and not in opposition to—their various administrations. In the past few years in my roles first in college faculty governance, and then in university faculty governance, I have gotten to know a number of administrators. They realize the extreme pressures facing our budgets and also understand that Emory will ultimately be judged by the quality of its teaching, research, and clinical missions, not by how many people we have in administration. I believe Emory’s senior administrators are genuinely committed to working with faculty in a spirit of shared responsibility, with all of us realizing that difficult choices will need to be made. One of the pieces of strong faculty governance that we still need to figure out is how faculty participation in governance is valued. In almost all cases, faculty participation is over and above everything else the faculty member does. This model is especially problematic in schools in which the faculty are expected to provide most of their own financial support, regardless of their tenure status.

We must participate in reshaping the university to reduce administrative costs where possible, at the same time enhancing support for our teaching and research.

Faculty also bear some responsibility for increased administrative costs in that sometimes we are the ones pushing for increased administration. One example occurred in the college several years ago. At that time, our model of freshman advising was not working well, and two alternate models were proposed: to have every faculty member advise three or four freshmen, or to hire professional advisors who would do all the freshman advising. In my view, this second proposal created precisely the problem of increasing the number of “deanlets” in the college. Yet many faculty argued strongly for that model. This situation illustrates very well the difficulty in which we faculty find ourselves: the pressure for increased research output and visibility has never been greater. Even so, in a college in which 90 percent of our revenue comes from our expensive undergraduate tuition, surely academic advising of freshmen should be done by faculty.

In addition to stopping unnecessary administrative functions (whatever those might be), one way to reduce administrative costs would be to increase the efficiency of administrative functions. The Business Practice Improvement (BPI) initiative is one way Emory is undertaking exactly that function, to improve administrative procedures and thereby reduce administrative costs. BPI has been extremely proactive in meeting with faculty across campus to investigate what is not working well and to explore future best practices. This process has revealed several truths. First, the best and most efficient way to engage with faculty would be through faculty governance structures. BPI has done that with both the Faculty Council and University Senate. At the school level, however, which in most cases lacks representative faculty governance, faculty have been consulted in ad hoc groups that are not necessarily representative. Secondly, we faculty can be as resistant to change as any other body of the university, and faculty pushback has been considerable with various BPI projects. Many faculty have professed ignorance at what BPI was doing, and we all can cite administrative changes made in the past that were unsuccessful. There also exists the very real concern that administrative efficiencies will be achieved in part on the backs of faculty who will be expected to do more administrative functions. Such fears have some historical precedence but should not be assumed applicable to all such efforts today. Constructive and thoughtful faculty governance that can participate in such changes and speak for the needs of faculty as processes are reorganized is critical and seems to be desired and welcome. Any realistic view of administrative reorganization is going to understand that no such change is easy. To make a real dent in administrative structures, we have to be willing to embrace change and to work with the process, ideally through our governance structures.

It is much easier to throw bombs, verbal or otherwise, but in my view, the best way forward for Emory is to have strong, engaged faculty participation in all aspects of the university. Such engagement comes with a cost, and the question we as faculty have to ask is whether we are prepared to participate, or support those who do.