Faculty Governance within Emory College

A senate model can enhance effective faculty participation in institutional leadership

Robyn Fivush

Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology

Keith Berland

Professor of Physics

There is broad consensus that Emory College needs “strong faculty governance.” Yet there is a remarkably diverse range of interpretations of that phrase and the specific roles faculty should play. This diversity of opinions no doubt reflects the tremendous diversity of academic pursuits in which our faculty and students are engaged. This variety is surely a strength of the college. And to maximize our potential, a similarly broad range of perspectives must be included in our governance conversations and decisions. 

In our view, the broad aims of faculty governance should be focused on the academic mission of the college—that is, teaching and research. Central to that mission is the creation and assessment of innovative curricular programs that create synergies among our faculty to offer the best possible education to our students. We do not want our bureaucracy to inhibit the creativity and passions of our faculty and students. Our faculty governance structure should instead facilitate our ability to innovate, be creative, collaborate within and across departments and divisions, and build on our many strengths inside and outside of the classroom. 

We do not want our bureaucracy to inhibit the creativity and passions of our faculty and students.

A year ago, the Emory College faculty elected a Shared Faculty Governance Committee to study and recommend a new governance model for Emory College in order for faculty to be maximally influential and effective participants in institutional leadership. This committee, on which the two of us served, recommended the college faculty adopt a representative governance model—a College Senate. The full report and final recommendations from the Shared Governance Committee are available here. The report places the committee recommendations in a historical context and reviews current models of faculty governance at Emory and at our peer institutions. In this article, we focus on why we believe a faculty senate is the best structure to support informed, consultative, transparent, and therefore effective faculty governance. 

Click here to read the full report and final recommendations of the Emory College Shared Governance Committee.

No doubt there will be a great deal of change within higher education over the next several decades. Emory College can and should be positioned to be a leader by confronting challenges and embracing new opportunities as they emerge. It is impossible to predict what the important issues facing the college (and thus faculty governance) will be, but it is clear that responding to future challenges will require creativity, flexibility, and the capability to make strategic choices. To be informed and effective partners in institutional leadership will require faculty to invest the necessary time and effort to investigate issues, gather data, discuss and debate ideas and solutions, and ultimately arrive at optimal decisions. 

Our current system of governance by the whole—in which all issues of substance come before the entire faculty—has not always been effective in achieving this level of informed decision-making for three primary reasons. First, it is cumbersome, and faculty are often unable to respond to challenges in a timely manner. Efficiency must be balanced against careful consideration, including open consultation with the faculty, and we believe a senate can more effectively achieve that balance. Second, as noted above, faculty engaged in governance must be well informed. This requires a more significant investment of time than most faculty members are able to make on an ongoing basis. Faculty serving on a senate would be committed to thoroughly studying the issues, and this important commitment would be recognized and respected. Third, important decisions must be made over time, through a series of discussions and data gathering. Because governance by the whole means that faculty come into and out of discussions at different points, it is difficult for faculty to reach a stable consensus. This inhibits the faculty’s ability to make important curricular decisions and to provide informed and impactful guidance to the college administration. 

A college faculty senate that is dedicated to full consideration of issues at hand, in open dialogue and consultation with both the full faculty and the administration, and that is ultimately responsible for being the voice of the faculty, will address these problems and best achieve the objectives of shared governance. The role of a faculty senate is to enhance our ability to succeed in our individual and collective missions, and to foster an environment in which faculty efforts to create outstanding and innovative curricula and research endeavors can flourish. We note that faculty governance will only be influential and effective if faculty members are able to work together to set goals and priorities, and to partner effectively with the administration. Productive collaboration among faculty, and between faculty and administrators, which we call “shared faculty governance,” is critical to the success of this (or any) governance model. 

A faculty senate is the best structure to support informed, consultative, transparent, and therefore effective faculty governance.

One important challenge facing any representative governance model, such as a senate, is to define the appropriate notion of representation. Currently, representation in college governance is organized around the three divisions: humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Across divisions, we share core values regarding a liberal arts education, including critical thinking and writing skills, knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, and the creative and ethical engagement in solving real-world problems. At the same time, we acknowledge differences exist. These differences may pertain to doing our research in the library or the lab, or different career trajectories and needs at different points in our professional lives. It certainly is in the best interest of the college to fully value creativity and leadership from all of its faculty members, and this collaborative spirit ought to be reflected in senate representation. 

This raises an important question: what or whom are faculty senators representing? In considering how to define representation, we return to the notion of shared faculty governance. In our view, representation from across the College will be essential to ensuring that diverse perspectives are included in governance dialogues and decisions, yet it will be equally important that senators not understand their roles as serving only a particular constituency. Rather, the senators ought to represent the College. 

Ideally, governance of Emory College will include an ongoing dialogue among faculty, and between administration and faculty, to accomplish the shared mission of the college. Shared faculty governance must bring in all voices, across all ranks and divisions, with the goal of creating an environment in which all of our faculty can pursue eminence as scholars and teachers and can work together to provide an exceptional education for our students.