Faculty Engagement at Emory

Understanding "shared responsibility"

Deb Houry

Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Faculty Council Chair, and University Senate President

cover illustrationWhat is faculty governance? How does it exist at Emory, and is it important? In its 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) calls for “shared responsibility among the different components of institutional government and its specification of areas of primary responsibility for governing boards, administrations, and faculties.” 

But which “areas of primary responsibility”? Some construe faculty governance to mean that faculty members have decision-making authority over some aspect of university management. For instance, usually faculty members have primacy over curriculum, but not over other major areas such as the university budget. I think the term “faculty engagement” is perhaps the best way to start these conversations, however. With dramatic changes underway in research funding, tenure, clinical care reimbursement, and higher education more generally, faculty must be proactively engaged in solutions, or we will be left behind as key decisions are made. 

Over the past few years, the Faculty Council has had ongoing discussions at its meetings regarding faculty engagement and governance. In 2011-12, Council chair Erica Brownfield presented an overview of different governance structures at each school. The following year, chair Gray Crouse initiated a lecture series to increase faculty engagement and conversations on cost and administrative growth in higher education.

This fall we conducted an online survey to gain insight into perceptions of faculty views of university-wide and school-specific shared faculty governance, as well as potential areas to improve engagement. Based on the AAUP Indicators of Sound Governance instrument, the survey was modified to shorten it, remove questions not relevant to Emory, and include school-level questions. Questions included 

  • University-wide questions: views on president and Board of Trustees with regards to shared governance, importance of faculty participation, and campus climate;
  • School-specific questions: views on shared governance in the school, faculty areas of primacy, dean’s use of communication channels, evaluation of administrators;
  • Open-ended: view of faculty council and senate.

Of approximately 3,000 full-time faculty surveyed, 1,084 completed the survey, with school response rates ranging from about 27 percent (medicine) to 80 percent (nursing). Most units had more than 50 percent response rates. We reviewed the results in total and conducted school and tenure-track comparisons. Keeping these response rates and differences across schools in mind, overall demographics of survey respondents are shown in the chart below.

Overall, the majority of respondents viewed faculty participation in university governance as worthwhile (54 percent true or more true than false). On the other hand, almost half (49 percent) voiced neutral feelings regarding satisfaction with current participation. Another interesting finding was that 40 to 85 percent (varying by schools) believed relationships between university administration and faculty were cooperative, with three schools having high rates of “don’t knows.” 

With more than 3,000 full-time faculty at Emory, it is not surprising that many are not overly aware of central administration. It does suggest, however, a disconnect between some units and the larger university. Emory’s vision of forging strong interdisciplinary programs and working for positive transformation cannot be done in silos. Faculty at schools must engage and feel that they are part of the university. This year, we have been sending out Council Concerns and Senate Summary to all faculty and posting the minutes on our website, and we circulated an open call for committees to increase participation and awareness.

We also asked some questions about school-level governance. Most faculty members believe participation in school-level governance is important, but only 30 percent of faculty members were satisfied with faculty participation in school-level governance. Schools differed widely on that last point, however (14 to 95 percent). 

This faculty governance survey was conducted at Emory in September 2013. The survey was based on the American Association of University Professors Indicators of Sound Governance instrument. Of the approximately 3,000 surveys sent, 1,084 faculty responded.

The Faculty Council has used these results to guide discussions in subsequent meetings this year and has disseminated the school-level results to deans and faculty representatives. We have learned that there are some “best practices” that should be shared. There are also several ongoing discussions and task forces around campus currently reviewing these issues.

For example, the Rollins School of Public Health reimagined a faculty council with elected departmental and at-large representatives. This forum has been soliciting issues from the faculty, posting “live” minutes online, and requesting input on different faculty-relevant topics such as grievance policies. A faculty committee in Emory College spent this year reviewing different faculty governance models, and the Emory College faculty met in March to discuss these findings. 

Similarly, the School of Medicine is in the process of re-envisioning its faculty advisory committee to the dean to be more expansive and to align more closely with Emory Healthcare and Clinic to reduce redundancy. The law school also recently created an advisory committee of elected faculty members to represent faculty concerns and issues to the dean. Our hope is that these discussions increase faculty engagement and governance at the school level and that we can continue to share best practices and ideas across the university.

Faculty governance is merely the tip of the iceberg, though. If faculty are not engaged and participating, what is there to represent? We must be active at all levels, from participating in working groups to giving input and recommendations to initiating solutions. Simple steps can have a tremendous impact. For example, Woodruff Health Sciences Center requested input from staff and faculty on different cost savings ideas. They received more than seven hundred suggestions, many of which have been implemented. We modified the Council Concerns newsletter to become more bi-directional; faculty may click on specific topics and give feedback and suggestions. Our survey does suggest, however, that many faculty are neutral at best with regard to participation in shared governance activities.

Faculty members overall thought they were involved in curriculum and educational policy (66 percent) and promotion and tenure standards (64 percent). Nearly half, however, did not feel that their school supported shared governance activities with time, training, or reward for participation. Perhaps faculty evaluations and promotion and tenure processes should give greater weight to service. Without tangible benefits and with competing interests for time, faculty may elect not to engage or participate in governance and service activities. My hope is that faculty will participate in leading this change by engaging in initiatives that shape the intellectual life of the entire institution, encouraging colleagues to contribute, and demonstrating the positive impact they can have.

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