Marquette Should Respect Shared Governance
The president shouldn’t dictate. Faculty should be involved in decisions about university’s future.
A recent op-ed in Urban Milwaukee addressed calls by Marquette University faculty and other stakeholders for an inclusive, mission-focused process to deal with the budget challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The op-ed’s author, management consultant Frank Schneiger, noted that stakeholders are calling for shared governance, “whatever that means.” As the Executive Committee of Marquette’s chapter of American Association of University Professors (AAUP), we know what shared governance means, and we’re happy to explain. We agree with Mr. Schneiger that Marquette’s future is crucial to the future of Milwaukee, so it’s important that all interested parties get this right.
Put simply, shared governance is the principle that, at an institution of higher learning where the ”products” generated are new knowledge and credentialed students, the responsibility of governance is shared between the administrators and the individuals who generate the “products,” i.e. the faculty. Shared governance is crucial to a university’s ability to credential its students. When employers hire graduates, they trust that a chemistry major has been taught, and graded, by experts in chemistry; that a nurse has completed practicum observed by experts in nursing; that a French major can communicate successfully with French speakers; and that a theater major is well-versed in all aspects of theater production. At its most basic, a university degree is a promise that experts have verified the subject matter knowledge of a graduate. Similarly, only experts in a particular subject can determine how it is best taught–in small classes, large lecture halls or lab settings–and whether or not it can adequately be taught online. For this reason, a basic premise of shared governance is faculty control of academic program offerings.
We and other colleagues have called for a real process of shared governance at Marquette University because university leadership, in their haste to address what they describe as an unprecedented budget crisis, have bypassed widely-accepted principles of shared governance and attempted to place control of Marquette’s academic program offerings in the hands of just a few administrators. President Mike Lovell and his administration propose to give administrators, whose academic expertise is necessarily limited to their own subjects, the final say over what programs Marquette offers and how they are taught. This would violate the promise Marquette makes with every degree it grants: that this graduate has been duly credentialed by subject matter experts.
Marquette stakeholders, from the Jesuit community to STEM faculty to our own students, have spoken out against the content and process of the planned cuts. We believe the best way to address the Lovell administration’s violations of faculty, student and alumni trust is to start from scratch with a new budget process where faculty have a real voice.
It is sometimes assumed that faculty who are experts in nursing and theater and engineering don’t have the know-how to determine budgets. We want a process that follows AAUP guidelines. This century-old professional organization says that because budgetary resources have a lot to do with faculty’s ability to fulfill our educational role, faculty should have “a voice in the determination of short- and long-range priorities, and should receive appropriate analyses of past budgetary experience, reports on current budgets and expenditures, and short- and long-range budgetary projections.” Shared governance means continuous faculty engagement in academic decision-making. When administration reserves the right to unilaterally cut faculty and entire academic programs, professors are being shut out of our voice in determining short and long-range priorities.
Mr. Schneiger wants Urban Milwaukee readers to sympathize with President Lovell. We agree, he has a difficult job. We part ways on exactly what President Lovell’s job is. It is not to determine, with a small group of his own hand-picked executive leadership team, what and how Marquette University will teach its students. That is our job. We are being prevented from doing what we were hired to do by the actions of the president. And we insist on our right to do it. The very best universities in the US operate under the principles of shared governance, and Marquette should be among them.
Doug Smith, Sameena Mulla, Gerry Canavan, Sonia Barnes, Kristen Foster, Sergio González and Julia Paulk, make up the executive committee of the Marquette University chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
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