Marquette University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors
Op Ed

Marquette Should Respect Shared Governance

The president shouldn’t dictate. Faculty should be involved in decisions about university’s future.

Looking west down W. Wells St. at Marquette's Campus Town Apartments. Campus Town East is the most visible. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Looking west down W. Wells St. at Marquette’s Campus Town Apartments. Campus Town East is the most visible. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

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.

Why does shared governance matter if you’re not a professor? If you’re a student, a parent or an employer looking to hire, it matters a lot. A Marquette degree signals the approval of Marquette faculty, who are nationally recognized experts in our own fields. Without faculty control of education, a degree loses its power to signal expertise.

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.

The op-ed we’re addressing had a lot to say about President Lovell’s personal qualities. We take no position on this. With shared governance, faculty don’t have to rely on the “good will” of a “good guy” to do the work we’ve been trained and hired to do. The principles of shared governance dictate that faculty have the “primary responsibility for curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, [and] faculty status.” If shared governance is working correctly, we can do our jobs to the best of our ability.  Our students deserve no less than that.

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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Categories: Education, Op-Ed

2 thoughts on “Op Ed: Marquette Should Respect Shared Governance”

  1. Bradley Bloch says:

    Perhaps the experience reported here by some of the Marquette faculty occurs because your President has been Chancellor at UWM and the “shared governance” principles of the UW System, even codified in Wisconsin Section 36.09 for System President AND Chancellors AND faculty AND academic staff AND students, are routinely “blown off” by the presumptively higher ups in University command. The UWM Student Association won before the Wisconsin Supreme Court over segregated fee control in 1976’s Baum opinions. When a SA President exercised Baum-based power, he was disciplined with a private faculty-dominated hearing where the Committee’s faculty-academic majority outnumbered 3 SA members and 1 faculty who dissented. The Chair explained robustly “The SA President has WAY TOO much power!” (Right! She and her members did not read the Baum opinions provided all of them!) The same SA President was convicted criminally of Theft (of segregated fees) when a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge refused to honor what Baum holds as it “does not pass ‘the smell test.'” Justice Abrahamson’s concurring opinion in Baum demonstrated that the UW Merger Act was a legislative compromise none of which passes ad hoc “smell tests” abandoning the Law’s statutory interpretation “final word.” I’ve seen UWM faculty quote AAUP standards only to be rebuffed by a faculty chair with “Objection noted.” Academic staff statutory rights are ignored by Deans. State v. Decker in 2016 was a Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion affirming conviction where a student asserted Baum control segregated fee rights before several UW System campus’s meetings. Ergo! Marquette faculty reliance on mere AAUP faculty “shared governance” standards do not say much because “shared governance” can even be compelled by law but “higher ups” heed “shared governance” only when it behooves them.

  2. frank a schneiger says:

    It’s always satisfying to know that someone (or someones) read something you wrote, even when they don’t agree with you or think you’re wrong. Here are some follow-up thoughts to my recent column and the faculty op-ed, with the express purpose of helping foster further discussion that leads to the best outcomes for Marquette and all of its “stakeholders.”

    From a purely organizational perspective, managing change of any kind, except when there is “more for everyone,” is especially hard in a university environment because it is not hierarchical; It is doubly hard in a less than “zero-sum” environment, when decisions are inevitably going to produce perceived “winners” and “losers.” And, it is triply heard in the midst of an event like a (we hope) once-in-a-lifetime pandemic where loss and grief are a constant presence. Not to mention, a toxic political environment. Hence, the importance of empathic leadership and empathic follower-ship, when the pressures are all to pull us apart.

    As someone who has been a university faculty member, I never gave much thought to “shared governance” or exactly what it meant, but took faculty participation in governance as a given. Here is the rub, and what I think are some areas for important discussion going forward. First, in an ideal world, the goal and outcome in this situation would be to get everyone “pulling in the same direction.” Is that possible in a less than zero-sum environment? Is it possible to get the faculty to speak with a single voice on key matters? Are the mechanisms in place to do that?

    Next, a critical element in successfully navigating a crisis of this nature is to reach binary (yes/no) and time-sensitive decisions on matters on which clear criteria have been established. Can faculty make those binary decisions? Can they agree on the criteria? Can they agree on time-targeted, measurable and achievable objectives? Ambiguity is the enemy of success, and clarity is the key to successfully moving forward. Can the faculty produce clear positions on what and how to teach, their most important roles in moving toward the best possible outcomes?

    Finally, my comments were not about President Lovell being a “good guy.” They were about him being someone in a leadership position who is trustworthy. This is something that we should never take for granted as a given. In my experience, if there is a critical element, the foundation, in successfully navigating situations like this, it is maintaining trust. At the heart of the trust issue is the ability of groups with real differences to have issue/problem focussed conflicts, even arguments, that lead to clear, shared decisions about “what WE are going to do.” None of that is easy, and one of the keys is to focus on issues and not individual deficiencies, except to help each of us move beyond our deficiencies and blind spots.

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