ERIC Identifier: ED433077
Publication Date: 1999-08-00
Author: Schuetz, Pam
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Shared Governance in Community Colleges. ERIC Digest.
Governance structures for institutions of higher education emerge from an
intricate interweaving of historic and contextual factors. These factors include
the constitutional powers of the governor, the strength of the private higher
education sector, constitutional status for public institutions, the existence
of a well developed, two-year college sector, collective bargaining, and voter
initiatives (Bowen, et.al, 1997).
Public community college governance stands quite apart from the governance of
systems employed by public universities and public elementary and secondary
schools. Governance in America's community colleges is virtually a
state-by-state choice with some of the variations being: state vs. local,
elected vs. appointed, state appointed vs. locally appointed, taxing authority
vs. no taxing authority, voluntary shared governance vs. mandated shared
governance, and various combinations thereof.
Governance is a function of structure and of how people act within that
structure. Cohen and Brawer (1996) observe that Richardson's (1975) description
of bureaucratic, political and collegial governance structures is particularly
appropriate for community colleges. The bureaucratic model describes a
traditional, rule bound, hierarchical power structure similar to K-12
structures. Authority is delegated from the top down with the faculty, staff and
students each occupying respectively lower levels of the pyramid. The political
model proposes a perpetual state of conflict between constituencies -- trustees,
administrators, faculty, staff and students -- each with competing interests.
The collegial model proposes a community of scholars, with consensual decision
making processes involving all constituencies affected by the decisions.
The purpose of this digest is to define shared governance, discuss the way
shared governance is actually structured in community colleges, and to identify
issues suggested by recent community college shared governance experiences.
WHAT IS SHARED GOVERNANCE?
Shared governance is a social
system of self government wherein decision-making responsibility is shared among
those affected by the decisions. At the community college level, shared
governance means that responsibility for institutional decisions is shared among
governing boards, district administrators, and faculty, with joint recognition
and respect for the participation of staff and students (Lau, 1996).
An ideal shared governance model is collegial in nature, recognizing the
contributions and requirements of all members of the college in a group
consensus process. This process fosters a sense of empowerment, equal
partnership and a vested interest in successful outcomes of institutional policy
and implementation decisions. The purpose of such a system is to direct all
available physical and financial resources toward meaningful improvement and
progress (Lau, 1996). Ideally, shared governance can create game plans that
bridge lines of authority, share resources to take advantage of unforeseen
opportunities, and facilitate programs to even out the work load while
maximizing system efficiency (Howell 1997; Acebo, 1995). There are many shared
governance models available to institutions of higher education; the process and
dynamics have been defined and the advantages and disadvantages articulated
(Lau, 1996; Lee, 1997).
EXAMPLES OF COMMUNITY COLLEGES AND SHARED GOVERNANCE
California Community College system, a loose confederation of 107 colleges
serving more than 1.4 million students, represents the largest system of higher
education in the nation. Passage of Assembly Bill 1725 (1988) mandated shared
governance in California's community colleges. This and related regulations in
California seemed to polarize rather than unite constituencies, creating a
governance experience more comparable to a political than collegial model. On
the other hand, a recent study of 34 colleges suggested that AB 1725 is
generally working as it was intended (Howell, 1997).
While other states may lack similar comprehensive legislative statutes, many
have introduced structures of participatory governance intended to improve
system quality and efficiency. Maricopa County Community College District in
Arizona has structured a "strategic conversations" format to ensure interaction
within the college community and continuous quality improvement in the
governance process (Rosenthal and Eisner, 1996). A shift toward shared
governance and a learning organization model of operation is reported at Austin
Community College in Texas (Quereau, 1995). Burlington County College in New
Jersey has adopted a governance structure providing "a forum for thoughtful,
collegial consideration by faculty, support staff, administrators and students,
of administration issues crucial to the teaching/learning process and
environment" (Messina, 1994, p.1). The collective bargaining process seems to
have intensified the division between faculty and administration, affecting the
climate of shared governance at Union County College in New Jersey (Signorelli,
1997). Both Delaware County Community College in Pennsylvania and Fox Valley
Technical College in Wisconsin have instituted various total quality management
measures to increase participation in decision making (Wolverton, 1993).
Cohen and Brawer (1996) note that the collegial
model reflects more rhetoric than reality and that actual procedures maintained
in community colleges tend toward bureaucratic and political protection of the
staff's rights, satisfaction, and welfare. Kezar (1998) indicates that the
participatory model is as likely to exclude people from involvement in decision
making as the traditional hierarchical model. The staff in various community
colleges have wrestled with issues related to the implementation of shared
governance, including resistance to changing historical patterns of bureaucratic
and/or political governance, overly prescriptive legislation, and a lack of
strong system and local roles enabling the respective boards to actually govern
Implementation of shared governance can: (1) promote divisiveness and turf
wars between faculty, staff, students, and management groups each pursuing their
own organizational agendas; (2) produce fragmented budgets based on bilateral
agreements between the district and each of the warring groups; (3) promote
distrust and resistance to change; (4) be unsound in terms of legal
accountability; and (5) be too slow (Healy, 1997; Nussbaum, 1998).
Some college presidents say that the extensive consultation required by
shared governance interferes with their ability to do their jobs; they are
besieged by pressure groups, including employee unions wanting more money and
power, and state officials who want quick improvements (Healy, 1997). Trustees
are beginning to avoid the term "shared governance" because they say it implies
a level of collaboration that may not exist (Leatherman, 1998).
Shared governance in higher education is not the
daring experiment it was a few years ago, nor it is a panacea for funding and
enrollment pressures. Successful shared governance in higher education requires
commitment, time and focused effort from all levels of state, system, and campus
participants. It is important to note that while other constituencies may feel
able to represent their interests through various means, such as collective
bargaining, students may feel that shared governance is a particularly valuable
procedure - perhaps the only workable avenue for their input.
It is possible that a state adopting incentives encouraging, rather than
regulations mandating, cooperation might "pull" its governance structure in the
direction of being more collegial, rather than "pushing" it toward being more
There is general agreement among interested parties that changes in community
college governance are needed (Healy, 1997 ; Leatherman, 1998) and there are
wide ranging proposals about what these changes should be (Healy 1997; Nussbaum,
1998). A consensus emerges from the literature: neither top-down nor bottom-up
governance approaches work well unless there is a clear mission and a commitment
to the goals of the institution.
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Structure Is as a Breaking Point." Chronicle of Higher Education. 19 Dec 1997:
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Governance Provisions of AB 1725 (1988) at Selected California Community
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