ERIC Identifier: ED284520
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Floyd, Carol E.
Source: Association for the Study of Higher Education.| ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.

Faculty Participation in Decision Making. ERIC Digest.

Faculty participation in institutional decision making is accepted as intrinsically good and as having positive effects on institutional functioning, but it is reflected in varying degrees in actual practice. Neither faculty nor administrators have been very satisfied with actual patterns of participation or the effectiveness of that participation. Faculty seek to protect and to reinvigorate historical mechanisms like academic senates and the well-established areas of curriculum and faculty tenure and promotion. They also seek mechanisms and approaches for establishing a significant role in areas where little participation historically has occurred. Sympathetic to faculty frustrations about participation, administrators seek ways to more fully integrate consultation with faculty into decision-making processes. Faculty and administrators are frustrated by the paucity of intrinsic and extrinsic satisfactions of faculty participation and seek ways to increase the rewards of that participation. Perceiving that many significant decisions are being made above the campus level, faculty now increasingly are concerned about mechanisms for participation at the system level in multicampus systems and at the state level.


The rationale for extensive faculty participation in institutional decision making rests on reasons for employees' participation in any orgnization and on reasons specific to the faculty role in higher education, the former contained in the sizeable literature on generic organzation theory and the latter in the more sparse higher education literature. Participation in institutional decision making is associated with increased employee satisfaction and performance in a wide variety of organizations. Employees' satisfaction and the quality of work life are now also increasingly viewed as valued outcomes in their own right. Faculty expertise on the subjects on which decisions are to be made is perhaps the most fundamental factor supporting faculty participation in institutional decision making. But faculty also tend to accord legitimacy to and fully cooperate in the implementaton of only those policies that faculty have helped formulate because they believe faculty have a right to participate. Although participatory leadership models require a number of preconditions, these preconditions are met in higher education environments more frequently than in other organizational settings.


Faculty senates and faculty senate committees continue to be useful mechanisms for faculty participation at many research universities, at other universities, and at elite liberal arts colleges with regard to core academic areas like curriculum and faculty tenure and promotion, but they are not necessarily as influential at other types of higher education institutions. Senates are more representative of a cross-section of faculty in the 1980s than they were in the 1960s, the result of increased use of elected representatives and more democratic selecting procedures for committees. Faculty are less comfortable, however, with the involvement of nonfaculty constituencies in the revised senate structures established in the late 1960s and early 1970s and continue to seek means to minimize the influence of those constituencies. Collective bargaining has not significantly affected the functioning of coexisting senates in core academic areas on most campuses, but a number of factors are likely to lead to unstable senate/union relations in the future.


Faculty historically have the broadest role and greatest influence on matters of curriculum and faculty personnel (especially tenure and promotion). The literature suggests, however, that these patterns may be difficult to maintain unless faculty are willing to address issues of general education, staffing flexibility, and some aspects of faculty conduct from a broader perspective. The resolution of these issues is central to faculty credibility and institutional viability.

Within the past 15 years, faculty participation has also become relatively well accepted in institutional planning and in the selection and evaluation of administrators at many institutions. Faculty participation is a significant element in the process by which presidents are selected and a normative factor against which presidential candidates are evaluated. Faculty ambivalence about integrating financial with academic factors, which has tended to restrict faculty participation and influence in some stages of planning, has also begun to recede. Healthy debates about the best mechanisms for integrating faculty participation into strategic planning suggest good prospects for balance between administrative leadership and broad participation as such approaches are actually implemented.

Although faculty involvement in budgeting and (in adverse circumstances) in retrenchment has historically been limited by both administrative resistance and faculty ambivalence, groundwork is being laid on many campuses for greater and more effective faculty participation. Faculty have begun to take steps, in conjunction with administrators, to gain a better understanding of the technical bases and political dynamics of the budgetary process, thus reducing an earlier handicap. Boards of trustees and university administrators are also becoming more sophisticated about the importance of process considerations in handling retrenchment and the greater acceptability of retrenchment measures if faculty are consulted about procedures and implementation.


Administrators increasingly see themselves as managers of an institutional decision process and focus their energies on four crucial elements: strengthening the collegial foundations of decision making, shaping the consultative framework, increasing the availability of information, and facilitating group deliberation.

The articulation of a set of shared values and goals is central to strengthening the collegial foundations of decision making in higher education. In 1984 and 1985, a number of national blue ribbon commissions helped focus campus attention on the need to clarify the purposes of the undergraduate curriculum, with special emphasis on general education. Further, some scholars have suggested that Theory Z and other Japanese management approaches can help focus attention on a collegially oriented administrative style, while others have raised issues about some of the negative implications of Theory Z on the campus.

The higher education literature of the last 10 years reflects a growing consensus about the characteristics of and an adequate framework for administrative consultation with faculty. A set of understandings havs evolved about where very broad consultation is useful and where the extent of consultation is appropriately more limited. Agreement has also been reached that every effort should be made to maintain process and procedure, even in crises.

Various approaches and means for administrators to make information relevant to campus-generated decisions more available to faculty consultative groups have been identified in the higher education literature. A national resource center for faculty participation in institutional decision making has been identified as a possible mechanism for providing a base of knowledge about best institutional practices.

Faculty and administrators can call upon a sizable literature on generic organization theory to gain useful insights to improve group deliberations. That literature illuminates various aspects of group decision making, including task-oriented leadership and group maintenance leadership, patterns of sharing group leadership, obstacles to rational evaluation of alternative decisions, and suggestions for improving group decision making.


The higher education literature contains a number of suggestions as to how institutions might incresae the intrinsic satisfactions of and extrinsic rewards for institutional participation. Suggestions for increasing intrinsic satisfactions include providing faculty participants a better understanding of the dynamics of the consultative process and setting terms of committee service to correspond with the beginning and ending of major projects. Coordinated efforts of administrators and faculty are necessary to increase the extrinsic rewards for constructive institutional participation, thus reversing the pattern of very little weight given by most institutional personnel committees to institutional or public service, a pattern most accentuated in research universities.


Formal faculty participation at the system and state levels can take the form of direct membership on the board itself, a formal systemwide senate or statewide committee, or participation in ad hoc and standing technical committees. The mechanisms of a systemwide senate in multicampus systems or a statewide coordinating board, have been of the strongest interest both in theory and in practice.

This digest was derived from ED 267 694.


Austin, Ann E., and Zelda F. Gamson. ACADEMIC WORKPLACE: NEW DEMANDS, HEIGHTENED TENSIONS. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Research Report No. 10. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education, 1983.

Berdahl, Robert O., and Samuel K. Gove. "Governing Higher Education: Faculty Roles on State Boards." ACADEME 68 (1982): 21-24.


Mortimer, Kenneth P., and T.R. McConnell. SHARING AUTHORITY EFFECTIVELY. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1978.

Powers, David R., and Mary F. Powers. MAKING PARTICIPATORY MANAGEMENT WORK. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1983.

Spitzberg, Irving J., Jr. "Governing the Futures of Higher Education: Report of the General Secretary." ACADEME 70 (1984): 13a-20a.

Vroom, Victor H. "Leaders and Leadership in Academe." REVIEW OF HIGHER EDUCATION 6 (1983): 367-386.

Yukl, Gary A. LEADERSHIP IN ORGANIZATIONS. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1981.

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