Effective shared governance is hard work that requires an explicit commitment to understanding the differing responsibilities and vantage points of boards, administrations, and faculty. However, the vantage points of each are not monolithic. As the individuals making up the institution’s workforce evolve, so too must systems of shared governance. Failure to do so threatens to upset the delicate balances that have made shared governance successful at many institutions. And failure to harness the energy and ideas of members of a changing workforce is a missed opportunity. The alignment created by shared governance is ineffective if important constituencies are left out of the process.
As boards seek to strengthen their institutions by strengthening shared governance, their members should turn their attention to three emerging issues:
- Developing deliberate strategies to engage millennial faculty members
- Challenging their institutions to involve contingent faculty in shared governance
- Implementing ways to engage mid-level administrators and administrative staff members as participants in shared governance
ENGAGING MILLENNIAL FACULTY MEMBERS
Millennial faculty members, those born in the 1980s and 1990s, are now in their late 20s and 30s. Most employers are quick to observe that engaging millennial employees is quite different from engaging previous generations of employees, and many college and university presidents observe the same is true at their institutions.
According to a 2016 Gallup report, millennials are three times more likely to have changed jobs within the past year than nonmillennials. Gallup notes that this high rate of job movement could be due to millennials having lower levels of engagement in the workplace than other generations, with 55 percent of millennials “not engaged” in their workplaces.
While the Gallup study specifically addressed faculty, another 2015 study by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup reported that 68 percent of all faculty members were “not engaged” in their workplaces. Thus, it should not be surprising that presidents and provosts of colleges and universities report millennial faculty members are changing jobs more often than non-millennial faculty when they were at the same point in their careers. A higher percentage of newer faculty members are contingent faculty, without the opportunities for tenure that serve to tether faculty to their institutions. Excessive faculty turnover disrupts deep relationship-building with students and impedes academic departments from advancing their programs.
Though it’s perilous to generalize, millennial faculty members as a group possess characteristics that institutional leaders need to understand and consider in developing plans to engage them in shared governance. Many of these characteristics affect their willingness to engage in traditional ways such as participating in the traditional committee structures that undergird faculty governance. Effective faculty governance is crucial for effective shared governance because a faculty that cannot govern itself cannot meaningfully participate in effective discussion and decision making with trustees and administrators. If not addressed, millennials’ distinctive attributes will stand in the way of effective shared governance.
The following attributes of millennial faculty are based both on the scholarly literature in the field and on my observations from 15 years of experience as a college president.
- Millennial faculty members value being heard, and they want feedback and validation that confirm this. Because of the cumbersome, rules-bound, and process-centric nature of faculty governance, they are not likely to receive that feedback in the timely ways they hope for. They want to know their ideas count but often don’t have the prompt feedback loops assuring them of this.
- Many millennial faculty members are less prone to participate in the formal structures of faculty governance. Many see these structures as entailing endless, sometimes low-stakes meetings, driven by a hierarchical system dominated by senior faculty. It’s not that they don’t want to work cooperatively; they believe that some of the hidebound systems of governance unnecessarily detract from their scholarship and teaching goals. They believe senior colleagues who sometimes say that too much committee work could interfere with the more important goals of teaching and research, thereby hindering their chances of achieving tenure or promotion. To make a difference in governance structures, millennial faculty need a clear pathway to cut through perceived bureaucracy and to feel their participation in shared governance will be rewarded.
- Millennials are less likely to devote their careers to a single institution. Even tenure, once thought to help keep faculty members at their institution, is less of a tether than in generations past. Traditional ways of fully engaging long-term faculty—minimizing committee work early in their career, ramping up on faculty committees after tenure, and gaining appointment to faculty leadership positions in the last half of their career— do not work for those who believe a five-year commitment to an institution is a long one. Leaders must find a way to engage the considerable talent of this new generation of faculty earlier in their careers, while at the same time addressing fears that engagement in service to their institutions will not be valued in the tenure and promotion process.
- Millennials are more team-focused than other generations. They grew up working in teams on group projects, and many believe that “cooperation makes it happen.” Many think competition stands in the way of cooperating to find winning solutions. Institutions need to harness millennials’ team orientation for use in shared governance without undue reliance on structures they see as bureaucratic. Part of harnessing that team orientation is to assuage fears that participation in shared governance is a “we vs. they” exercise rather than a cooperative one.
- Millennials, many of whom have grown up with parents struggling to find an appropriate work-life balance, have a strong commitment to a more generous balance. As such, they have less tolerance for work activities they view as unimportant or a waste of time. They also have less tolerance for what they see as “endless meetings” within the governance systems of higher education.
Fortunately, there are ways to engage millennials’ team orientation without the risk of traditional, sometimes cumbersome vehicles of shared governance diminishing their enthusiasm. At Augustana College, we’ve retooled some shared governance practices to harness the considerable creativity of this generation.
- Because some millennials may be more likely to move from institution to institution, we’ve made sure that their understanding of the traditions and vehicles of shared governance isn’t left to chance. To expect these faculty members to simply “absorb” shared governance over their first five years is not sufficient because of their expected shorter years of service to the institution. Instead, faculty orientation includes orientation about shared governance. Instead of just a cursory reference to shared governance, this is more of an in-depth look at how and who makes decisions and how the faculty can get involved. Millennials appreciate the certainty of knowing how decisions are made.
- To make it easy for millennials to participate, we, with the support of the faculty leadership, have created a series of “unfocus groups” to consider issues at the front end of the decision-making process. These groups are deliberately designed to expand ideas rather than narrow them. They have worked particularly well as the college develops major new programs.
- The college has also created an Augustana Future Initiatives Think Tank (A-FITT) to consider new initiatives that might strengthen student learning outcomes as well as our financial sustainability. A-FITT membership is limited to faculty members and administrators who are not in leadership positions. Most are millennials. A-FITT presents its recommendation not only to the senior administration, but also to the board. While the group doesn’t have governance authority, many of its recommendations for new programs to better engage students have been implemented.
- Many institutions have developed faculty leadership programs. Most of the faculty members in Augustana’s program are millennials. Our yearlong program exposes faculty to many aspects of the college. Participants say the best part is a project they choose and implement as a team to improve the institution.
- As part of their duty of oversight, boards should ask how their institutions are engaging this important sector of the faculty. At an Augustana board retreat, the board leadership asked a panel of millennial faculty to present about what would keep them at the institution for a significant part of their career. The board learned about the importance of a team-oriented workplace and a culture that supports innovation, not stagnation. The board also learned that members of this generation want feedback about the value of their contributions to the institution. The board left the retreat optimistic about the future of the college, primarily because of the energy and entrepreneurism of Augustana’s millennial faculty.
- Mentorship by more senior faculty can play an important role in millennials navigating their way into effective faculty governance. But most faculty members have little training in what it takes to be good mentors. And millennials are hesitant to be forced into mentorship relationships that don’t feel genuine. College leadership should talk with them about what a good mentor is and encourage them to find one and make the most of the relationship. Given racial and demographic differences, mentors who are well matched with the diverse millennial faculty are often in short supply. In the best mentorship programs, mentors are well trained. At Augustana, we team up with other area colleges in mentoring minority faculty members, in part to create a sense of community beyond one institution.
Engagement of millennial faculty should not be viewed as a challenge to be managed, but rather an opportunity to be cherished. When engaged, millennial faculty will bring a fresh, teamwork-oriented approach to the work of the institution and the endeavor of meaningful shared governance.
ENGAGING CONTINGENT FACULTY MEMBERS
Increasingly at our institutions, non-tenured and non-tenure-track faculty members teach more than half the courses (and increasingly more than half of the credit hours taken by students). These adjunct professors and adjunct instructors, known as contingent faculty members, usually do not participate in shared governance to the same extent as their tenured and tenure-track colleagues. Contingent faculty members are often part-time, sometimes teaching at several institutions. If fulltime, they may have higher teaching loads than their colleagues and not have time to participate in faculty governance. And too often, faculty handbooks exclude many types of contingent faculty from full participation in faculty governance.
The problem with contingent faculty not participating is obvious. Because shared governance is designed, in part, to create the alignment necessary for outstanding student learning outcomes, it’s a problem when those most directly responsible for student learning outcomes are excluded. The “AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Shared Governance” notes that while “contingent faculty often do not have a formal role in shared governance, boards, presidents, and faculty should create regular opportunities to include their voices in the discussion of important issues and major decisions.”
Notwithstanding the growth in the number of contingent faculty, most presidents say their boards’ policies on shared governance have not changed to reflect the changing academic workforce, according to AGB’s 2016 publication Shared Governance: Is OK Good Enough? Only 4 percent of presidents of public institutions and 7 percent of presidents of private institutions say that shared governance has changed significantly to reflect the changing academic workforce. The majority of presidents at both public and private institutions say shared governance has changed “not at all” to reflect the new workforce.
It’s incumbent on the board to engage the administration and faculty in finding ways to include contingent faculty in shared governance. Some boards have made this issue a topic at their board meetings. The board may wish to hear from a panel of contingent faculty members to assess the level of contingent faculty engagement at the institution and determine the best ways to involve this segment of the workforce.
There are many ways of engaging contingent faculty in faculty governance of the academic program. It’s not uncommon for full-time contingent faculty to have voting rights. Likewise, best practice would suggest that contingent faculty have representation on the faculty senate or faculty council. However, mere representation in faculty governance often is not enough. It’s also important to facilitate broader engagement and investment in the institution. At many institutions like Augustana, promotion tracks for contingent faculty members require some level of service to the college.
The issue of engaging contingent faculty in faculty governance of the academic program is a tricky one. As a general rule of shared governance, the faculty has the right (and responsibility) to effectively organize itself. Usually interference from the administration or board is neither welcomed nor appreciated. But this does not mean the board can’t facilitate the conversation of engaging contingent faculty in faculty governance. Some boards have worked with their administration and faculty to create a shared governance task force to consider this issue.
Beyond facilitating contingent faculty participation in the traditional ways of shared governance, colleges can use the vehicles described earlier to engage millennial faculty. Both contingent and millennial faculty have lesser appetites for the meetings- centered vehicle of traditional faculty and shared governance.
ENGAGING MID-LEVEL ADMINISTRATORS AND ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF
One of the most common questions about shared governance concerns the appropriate role of mid-level administrators and administrative staff. Mid-level administrative staff members are increasingly millennials. Like millennial faculty, millennial administrators insist on opportunities to be heard and desire validation of their input.
Often these important groups feel that shared governance is a three-way pact among the board, the faculty, and the senior administrators, and it ignores them. Not much can get done without the support of the mid-level administrators and staff that implement and carry out much of our institutions’ important work. It’s clear that for our institutions to move forward during times of change, all constituencies must be engaged. And on occasion, career administrators who are disengaged, cognizant of the relatively short duration of presidencies, will prefer to slow-walk initiatives or simply wait out a president or board chair.
The problem with lack of engagement in shared governance is compounded by the fact that more work once done by the faculty is now transferred to career administrators. For years this has been true with respect to admissions and career services, but it’s increasingly true with respect to advising and academic assistance programs.
Discussion of shared governance generally has included much thought about the role of mid-level administrators. The 1966 American Association of University Professors’ “Statement of Government of Colleges and Universities” is largely silent on this issue. More recently, the “AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Shared Governance” recognized the importance of staff having the same regular opportunities as contingent faculty to participate in the discussion of major issues.
Some institutions have sought to engage administrative staff in governance through staff or administrative councils. For these groups to be effective, there should be a concerted effort to create the cross-pollination with other constituencies that results in the true alignment good shared governance affords.
One of the important goals of shared governance is to create engagement by faculty, administrators, and staff. In assessing ways to involve administrative staff in shared governance, it’s important to understand the level of staff engagement in the institution. Some institutions, both public and private, use employee engagement surveys. At Augustana, we used the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey. We learned that our hourly staff were considerably less engaged than our faculty or administrators, in part, I suspect, because of a feeling that shared governance had passed them by. The results of these engagement surveys were presented to the board, together with a plan to help increase employee engagement at all levels. Similarly, the engagement of the faculty, administration, staff, students, and alumni is rolled into one index for the board’s consideration.
There are many ways to provide staff with opportunities to be heard before a major decision is made. At Augustana, we often invite a dozen or so staff members to participate in portions of the board retreat. We invite all members of the campus community, including hourly staff, to attend allcampus retreats. Staff contributions have been particularly valuable on such issues as welcoming and retaining diverse populations. In addition, we regularly include staff in the initiatives we use to engage millennial faculty members, such as “unfocus groups” and future initiative task forces.
Dr. Susan K. Gardner, professor of higher education at the University of Maine, stated it best: “Make no mistake: Despite the warnings and the frantic calls to action offered by the popular media in response to millennials, this generation offers academics an unprecedented set of opportunities to become more engaged, more technologically conversant, and more forward looking than ever.” The same could be said of many contingent faculty members and mid-level administrators and staff. Boards owe it to their institutions to harness the energy of these groups to make shared governance even more effective.