Over the past few weeks, the shared governance saga has seen two key developments: a Faculty Senate resolution laying out consensus priorities on how the University should proceed and the results of a survey of faculty, administrators and the Board of Trustees. This document is a giant leap forward in setting expectations around shared governance, but it also highlights the work still to be done. As this chapter of revamping the University’s decision-making process wraps up, the next chapter should feature more binding components and a focus on staff members.
The shared governance saga at GW has been arduous to say the least. The LeBlanc era ushered in widespread faculty discontent with the top-down manner in which administrators ran the University, which led to demands for formal involvement of professors in decision-making. Once LeBlanc announced his plans to retire, efforts to make the University’s operations a bit more democratic – or at least more collaborative – resumed in earnest. Once the fall 2021 semester kicked into gear, the Board unveiled a process by which the Board, faculty and administrators would hammer out a new shared governance dynamic.
The survey was yet another thermometric effort, like soliciting input through town halls this semester. Prior to now, an observer could have been forgiven for thinking that all of this consultation without concrete action had been dragging on too long.
As GW searches for a permanent president, faculty representation is crucial, and the Faculty Senate did remarkable work in representing their best understanding of the body of professors as a whole. But as the process moves forward, it is worth noting that opinions of the professoriate have to jump through an eyebrow-raising number of hoops before being factored into the presidential search. Professors are represented by the senate, whose executive committee then suggests individual professors for membership on the faculty consultative committee. That committee advises the Board on the presidential search process. Members of the faculty consultative committee can then be added to the presidential search committee. Yes, faculty did technically create this matrix of committees to represent their interests – but even with the shared governance framework, the Board needs to do more to seek out faculty input in the presidential search.
The new policies, while sweeping, are somewhat toothless. They amount to effectively a memorandum of understanding and do not officially change any University policy. Of course this is a process, and of course this step is significant progress, but as far as next steps go, it is going to be important to hold the Board to their promises here.
Currently, the University relies primarily on the Board and administrators to make big-ticket decisions affecting the entire University, from choosing the next president to strategic planning and determining the trajectory of student life, which are made almost entirely without the beating heart of the University – students and staff members. Staff members are employees just like faculty members, and they keep the University going. If a faculty member struggles with a projector in their classroom, the first thing they do is call a staff member from Information Technology. If a student’s toilet stops working, they file a FixIt report and hear the passionate knocks on their door from a maintenance employee a little while later. Everyone from maintenance to advising falls into the staff category and are almost entirely without direct representation in University policymaking. Students and faculty rely heavily on staff, and staff carries a significant bulk of keeping the University going.
Students and faculty are obvious choices for integrating into shared governance, but staff is often left out of these circumstances, perhaps because they often do not have an academic relationship to the University. Staff too should be an obvious next step after faculty members are integrated into shared governance.
Shared governance frequently gets tossed around as a buzzword, but it is important that the University get this right. Officials have made genuinely commendable efforts and solid progress at bringing more important components of the GW community into making decisions that will affect the GW community. Now, they just have to take the final step and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.
The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by opinions editor Andrew Sugrue and contributing opinions editor Shreeya Aranake, based on discussions with culture editor Anna Boone, contributing sports editor Nuria Diaz, design editor Grace Miller and copy editor Jaden DiMauro.