What Do You Mean by "Shared Governance?"

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Whatever it actually means, "shared governance" seems awfully important to the faculty, staff, and students of UW-Madison. And so I want to bring to light an exchange that the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) had with Chancellor Martin about the New Badger Partnership at the end of January. I had heard about this conversation but neglected to read the text of it until now. I think it is something students should consider carefully, and discuss at great length. How do you feel about the process and how it's unfolded? How do you feel about the style of governance employed thus far, and what it means going forward?

What follows is an excerpt from the ASM "live blog" of January 24.

Beth Huang: I’ve continually heard that the partnership is not a privatization, but a way to give the university more powers. But I don’t hear much about what powers will be given to students, staff and faculty at this university. Can you give me your vision for how other players than administrators will have more flexibility?

Biddy Martin: First of all, I’ve never said we want more “powers.” We want more “tools.” Greater flexibility would allow us to rely more on our shared governance system. The shared governance system would have to do even more work and be even better. We would have more decisions to be made with shared governance groups. A lot of kind of decisions “that get made for us” right now, would be made here. I’m not against state support in any way. I’ve spent more time at the capitol advocating for state support than any other chancellor. But I’m also a realist.

Don Nelson (assistant to Chancellor): The protection of shared governance is a “bottom line” in any legislation. It gives us the student perspective that we just don’t have on a daily basis.

Huang: Right now I’m only aware of advisory committees that have to do with the partnership. When the budget comes out, will we just have advisory committees, or will students have votes on those shared governance committees?

Martin: We don’t know. Right now the advisory committee on the new partnership was just established last semester. “Everything that happens through shared governance is technically advisory.” Shared governance ensures that administrators don’t make decisions without serious consultations with shared governance groups. The only thing that would change is that there would be more opportunities for shared governance on this campus, and students would have just as much input in shared governance groups as they have now.

Huang: Would there be guaranteed votes on shared governance committees for tuition setting?

Martin: Tuition setting would not be done by a group on this campus. We would be overseen by a board, and that board would have the final authority to set tuition. They would set it based on recommendations from the campus. If we had a board specific to UW-Madison, I would want students to be on it. If I was given a voice on that matter, I would say that we want student representation.

Student: If there was a consensus across the university that we don’t want you to move forward with this, how would we be able to express rejection of this?

Martin: I think the proper way would be through shared governance. And if you do reject it, I would ask what you would suggest we do.

Nelson: I would say you should consider what principles of this plan you have issue with. Each principle will be voted on by shared governance groups.If there is widespread discontent, I think it would come through the shared governance process.

******* (A few minutes later) ******

Student: A lot of students are concerned that this is an attack on shared governance. How are your decisions really made, and how much student input was actually taken into account? I think students feel like they were alienated from the process.

Martin: I don’t see my position as a leader as sort of sorting through an agglomeration of opinions on campus. That’s not a leader; that’s a mouth piece. I feel good about what I did, which is take what I’ve learned over many decades of work in higher education, and come up with an analysis of what I think could help us, and then try it out. I wanted to see whether it would have any support before I pushed it with anybody. I published an article about it last spring, and I sent out a letter about it to the entire campus. I’ve been completely above board.When I was talking to gubernatorial candidates, I wanted to explain to them the importance of this university, using the powerpoint that is online, that everybody has seen. You need a different leader if you want someone who is just a mouthpiece for things that were voted on in advance. We would never get anywhere if we had people deciding on every detail before we could discuss anything with leaders. When I don’t seem to you to be adequately consulting, you’ll tell me and I can be responsive. I think the way the process has unfolded has been legitimate.