Shared Governance: Benefits and Costs
27 March 2008 at 9:45 am Peter G. Klein
| Peter Klein |
Back in grad school I was regularly hectored by a fellow student about joining the Association of Graduate Student Employees (AGSE), our local collective-bargaining association. Despite his attempt to stigmatize me as a free rider, I never joined. I didn’t think I agreed with the organizations goals, and I was sure I didn’t want to be associated with AGSE’s parent organization, the United Auto Workers (go figure). One year there was even a strike, which I found silly (I scabbed).
This semester I’m getting repeated invitations to join the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Again, I hesitate. Of course, as an American university professor, I’m happy to see more power, prestige, and perquisites go to American university professors (OK, specifically, to me). But the AAUP has a strange agenda. Its mission includes not only protecting academic freedom and defending the role of the university in public life, but also preserving shared governance. Having spent many years in university settings, I’m convinced that shared governance is grossly inefficient, at least most of the time. There can be benefits, of course, to offset these costs, as is the case with worker-owned cooperatives and other non-standard forms of organization. But one searches the AAUP’s website in vain for any analysis or evidence on shared governance. What are the benefits and costs, relative to other feasible organizational forms? Why should professors defend this peculiar institution?
I’m not aware of many studies by organizational economists or management scholars on shared governance in higher education. Scott Masten has a nice paper [ungated version] showing that shared governance is more common in large, full-service research universities and less common in liberal-arts colleges and church-affiliated schools. Scott argues that shared governance is an effective means of enforcing commitments between administrators and faculty members and among faculty members themselves when actions are outcomes are hard to specify by contract. Given that most organizational scholars work in universities, and that university professors are inveterate navel-gazers, I’d expect many more such papers. Which ones am I missing?
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