Shared Governance: Benefits and Costs

27 March 2008 at 9:45 am 4 comments

| 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?

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Corporate Governance, Education, Institutions, Links, New Institutional Economics, Theory of the Firm.

The Real March Madness Riding Off Into the Sunset. . . .

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brian A'Hearn  |  27 March 2008 at 11:15 am

    AGSE stigmatization worked on me. Plus, it seemed that in departments other than economics conditions were different. You might enjoy “Googling” stigmatizer Pierre Cremieux to see what he is up to now.

    What do you mean by shared governance in this specific context? Control by professors over academic matters and control by administration over business matters (divided governance)? Joint control by each over both (more truly shared governance)? At my liberal arts institution, our president, John Fry – subject of a recent NYT profile, comes from a business, rather than academic background. He has done good things for the College. One reason people were prepared to accept him is that the governance rules here limit his ability to control academic matters, and he hasn’t tried to change or get around them. In this sense, divided governance (=shared governance?) promotes efficiency, or at least innovation, on the business side of things. Does this make any sense?

  • 2. K. Brockman  |  27 March 2008 at 4:38 pm

    I, for one, welcome our new shared overlords.

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  27 March 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Brian, I had in mind what you call divided governance, which is what I think the AAUP means by “shared governance.” At most research universities the responsibilities are divided as you say, but “academic” includes not only curriculum but also, more important, hiring and firing, promotion, student admissions, and the like (and some decisions about resource allocation). Perhaps the line between “business” and “academic” matters isn’t so easy to draw.

  • 4. Ben Martin  |  8 September 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Yes, shared governance is grossly inefficient. SO IS DEMOCRACY! Efficiency cannot be the primary criterium for administering an academic institution.

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