Introducing “Shared Governance in Action”: a special series to broaden our collective imagination

Recent events at UNL have called into question the extent to which shared governance1 is valued and enacted at the University. Contrary to the strong recommendations of the Academic Planning Committee, the faculty group charged with advising the Chancellor on budget cuts related to the academic mission of the institution, Chancellor Bennett finalized a budget reduction plan that included massive cuts to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and in areas of “Instructional Effectiveness.” This was the culmination of a process that was contrary to AAUP principles of shared governance in many ways: faculty representatives on the APC were bound by confidentiality and unable to share information freely with faculty colleagues, final decisions were made without appropriate weight given to the educational and academic considerations raised by the APC, and the administration rejected faculty recommendations without compelling reasons communicated in detail to the faculty.

Unfortunately, this example is not unique at UNL. Groups like the APC, the Faculty Senate, and many other faculty committees that should be involved in shared governance are ultimately only involved in key decisions to the extent that the administration allows them to be. Despite the time, effort, and expertise that many faculty members have contributed to these groups over the years, the administration can still ignore faculty recommendations at will. The faculty has also had insufficient voice in the hiring of key institutional leaders, such as the Chancellor and system President, who are hired through closed search processes. This is again contrary to the principles of shared governance.

Without a culture and history of robust shared governance, it is often difficult to imagine how things could be different. In this series of blog posts over the next few months, we hope to change that – to expand our imagination about how we could enact stronger shared governance here at UNL. And for those of you reading who are not at UNL, we hope that you can take these stories to re-imagine what is possible in your own context.

Posts in this series will highlight examples of shared governance at institutions across the U.S. None of these examples will be perfect, but they will all have lessons we can learn about what is possible to do with shared governance in higher education. For example, our first post, by guest contributor Matthew Johnson of Central Michigan University, describes how shared governance can lead to buy-in around academic calendar changes, even in the midst of a crisis situation. Although this example is from a unionized campus and focuses on the shared governance power given to the faculty through a collective bargaining agreement, the lesson that shared governance can lead to a win-win situation for the administration and the faculty is applicable in non-unionized contexts as well. We hope that this example, and the others to come, can help us all imagine the possibilities for shared governance. What might it look like at UNL, or wherever you may be, for the faculty to have more say in decisions about the academic calendar?

We welcome ideas for topics to cover in this series, or examples of robust and effective shared governance that you know of at other institutions. Please reach out to editorial board member Elizabeth Niehaus ( with comments and suggestions.

  1. According to the AAUP, “Shared governance refers to the joint responsibility of faculty, administrations, and governing boards to govern colleges and universities” (FAQs, para. 1). More specifically, the faculty’s role in shared governance “is to have primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and aspects of student life which relate to the educational process. The responsibility for faculty status includes appointments, reappointments, decisions not to reappoint, promotions, the granting of tenure, and dismissal. The faculty should also have a role in decision-making outside of their immediate areas of primary responsibility, including long-term planning, budgeting, and the selection, evaluation and retention of administrators” (FAQs, para. 2). For more information, we recommend the AAUP’s resources on shared governance, including these FAQs and, for those who really want to dig in, this list of AAUP policy statements and reports on shared governance. ↩︎