The Demise of Shared Governance at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

By Nancy D. Campbell and Jane F. Koretz

In early August 2007, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s newly appointed provost, Robert Palazzo, summarily suspended the university’s Faculty Senate. He claimed that the Rensselaer Faculty Senate (RFS) had failed to amend its constitution according to a directive from the university’s Board of Trustees. At the heart of debate were the disenfranchisement of nearly 200 faculty, and contention over who should be voting members of the Faculty Senate. In fall 2007, the Rensselaer faculty voted overwhelmingly for reinstatement of the Senate. The Board of Trustees, President Shirley Jackson, and the provost ignored this referendum despite AAUP concerns and negative national publicity. Until this impasse, the Faculty Senate had played an advisory role to the Office of the Provost and had participated in the governance and direction of scholarly activities and instruction at Rensselaer, a model of shared governance typical of many universities across the country. However, notions of governance are changing on campuses that have adopted a business model with corporate-style management. The rise of this administrative governance model, while ostensibly premised on notions of faculty rights and freedoms, actually produces structures and policies hostile to shared governance, detrimental to faculty empowerment, and undermining of faculty unity and morale. This article analyzes the demise of shared governance at Rensselaer and the imposition of a form of governance in which the administration dominates all decision-making processes. A chronology is appended that supplies the background and timeline of the unfolding events on campus, and chronicles the increasing chasm between faculty, administration, and the board of trustees.

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