Leadership Threats to Shared Governance in Higher Education

By Robert A. Scott


Two dynamics in contemporary higher education disrupt the relations among boards of trustees, presidents, and campus faculty, and threaten the traditions of shared governance. The first is the way boards of trustees are composed. The second is the evolution of the college and university president’s role from chief mission (or purpose) officer to chief executive officer. Both trends exacerbate the increasingly corporate style of higher education institutions and threaten shared governance.

Board members must be educated for their role; a president must be encouraged and rewarded for service as chief mission officer as well as chief executive officer; and faculty involvement in governance must follow a commitment to the institutional mission above all interests. The dynamics of the corporate university can be changed with appropriate incentives established by accrediting bodies and national associations and by employing the instruments available to train trustees, presidents, and faculty leaders.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid turn to remote teaching and learning this past spring, uncertainty about on-campus and remote teaching and learning this year, dire enrollment forecasts due to lower than expected recruitment and reduced retention, and the curtailment of international student enrollment all contribute to the tense relations and loss of trust among trustees, faculty, and administrators.

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