College and University Governance

How the AAUP has established widely accepted norms of shared governance.
By Larry G. Gerber

Most discussions of the AAUP’s origins and subsequent history focus on the Association’s role in defending principles of academic freedom and tenure. From shortly after its beginning a century ago, however, the AAUP has also played a crucial role in advancing the principle that faculty members, by virtue of their professional expertise in scholarship and teaching, ought to be centrally involved in college and university governance. The AAUP’s efforts to formulate and implement the principles of what has come to be called “shared governance” have included the issuance of policy statements, formal investigations of institutions where available evidence has indicated major violations of AAUP-recommended governance norms, occasional surveys of colleges and universities to determine the state of actual governance practices in American higher education, sponsorship of conferences and training workshops focusing on the issues of governance, and individual casework by national staff members.

Policy Statements

The Association’s foundational document, the landmark 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, prepared by a committee of fifteen eminent professors, was premised on the idea that faculty members—like doctors and lawyers—are professionals who require significant autonomy to carry out their mission. In emphasizing the special “nature of the academic calling,” the declaration proclaimed that the “conception of a university as an ordinary business venture, and of academic teaching as a purely private employment,” demonstrated “a radical failure to apprehend the nature of the social function discharged by the professional scholar.” That function, the committee explained, “is to deal at first hand, after prolonged and specialized technical training, with sources of knowledge; and to impart the results of their own and of their fellow-specialists’ investigations and reflection, both to students and to the general public, without fear or favor.” Faculty members might well be appointed to their positions by college or university trustees, but they were not “in any proper sense the employees” of those trustees, because “once appointed, the scholar has professional functions to perform in which the appointing authorities have neither competency nor moral right to intervene.” These functions included not only evaluating the qualifications and performance of fellow faculty members but also exercising primary responsibility for such academic matters as the determination of the curriculum and the establishment and maintenance of academic standards. From its inception, the AAUP recognized that academic freedom and faculty governance are, as a 1994 statement put it, so “inextricably linked” that one could not thrive without the other.

The centrality of governance issues for the nascent AAUP resulted in the Association’s voting at its third annual meeting in 1916 to establish a Committee T on the Place and Function of Faculties in University Government and Administration (now the Committee on College and University Governance). Beginning with the earliest AAUP investigative reports concerning instances of administration abuses of academic freedom and tenure, these reports have also included significant statements about the need for meaningful faculty involvement in governance. The first such report, which dealt with the termination of the appointments of four longtime professors at the University of Utah and the resignation in protest of seventeen others, expressed particular concern about the lack of adequate procedures and peer review in the dismissals. The investigating committee noted “with much satisfaction” that the university administration had sought to resolve the crisis that followed the dismissals and resignations by accepting a faculty proposal for establishing a new system of shared governance that gave the faculty a far greater voice, not only in dismissal proceedings but also in most other areas of academic decision making. The investigating committee contended that the new Utah “scheme of organization” might well serve as a model for other institutions.

The AAUP’s early emphasis on the importance of peer review as a professional right and responsibility was also apparent in a 1916 investigating committee report on the dismissal of radical economist Scott Nearing from a position at the University of Pennsylvania. The report affirmed the belief that those “who were in the best position to judge” the “professional qualifications” of a faculty member were “colleagues. . . who were also specialists in his own department of knowledge.” Professional academic expertise was thus the basis for the AAUP’s insistence on the necessity that the faculty assume substantial responsibility for all issues that directly related to teaching and research.

The AAUP’s first attempt to codify some basic professional norms in the area of governance occurred in 1921, when the annual meeting adopted a series of resolutions based on the work of Committee T. One resolution declared that “the formal consent of the Faculty directly or through its elected representatives should be prerequisite to all changes in educational policy.” Another resolution called on colleges and universities to allow for direct communication between trustees and elected faculty representatives, including “periodic conferences on matters of educational policy or institutional conditions.” The annual meeting also approved resolutions that affirmed the faculty’s primary role in appointing and promoting members of the teaching staff and its “corresponding responsibility to take initiative in removing from the teaching staff incompetent as well as unworthy members.” In addition, the annual meeting adopted a resolution calling for a formal faculty role in the selection of deans and presidents.

At the time the AAUP first proclaimed them, these governance principles had not been put into practice by most American colleges and universities. The professionalization of American faculty members, to which the AAUP significantly contributed, and which became the basis for the development of an expanded role for faculty in institutional governance, had begun to gain momentum only in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and in 1915 was at best a work in progress in most American institutions of higher education. At that time, as now, a great many faculty members served in what today are called “contingent” positions—as instructors serving on one-year appointments. Moreover, professors of higher ranks were also routinely excluded from shared governance. According to a 1920 report issued by Committee T, the majority of institutions the committee had surveyed restricted direct governance responsibilities to full professors. In general, American college and university governing boards and administrations were slower to adopt the practices of shared governance than they were to recognize indefinite tenure and the need for academic freedom. Nevertheless, over the next half century the AAUP would play a critical role in winning greater acceptance of the principles of shared governance. These efforts would culminate in 1966, when representatives of the AAUP, the American Council on Education (ACE), and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) reached agreement on a jointly drafted Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities that recognized, at least in broad terms, the desirability of affording the faculty a major role in institutional governance.

The earlier 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which the AAUP drafted together with the Association of American Colleges, and which helped gain widespread acceptance of tenure and academic freedom protections as norms for higher education, had important implications for the faculty’s role in college and university governance. The 1940 statement called for the involvement of a faculty committee, “if possible,” in any dismissal proceeding and thereby recognized the importance of utilizing the professional expertise of faculty in making what amounted to an academic decision about competency. In the 1950s the AAUP promulgated a set of Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure (which have undergone numerous revisions over the years) that not only detailed what rights individual faculty members holding tenure should have but also what the collective faculty’s appropriate role should be in determining whether the declaration of a condition of financial exigency or the closure of individual programs that might lead to the termination of faculty appointments was justified. Not until the drafting of the 1966 Statement on Government, however, was a broad consensus reached on how faculty expertise ought to inform the full spectrum of academic decision making.

The idea of a joint statement on governance was initially proposed by John Millett, the chair of the ACE’s Commission on Administrative Affairs. The final statement was the product of several years of discussions and negotiations among the AAUP, the ACE, and the AGB, with Committee T chair Ralph S. Brown playing a principal role in the statement’s final drafting. The ACE and the AGB both recognized “the statement as a significant step forward in the clarification of the respective roles of governing boards, faculties, and administrations” and “commend[ed] it” to the attention of their members. In 1966, the AAUP’s governing Council adopted the statement as official Association policy.

The Statement on Government recognizes that, “with few exceptions,” the governing board is the “final institutional authority” and “plays a central role” in matters of budgeting and safeguarding an institution’s resources. It also describes an institution’s president as “the chief planning officer,” responsible for providing essential “institutional leadership,” including the need “at times, with or without support,” to “infuse new life into a department.” Nonetheless, in many areas of institutional decision making, such as long-range planning, budgeting, the setting of general educational policy, and the selection of a president, the statement emphasizes the need for “joint effort” and “joint action” and the “inescapable
interdependence among governing board, administration, faculty, students, and others.”

In matters relating directly to carrying out the teaching and research missions of an institution of higher learning, the statement recognizes that members of the faculty should exercise “primary responsibility” by virtue of their academic expertise. Thus, in “such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process,” where the faculty should generally have primary decision-making authority, the statement asserts that “the power of review or final decision lodged in the governing board or delegated by it to the president should be exercised adversely only in exceptional circumstances, and for reasons communicated to the faculty.” Nonconcurrence with the faculty judgment, the statement further asserts, should occur only “in rare instances and for compelling reasons which should be stated in detail.”

The 1966 statement quickly became a starting point for discussions of college and university governance. Thus, for example, the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, chaired by former University of California president Clark Kerr, issued a special report on governance in 1973 that declared, “It is our view that faculties in most, if not all, institutions should have approximately the level of authority recommended by the American Association of University Professors. We give this a high level of priority.” In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many individual colleges and universities incorporated references to the statement in their faculty handbooks or other official institutional policies, and the governing boards of statewide systems in both California and Illinois formally recognized the statement as a guide for governance at their systems’ institutions. Although developments in American higher education since the mid-1970s have seriously challenged the shared governance model at the heart of the Statement on Government, its provisions remain the best guide for an effective system of institutional decision making.

Because the 1966 statement offered only broad guidelines for college and university governance, the AAUP, through a series of subsequent policy statements, spelled out in greater detail how the principles of shared governance outlined in the 1966 statement should be applied to such areas of institutional decision making as budgeting, the selection of administrators, and athletics. In 1972 the AAUP Council adopted a policy approved by the governance committee on The Role of the Faculty in Budgetary and Salary Matters. To implement the concept of “joint effort,” the new statement called for colleges and universities to establish an elected institution-level budget committee “representative of the entire faculty” that would participate in the preparation of the budget and have access to all information “required to perform its task effectively.” The statement noted the particular importance of faculty involvement in budgetary decisions directly affecting the academic program of an institution for which the faculty had “primary responsibility.”

While acknowledging that the governing board and administration had final authority in budgetary matters, the 1972 statement pointed out “the significant assistance” that a faculty budget committee could provide to an institution in “mediating the financial needs and the demands of different groups within the faculty.” This was particularly true in times of serious financial difficulties. The statement declared that faculty members, including those who were nontenured, should be significantly involved in any decisions that might eliminate programs and positions or change the “basic character and purpose of the institution.” Finally, the statement more fully specified what the AAUP saw as the necessity of “faculty participation in decisions relating to salary policies and procedures,” including the development of “clear and open” policies as to how salaries were determined.

In 1974 the AAUP Council adopted a committee approved statement on Faculty Participation in the Selection and Retention of Administrators (later expanded and revised in 1981 to include a discussion of the faculty role in the evaluation of administrators). While the 1966 statement dealt at some length with the faculty role in the selection of a president and of department chairs or heads, and more briefly with its role in the selection of other academic officers, the later statements addressed the importance of faculty involvement in the periodic review of other academic administrators in addition to the president, and in decisions about the retention or nonretention of these administrative officers.

Since 1966 the AAUP has also issued policy guidelines on several governance issues not addressed in the Statement on Government. These include the relationship between collective bargaining and governance, the role that faculty members on contingent appointments should play in institutional governance, and the faculty role in the oversight of athletics.

At the time the Statement on Government was drafted, faculty collective bargaining in American institutions of higher education was in its infancy, and many AAUP members considered faculty unions to be incompatible with a collaborative model of shared governance that was based on a recognition of the professional nature of the academic calling. Unionism, however, spread rapidly on American college and university campuses in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1971, after considerable internal debate within the organization, the Association’s Council adopted a statement declaring that the AAUP would “pursue collective bargaining, as a major additional way of realizing the Association’s goals in higher education,” a position endorsed by the AAUP’s annual meeting in 1972 and formally expressed in its 1973 Statement on Collective Bargaining (revised in 1984 and again in 1993).

The AAUP’s embrace of unionism was predicated on the recognition that collective bargaining was not incompatible with the principles and practices of traditional shared governance and, indeed, when “properly used,” was “essentially another means to achieve” the AAUP’s “longstanding programs” of enhancing “academic freedom and tenure[,] . . . due process[,] . . . and sound academic government.” The AAUP leadership came to support what some referred to as “dual-track bargaining,” in which a faculty union took responsibility for negotiating economic issues, while traditional mechanisms of faculty governance such as senates represented the faculty in decisions about educational policies and other academic matters. The AAUP’s entry into collective bargaining, in fact, was partly motivated by the fear that other organizations seeking to unionize faculty members were not so sensitive as the AAUP was to traditional governance concerns, and by the hope that AAUP collective bargaining chapters might successfully embed in legally binding contracts provisions that ensured a significant faculty role in academic decision making. (Some currently involved in AAUP collective bargaining may support dual-track bargaining, but others argue that it is better to include educational policy in the collective bargaining agreement where it will be part of a legally binding contract.)

Another issue not directly addressed in the Statement on Government was whether all members of the faculty were entitled to participate equally in institutional governance. The statement repeatedly referred to the role of “the faculty” but did not define who was to be included in that category. In the 1960s, the majority of faculty members held full-time tenured or tenure-track appointments, and the assumption on most campuses was that these were the faculty members most appropriately involved in institutional governance. In fact, when the AAUP was first organized membership was limited to faculty with ten years of experience—a requirement that was soon changed as the AAUP sought to become more broadly representative of the professoriate. As increasing numbers of faculty are to be appointed on a contingent basis with little or no prospect of ever gaining tenure, or, in many cases, even full-time employment, the AAUP has come to recognize a need to pay greater attention to this growing segment of the professoriate and ultimately to make an explicit commitment to involve all faculty members in at least some aspects of governance. Starting in the 1970s the AAUP began issuing reports and policy statements calling for fairer compensation, better working conditions, and greater job security for nontenured part- and full-time faculty members. In 2012 the Council adopted a comprehensive policy statement on The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appointments. The statement called for institutional policies to define as “faculty” and include in governance bodies at all levels and in most aspects of institutional decision making individuals whose appointments consist primarily of teaching or research activities conducted at a professional level, regardless of full- or part-time status. It recommended that, while faculty holding contingent appointments may be restricted from participating in the evaluation of tenured and tenure-track faculty, they should have the opportunity to contribute to the evaluation of contingent faculty. The statement also recognized that in order to make their involvement in governance effective, these faculty members needed stronger protections for their academic freedom through affordance of the right to academic due process. It urged the establishment of policies explicitly protecting faculty members from retaliation for their participation in governance activities. Finally, it recommended that faculty holding contingent appointments be compensated in a way that takes into consideration the full range of their appointment responsibilities, which should include service.

Another governance issue that in recent decades has attracted the attention of the AAUP has been the faculty’s responsibility for overseeing intercollegiate athletics. In 1989, in response to growing concerns that intercollegiate athletics posed “a major governance problem for American colleges and universities,” an AAUP Special Committee on Athletics formulated a statement on The Role of Faculty in the Governance of College Athletics. This document was followed two years later by the Council’s adoption of a Statement on Intercollegiate Athletics that called for institutions engaging in intercollegiate athletics to establish committees elected by the faculty to monitor the institution’s compliance with its own policies and standards relating to “admissions, the progress toward graduation, and the integrity of the course of study” of student-athletes. In addition, the statement advised that “elected faculty representatives should comprise a majority of the campus committee that formulates campus athletic policy” and that “such a committee should be chaired by an elected faculty member.” Continuing problems with intercollegiate athletics led the AAUP’s Committee on Teaching, Research, and Publication in 2002 to issue a more detailed report on The Faculty Role in the Reform of Intercollegiate Athletics: Principles and Recommended Practices that took the Statement on Government as a starting point but elaborated on the means for ensuring the appropriate faculty role called for in earlier AAUP statements on athletics.

Governance Investigations

From its first year of existence, the AAUP has conducted formal investigations of institutions for possible academic freedom and tenure violations. In 1930 the Association adopted procedures that allowed investigations carried out under the auspices of Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure to lead to the annual meeting’s placing offending administrations on a “censure list.” The Association did not begin to conduct formal Committee T investigations, focusing specifically on governance issues, until 1960, when Monmouth College and the University of Miami became the first two institutions to be the subject of such an investigation. Monmouth had only recently undergone a transition from being a two-year to a four-year institution but had retained many of the autocratic governance practices then still common in community colleges. The University of Miami investigation represented the AAUP’s first effort to examine the particular problems associated with governance of medical schools. The dismissal of thirty-one faculty members at New York’s St. John’s University in 1965 led the AAUP—for the only time in its history—to authorize separate investigations into the state of both academic freedom and shared governance at the institution. Not long after the publication of the AAUP’s governance investigation report in 1965, the St. John’s faculty formed one of the earliest AAUP collective bargaining chapters.

Governance investigations did not become as numerous as Committee A investigations, in part because unlike academic freedom and tenure cases—where violations of an individual faculty member’s rights provided a clear focus and possibility for measurable redress—governance cases have involved a broader and often more difficult assessment of the overall extent of faculty involvement in institutional governance. To date, a total of seventeen governance investigations have taken place, each leading to the publication of a substantial report. These governance investigations have become a crucial aspect of the AAUP’s efforts to promote good governance practices. In 1991 the Council approved a procedure that allowed for Committee on Governance investigations to lead to the annual meeting’s possible “sanctioning” of an institution for “substantial noncompliance with standards of academic governance.” Decisions to conduct governance investigations are made with the same scrupulous care as decisions to undertake Committee A investigations and are carried out in a like fashion (see the AAUP’s “Standards for Investigations in the Area of College and University Government” in the AAUP’s Policy Documents and Reports and Debra Nails’s essay in this issue of Academe). The establishment of this new procedure represented an effort to highlight the Association’s concerns with governance standards at a time when the earlier consensus on governance norms represented by the formulation of the 1966 Statement on Government seemed to be breaking down.

Lindenwood College (now Lindenwood University) in 1994 became the first college or university to be placed on the AAUP’s newly established list of institutions sanctioned for infringement of governance standards. The sanction resulted from the administration’s unilateral dismantling of the institution’s existing faculty governance structures. Since that time, six other institutions (Elmira College, Francis Marion University, Miami-Dade College, Antioch University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Idaho State University) have been placed on the list for similarly suspending or eliminating existing mechanisms for meaningful input by faculty in institutional decision making. The Antioch case is particularly noteworthy because it involved the closing—with virtually no faculty input into decision making—of the multicampus system’s original home campus for supposed financial reasons. Until now only one institution—Francis Marion—has taken actions, following the selection of a new president, that led to the reestablishment of effective faculty governance structures and subsequent removal from the sanction list.

In the most highly publicized of all governance investigations, the AAUP published a report detailing the resignation in June 2012 of University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan, forced by the university’s governing board in a secretive action that did not explain the panel’s specific grounds for its displeasure with her performance. The Association was prominent in a deluge of faculty, student, and alumni protests urging that the president be quickly restored to her position. Within a fortnight the board reversed itself. An announced AAUP investigation into the board’s action nonetheless proceeded because the Association saw the case as raising vital larger issues of governance for the University of Virginia and for higher education generally. The investigating committee’s report emphasized the dangers of a corporate approach to university governance. The report found that the events at the university resulted from “a failure by those charged with institutional oversight to understand the institution over which they presided and to engage with the administration and the faculty in an effort to be well informed.”

In 1998, while it continued to conduct investigations at institutions where major departures from Association-supported governance standards had occurred, the AAUP established the Ralph S. Brown Award for Shared Governance, which is given to an American college or university administrator or trustee, or to a board of trustees as a group, in recognition of an outstanding contribution to shared governance. Luther F. Carter, the president who was instrumental in getting Francis Marion University off the sanction list, became the second individual to receive this award.

Surveys, Conferences, and Casework

Soon after its establishment in 1916, the AAUP’s Committee on Governance sought to determine the “actual status of faculties in university government and administration” by conducting a survey of approximately one hundred institutions across the country. At the time, this survey provided the most extensive information then available about current governance practices at American colleges and universities.The results, published in 1920, showed how far these practices were from the ideals that would later be expressed in the Statement on Government.

In subsequent years, the governance committee conducted three ambitious surveys to track the development of governance practices in American higher education. These surveys provided a basis for benchmarking best practices and for demonstrating not only how far many institutions had come in the half century since the founding of the AAUP in their implementation of the principles of shared governance but also how far most colleges and universities still had to go to fully realize these principles. A committee survey completed in 1940, to which more than two hundred institutions with AAUP chapters responded, showed a general improvement from the situation of two decades earlier and demonstrated a clear correlation between the extent of faculty governance at an institution and the academic status of that institution. A broader study of responses from more than three hundred colleges and universities published in 1955 indicated greater acceptance of the governance norms that the AAUP sought to establish. The committee’s last effort to conduct a comprehensive survey on its own occurred in 1969–70, when the committee solicited responses from all accredited colleges and universities, not only those with AAUP chapters. Nearly one thousand institutions responded, an indication of how widely the AAUP had become recognized as the voice of the academic profession. The results of this survey showed continued improvement in the state of shared governance among American colleges and universities.

Three decades later, higher education scholar Gabriel Kaplan sought the cooperation of the AAUP and the American Council of Academic Deans in conducting an updated survey of governance conditions in American higher education. In his 2001 survey of nearly one thousand institutions (most of which did not have AAUP chapters), he rather surprisingly found that those responding held a quite positive view of the state of governance. They reportedly held this view in spite of many troubling developments over the three preceding decades, especially the widespread adoption of corporate management approaches to governance and a steady deprofessionalization of the faculty, most notably through the dramatic increase in the proportion of faculty holding contingent appointments. Kaplan’s findings may have been shaped in part by the fact that relatively few AAUP members participated in the survey. Another possible explanation for Kaplan’s unexpected results stems from the diminishing gap between the degree of faculty involvement in governance at prestigious research universities and liberal arts colleges as compared with the degree of faculty participation at lower-status institutions. At more prestigious institutions, where shared-governance practices had become the norm by the 1960s or early 1970s, conditions for faculty governance may have deteriorated in recent decades. However, many less prestigious colleges and universities seeking to upgrade their reputations may have begun in recent decades to grant faculty a greater role in governance as part of a broader effort to enhance their academic standing (alas, many other such institutions have slid further downhill).

The AAUP has also sought to influence governance practices at American colleges and universities by holding conferences devoted specifically to the topic. Governance conferences have offered training for senate leaders and have served as a means of disseminating scholarly work on the subject. While the Association had organized occasional meetings in Washington focusing on governance before the mid-1990s, the first such conference sponsored by the AAUP outside of Washington was held in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1996. In 2003 the AAUP collaborated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association to hold a conference in Indianapolis highlighting the faculty role in the oversight of intercollegiate athletics. More recently, Washington has again been the site of periodic AAUP-sponsored governance conferences.

In addition to the activities described above, national staff members have long engaged in governance casework, in which the staff has responded to queries about best practices and offered advice about how to advance shared governance on a particular campus.


During its one-hundred-year history, the AAUP has been instrumental in using a variety of means to advance the principle that, because of their professional academic expertise, the faculty ought to be centrally involved in institutional decision making. Unfortunately, the increasing prevalence of corporate approaches to the management of institutions of higher education, including troubling measures contributing to the deprofessionalization of the professoriate, has undermined a previous consensus on the value of shared governance. Yet, if the high academic quality and unparalleled international reputation of American colleges and universities are to be maintained, the faculty, with its commitment to academic values and its conception of the true purposes of higher learning, must exercise primary responsibility for academic decision making. The AAUP continues to be the nation’s leading voice defending the importance of that role.

Larry G. Gerber is professor emeritus of history at Auburn University. He is the author of several books, including most recently The Rise and Decline of Faculty Governance: Professionalization and the Modern American University. Gerber is a past vice president of the AAUP and a former chair of the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance.