From the Editor: Governance in a Time of Financial Crisis

By Larry G. Gerber, Guest Editor

Calls to resist the corporatization of higher education and for faculty control over educational issues go back at least to Thorstein Veblen’s publication of The Higher Learning in America in 1918. However, as many of the articles in this issue demonstrate, the current economic crisis has greatly intensified threats to the practice of shared governance. While retrenchment and cost-saving measures may, in many cases, be justified responses to the current economic situation, too often administrations are seeking to exploit claims of economic necessity to impose unwarranted changes and to undermine the faculty’s responsibility for academic matters.

Effective shared governance requires an ongoing faculty commitment of time and energy. Nalsey Tinberg warns that faculty disengagement and implicit acceptance of a “don’t worry, be happy” approach to governance will inevitably harm American higher education. Based on his experience as chair of the University of Mississippi’s faculty senate, Kenneth J. Sufka offers practical suggestions of ways senates can position themselves to play a meaningful role in budget discussions. James Frew, Robert Olson, and M. Lee Pelton outline their institution’s collaborative approach to creating a flexible budgeting process that incorporates faculty input into a system of contingency planning.

Two articles in this issue address the plight of faculty who worked in constrained economic circumstances even before the current recession. Marybeth Gasman looks at the impact of the recession on historically black colleges and universities, while several anonymous contingent faculty members at Boston University discuss the deteriorating situation over the last year for contingent faculty in BU’s College of General Studies.

Many issues of shared governance are now increasingly being contested outside traditional departmental and college structures. Former AAUP general secretary Mary Burgan surveys the growth of special-interest centers, a trend accelerated by a growing reliance on external funding, and highlights governance questions these new centers raise. Former AAUP president James T. Richardson demonstrates that faculty involvement in shared governance, to be effective in public institutions, must extend beyond the campus to the halls of the legislature. He describes the role of the Nevada Faculty Alliance (the state AAUP conference) in mitigating the effects of the current economic crisis on the state’s higher education budget.

William K. Cummings and Martin Finkelstein discuss a survey taken in 2007 of faculty in twenty countries showing that American faculty see themselves as less powerful than academics in other mature university systems and as losing influence since 1992.

This issue also contains an AAUP report on the closing of Antioch College that criticizes the Antioch University administration’s disregard for the principles of shared governance. Jean Gregorek’s account of the establishment of the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute by former Antioch faculty is an inspiring epilogue to that report. Also included in this issue are a subcommittee report examining the disturbing implications for academic freedom and shared governance of the Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos and a report discussing issues relating to the conversion of appointments to the tenure track.