The Role of the College of Pharmacy in the Development of Shared Governance at Western New England University

An effective faculty senate has to account for the differences within the faculty.
By Ronny Priefer

Between 2006 and 2015, the number of pharmacy schools in the United States rose from 87 to 132. This growth has provided additional opportunities for students, and it has also resulted in a sharp increase in the number of pharmacy faculty. The growth of pharmacy schools, like that of other professional schools, has altered the dynamics of the universities of which they are a part, including the operation of institutional governance.

Shared governance is a crucial element not only of faculty involvement in education but also of the overall welfare of a university. If faculty members in colleges of pharmacy want to ensure that the quality of pharmacy education is not eroded and that their academic freedom is not trampled, they must participate in governance on their campus.

Until last year, comprehensive shared governance did not exist at my institution, Western New England University. Two of the university’s colleges—the School of Law and the College of Pharmacy—were not represented in the faculty senate. The School of Law, founded in 1919 as part of the Springfield Division of Northeastern University and incorporated into Western New England University in 1951, was for many years the sole professional school on campus, and its faculty did not wish to participate in institutional governance. The College of Pharmacy is much newer, having enrolled its first class in 2011. The creation of the pharmacy school marked a turning point for the institution, which had, since 1918, been known as Western New England College. The new Western New England University now includes, in addition to the College of Pharmacy, a College of Arts and Sciences, a College of Business, a College of Engineering, and the School of Law. As accreditors from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges pointed out during a reaccreditation visit in 2012, however, the faculty senate represented only 60 percent of the university’s colleges and schools.

Task Force on Governance

In late fall 2013, a task force was established to develop a new university senate that would include representation from all five colleges and schools on campus. I was elected by the faculty in the College of Pharmacy to serve on this task force, which was composed of ten faculty members (two from each college or school) plus the university provost.

Our initial assignment was to determine what was needed to ensure “buy-in” for the university senate from the faculty as a whole. We therefore began by asking what threshold to set for the vote to establish the senate. We eventually approved the following wording: “Approval of the University Senate requires a minimum 67% vote of the full-time faculty and a minimum 50% vote of the full-time faculty from each College/School voting in an online ballot.” This was a rather lofty aim; however, we felt that, in order for faculty members from all colleges and schools to endorse a new governance body without reservation, it was necessary to make the threshold for approval high.

Professional programs, such as those in pharmacy, law, dentistry, and medicine, each have their own accreditation bodies, which tend to be the bigger drivers of policy within each college or school. At WNE, the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, and Engineering are heavily oriented toward undergraduate education, although those colleges also have some graduate programs. The differences between these colleges and the two professional schools have caused problems.

Faculty members in the three undergraduate-oriented colleges, particularly the College of Arts and Sciences, tend to perceive the faculty in the professional programs as being more highly paid, having a lighter teaching load, and possessing fewer years of schooling. Although not universally true, this view is largely correct. What is often not seen is the additional service or clinical requirements that faculty within professional schools have. As we learned, it is necessary to draw attention to the differences that exist between colleges and schools and not to take the concerns of any group lightly when developing a shared governance body.

The task force next went to work on establishing rules for membership, methods of removing delinquent senators, meeting layouts, officers, and jurisdiction. We also took up the issue of merit raise distribution. We quickly raced through the first five areas, with only merit raise distribution causing a holdup. Faculty members in colleges and schools on the higher end of the pay scale wanted merit raises to be allocated as a percentage of the faculty salary pool within the unit, whereas those in colleges and schools on the lower end of the pay scale (notably faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences) wanted merit raises allocated as a percentage of the total faculty salary pool across units. This single topic was the main point of discussion in numerous meetings spanning four months. Ultimately, we came to a compromise: “Merit allocations between the individual Colleges and Schools shall be at the middle of the dollars allocated on a per capita basis and the dollars allocated as a percent of the faculty salary pool for that unit.”

Learning from Mistakes

In spring 2013 we sent our shared governance proposal to the entire university faculty body, hosted faculty-wide town-hall meetings to discuss it, and held online voting. But the vote was unsuccessful: not only did the proposal fail to garner the necessary minimum 67 percent support of the full-time faculty, but we received approval from only 4 percent of the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences (see table 1).

Table 1. Results of online voting, 2013

 

Business

Engineering

Law

Pharmacy

Arts and Sciences

Total

Yes

29

17

19

24

4

93

No

0

1

1

0

97

99

Abstain

1

0

0

0

0

1

Total

30

18

20

24

101

193

 

The result of the vote was a huge setback. The impact of the resounding message from the College of Arts and Sciences cannot be overstated. What had gone wrong? We had spent months negotiating the merit raise component only to fail in the vote.

What the eight task-force members from outside the College of Arts and Sciences did not understand, and what ultimately caused the failure of this first attempt, were the flaws in the rules governing membership. We had proposed a true senate model, with each college or school being represented by two senators. When we had discussed this model during an early task-force meeting, it was quickly approved by an 8–2 vote, with the two task-force members from the College of Arts and Sciences voting against it. Approximately 50 percent of WNE’s faculty population are housed within the College of Arts and Sciences, yet our proposal offered them only 20 percent representation in governance. If the simple membership decision was made so easily without any support from their college, faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences reasoned, then other issues that directly affected them could also be passed without their support.

We reconvened in fall 2013 for a second attempt to establish a university faculty senate. Some minor amendments were made to the original proposal, but we also made two significant changes. First, we decided that the College of Arts and Sciences would have four representatives on the senate. The additional two seats were intended to ensure representation for the broad range of fields housed in that college and to take account of the size of its faculty. Second, our revised proposal included a contingency plan meant to protect all colleges and schools from senate decisions that would damage their academic well-being. This aim was achieved by the addition of the following statement:

In order to pass, a motion before the Senate must be supported by a majority vote of the Senators eligible to vote. If, however, a motion receives a ‘no’ vote or abstention from all the representatives of the College of Business, College of Engineering, College of Pharmacy, College of Arts & Sciences, or School of Law, the dissenting College or School can make a formal request that the motion be put to a referendum vote of the full faculty of the University. This formal request will then be considered at the following Senate meeting. If at that meeting it is seconded by two additional Senators, the University Senate is bound to honor the request. Any University Senate referendum will be held on-line and will require a supermajority of 66% of the faculty vote overall and simple majority in 3 out of 5 Colleges and School to pass.

In spring 2014, the entire faculty voted on the new proposal. As table 2 indicates, the outcome was very different in the second vote.

Table 2: Results of online voting, 2014

 

Business

Engineering

Law

Pharmacy

Arts and Sciences

Total

Yes

16

24

10

28

40

118

No

9

0

1

1

3

14

Abstain

1

0

0

0

2

3

Total

26

24

11

29

45

135

 

From the ashes we had pulled success. We had succeeded by understanding the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the various colleges and schools, through hard work by all the members of the task force, and by a willingness to compromise for the greater good.

As we learned in the College of Pharmacy, faculty in professional programs who are seeking to establish shared governance on their campus should understand the concerns of the other players during their own deliberations and should not take them lightly. Although it is too early to say if WNE’s system will ultimately be successful, our experience suggests that a hybrid governance model, which provides representation both by school and by faculty population, may be well received and should be considered.

Faculty elections to our new university senate were conducted in fall 2014, and on February 16, 2015, we had our first meeting. I was honored to be elected as the senate’s inaugural chair for a two-and-a-half year term. Much work will need to be done to bridge divides between the colleges and schools at my institution. However, we have taken a significant step forward.

Ronny Priefer is a professor in the College of Pharmacy and inaugural chair of the faculty senate at Western New England University. His e-mail address is ronny.priefer@wne.edu.

 

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