My View of the Relation of Academic Administration and Collegial Governance


     Copyright © 2014 Bruce W. Hauptli


If the term ‘academic administrator’ is not to be an oxymoron, such administrators must be academics who put the intellectual life first.  They must be thoroughly acquainted with the instructional, scholarly, and service roles which are the familiar warp and woof of the life of the academy.  In addition, they must have a deep and abiding commitment to collegial governance.  Of course, many academics are not themselves deeply committed to a vigorous system of collegial governance, and this may lead one to wonder why academic administrators should have such a commitment.  The answer to this question lies in the fact that a strong and effective collegial governance system is necessary if an institution is to be characterized as an academic community. 


     No set of “mission statements” or “strategic plans” will create or maintain a sense of community in a college or university—nor can such statements specify the unique identity which characterizes each true academic community.  A college’s or university’s sense of community and identity can come only from the faculty who must instantiate, implement, and refine the institution’s mission and goals.[1]  Administrators may guide this process, but on their own they can neither create nor maintain the institution’s identity or character. 


     In contemporary America many colleges and universities lack a healthy collegial governance structure and lack the sense of community which is constitutive of undistorted institutions of higher education.  Generally, the faculty and the administrations of such institutions share the blame for this sad situation.  Consider, for example, the institutional consequences of the fact that many faculty members primarily conceive of themselves as members of national disciplinary research communities (as astronomers or zoologists).  Such individuals will have only the most minimal sense of identity as members of their particular educational institution’s academic community.  Of course, such faculty members generally will do little to develop and maintain the sense of identity and character which are essential to undistorted institutions of higher education.  Since the faculty alone can truly define and maintain this character and identity, however, this state of affairs yields institutions which lack the essential soul of an academic community. 


     The effect of such a situation upon the instructional mission of the institution is readily apparent: the curriculum becomes a hodge-podge of offerings without overall coherence, and the students become “consumers” who must “shop” for their educational experiences.  They are placed in a setting which young Americans are all too familiar with: they find themselves inside a large educational “shopping mall,” they are given minimal “directions,” and they must “purchase” a disparate grab-bag collection of “credit hours” while visiting a large number of independent “professional boutiques.”  Having made their purchases, they leave the mall, find their cars, and depart little wiser than when they entered.  As James D. Brown notes, however, a true college or university not a department store where each floor manager seeks to satisfy his particular customers.  It is not a system of specialty stores leased out under a single roof.  [Rather each] a very special kind of human organization which, like a tree, must grow in a way peculiar to itself and its own vital resources.[2] 


Brown maintains that


the goal of curricular policy assure that educational decisions do not become the by-product of the scholarly specialization of the faculty but, persistently, remain a reflection of the needs of the student.[3]  


     Academic administrators must exercise their leadership to ensure that their institutions offer an educationally appropriate curriculum.  They may not simply impose such a curriculum upon the faculty and students however.  Instead, they must facilitate a strong academic community which:


-has a broadly shared conception of what the appropriate educational experiences, requirements, and options for the students are,


-is committed to providing such experiences to the students, and


-is capable of clarifying (and defending) these requirements to the students. 


In short, if the instructional mission of an institution of higher education is to be properly instantiated, the institution’s academic administrators must work to safeguard and encourage the development of the institution’s sense of itself as an academic community—a community with a clearly articulated conception of, and commitment to, the instructional component of the academic vocation.  Of course, in American institutions today, academic administrators themselves encourage the propensity of the faculty to identify with their national research communities, and they do little to foster the requisite sense of community (thus sharing equally with the faculty the blame for the curricular and instructional consequences). 


     Of course, the same points may readily be made for the other aspects of a college or university’s mission.  Where the faculty are not actively involved in the development, refinement, and maintenance of the institution’s identity and character, only the appearance of an academic community can arise.  The faculty will find their community elsewhere, and their commitment to the institution will be minimized.  While degrees may be granted, goals may be met, and research may be done in such institutions, they will not really be academic communities. 


     I believe that an active and respected system of collegial governance is the only effective vehicle for developing, refining, and preserving the faculty’s sense of vocation (and hence the institution’s mission and goals).  While any particular system of collegial governance will have many faults, as long as it is strong, and commands both the respect of the faculty and the serious attention of the administration and the governing board, it can help ensure that the institution’s policies, missions, and goals are shared by the faculty.  This will enable the sense of community and vocation which are essential if a college or university is to truly be an institution of higher education. 


     Within their departments, the faculty must play an important role in the recruitment of new faculty and professional employees; in encouraging and supporting faculty development activities; in the development, implementation, and evaluation of academic programs; in decisions regarding peer evaluations, tenure, promotion, and merit raises; in the acquisition of library materials, laboratory equipment, computers, etc.; and in other matters of traditional academic concern.  Recommendations on all these matters should be made by the departmental faculty in accord with policies and procedures established democratically by such a faculty.  Where this does not happen, the faculty become alienated from their institution, their sense of vocation disappears, and the college or university ceases to be an educational community and becomes, instead, a business.[4] 


     In addition to collegial governance at the department level, a strong college or university-wide system of collegial governance is essential.[5]  College or university-wide educational policy must be set, and the traditional vehicle for deciding, refining, and evaluating such policy is a faculty senate.[6]  It is the basic legislative body of a college or university and it should be charged with formulating measures for the maintenance of the college’s or university’s comprehensive educational policy.  A faculty senate should determine and define the college’s or university’s policies on academic matters ranging from admission standards to the requirements for the awarding of degrees.  It should expresses the faculty’s will on matters of curriculum policy and curricular structure; degree requirements; policies regarding the recruitment, admission, and retention of students; the development and reorganization of academic programs; grading standards; and other matters of traditional academic concern.  It also should also formulate its opinions and make recommendations to the institution’s administration on any subject matter of concern to the faculty. 


     Where policies are adopted without the recommendations of such a body, they are unlikely to be accepted by the faculty (although, of course they can be imposed upon them).  Consider the case of degree requirements to see what happens when decisions are made without the concurrence of a strong collegial governance system.  Clearly, no reasonable administration would unilaterally impose degree requirements upon students except in the belief that they are good for the students.  Unilateral action upon such a belief is paternalistic however.[7] 


     In the early part of the last century when institutions of higher education adhered to the doctrine of in loco parentis, such paternalism might have been viewed as appropriate, but this doctrine is now widely rejected—it least in the area of student living arrangements and conduct.[8]  In the area of educational requirements, however, a paternalistic orientation is (and always was) utterly inappropriate.  Higher education should transform the student.  As Brand Blanshard said, “to educate a human mind is not merely to add something to it.  It is to transform it at a vital point, the point where its secret ends reside.”[9]  What is central to such an education is that a habit of reasonableness and critical thinking becomes inculcated.  According to Harvey Siegel, a critical thinker is someone who is “appropriately motivated by reasons: she has a propensity or disposition to believe and act in accordance with reasons; and she has the ability properly to assess the force of reasons in the many contexts in which reasons play a role.”[10]  Critical thinkers must not simply understand how to critically assess a position, they must be moved by reason and, as Siegel notes, “when we take it upon ourselves to educate students so as to foster critical thinking, we are committing ourselves to nothing less than the development of a certain sort of person.”[11] 


     Clearly the paternalistic imposition of educational requirements works against the educational goal just specified.  Where the degree requirements are unilaterally imposed upon the faculty as well as the students, they will be alien to both.  Such a situation does not bode well for the accomplishment of the instructional mission of the institution.  While “requirements” may be met and “degrees” may be granted, education and learning are likely to be replaced by mere “certification.”  In her “Academic Paternalism,” Joan Callahan maintains that non-paternalistic degree requirements are possible.[12]  She notes, however, that such requirements must be clearly set within the context of the institution’s academic goals and ideals.  Where the faculty have developed and approved such requirements through a collegial governance system which expresses the will of a viable academic community committed to the instructional mission of the institution, the faculty will have committed themselves to these being the degree requirements, they will have committed themselves to offering courses of study which allow the students to fulfill these requirements, and they will be prepared to justify these requirements when called upon to do so.  In such situations the requirements will reflect the academic community’s identity, character, and values. 


     As Callahan notes, in such a situation the degree requirements will be tied to the academic community’s identity, and students (and faculty or administrators) who choose to join the community will not be able to complain that the requirements are paternalistically imposed:


...though a student may decide that he does not want to complete college or university requirements for a regular degree, the college or university may (and will) decide that he must complete them or forego the degree, and this without making any appeal whatever to the student’s best interest.  The university’s commitments to certain academic requirements, as well as certain standards of excellence, is, then, prior to the contract with the student, and these commitments serve as the background conditions of that contract itself.[13] 


     While educated individuals may arise without attending a college or university—both Socrates and J.S. Mill leap to mind as examples here—the enterprise of self-education is extremely difficult.  Most individuals are aided by becoming part of a community which can foster their higher education.  The college or university which would educate reasonable individuals who are critical thinkers must foster diversity, skepticism, and debate.  This is not important because diversity, skepticism, and debate are themselves worthwhile—a diverse society of skeptical debaters might be a woefully uncritical community.  The educational community itself must have these characteristics so that it provides a model of critical thinking which its students may observe and emulate.  For this reason, teaching in such a community takes time and effort.  Faculty members must adopt something like Israel Scheffler’s model of teaching which holds that:


to at some points at least to submit oneself to the understanding and independent judgment of the pupil, to his demand for reasons, to his sense of what constitutes an adequate explanation.  To teach someone that such and such is the case is not merely to try to get him to believe it: deception, for example, is not a method or a mode of teaching.  Teaching involves further that, if we try to get the student to believe that such and such is the case, we try also to get him to believe it for the reasons that, within the limits of his capacity to gasp, are our reasons. 

  Teaching, in this way, requires us to reveal our reasons to the student and, by so doing, to submit them to his evaluation and criticism....To teach is acknowledge the “reason” of the pupil, i.e., his demand for and judgment of reasons.[14]  


     Similarly, administrating in such a community takes time and effort.  Academic administrators must submit themselves to the independent judgment of the faculty.  Deception, however useful it might appear to be, undermines the critical community which is necessary for accomplishment of the instructional mission, and academic administrators (no less than faculty members) must reveal their reasons to the faculty, submit their reasons to the faculty for critical evaluation and criticism, and acknowledge the faculty’s demand for and judgment of these reasons.  The sort of collegial governance system discussed above provides the appropriate vehicle for such critical discussions.[15] 


     Where an institution’s policies, goals, and mission are imposed upon the faculty, the best that one can hope for is enlightened paternalism wherein alienation reigns.  While Plato might be quite happy with a paternalistic educational institution (indeed he recommends that the state itself be paternalistically ruled by a cadre of wise and caring philosopher-kings who manifest a significant propensity toward deception), I believe that an institution of higher education must be the sort of community I have described above, and a paternalistic system can not provide for, or preserve the requisite sense community.  Thus, academic administrators must be committed to a strong system of collegial governance.  Where they lack such a commitment, their administration’s most lasting accomplishment is most likely to be a diminution or loss of the sense of community which provides the institution with its identity and character.  If such administrators are lucky, they may create a viable business,[16] but then they will cease to be academic administrators! 


     Given that academic administrators must have a strong understanding of, and commitment to, a vigorous system of collegial governance, why not simply dispense with academic administrators and employ the collegial governance system to govern the institution?  Henry Wriston provides a compelling answer to this question when he maintains that “once administrative work is given to a committee it is assigned to the worst imaginable mechanism.”[17]  While a collegial governance system is necessary to develop, refine, and preserve the requisite academic community, it is not the correct vehicle for academic administration. 


     Like all administrators, academic administrators are charged with managing and leading their institutions.  They must assess the ongoing activities of the institution in light of its goals and objectives, and they must make adjustments where efforts toward fulfillment of the objectives and achievement of the goals fall short.  As I have already argued, academic administrators act wrongly if they endeavor to select the goals, identity, character, or mission for an institution of higher learning.  Indeed, certain broad goals are constitutive of an institution of higher education, and academic administrators must coordinate and guide their institutions’ efforts to fulfill these constitutive goals. 


     Clearly, an institution which is not committed to instruction and scholarly activity can not be an institution of higher education.  As noted above, not all forms of “instruction” are appropriate—higher education is not indoctrination, and, thus, institutions of higher learning must be committed to the instructional goal of fostering the development of habits of reasonableness and critical thinking.  As I noted, if such instruction is to be possible, the academic community itself must be committed to this ideal and it must provide models of critical thinking which the undergraduate student may observe and emulate. 


     Academic administrators must recognize that the scholarly (or research) activities of the faculty provide just such a model, and thus the teaching and research activities of the faculty in a true academic community are essentially intertwined.  If the faculty are to foster the transformation of their students into critical thinkers, they must be (and remain) such thinkers themselves, and this is just what their research activities should ensure.  The research activities of the faculty constitute their continuing activity as critical thinkers while also ensuring their continuing expertise in the areas of knowledge in which they will “instruct” their students.  As Henry Rosovsky notes in his The University: An Owner’s Manual, however:


...reading and research are not the same thing.  One can read merely for pleasure, or to keep up with a subject, or to learn a new skill; perhaps simply to acquire new information.  None of these includes the aim of revising an accepted conclusion—of saying something “in the light of newly discovered facts.”  Of course, reading (and experimentation) are indispensable research activities, but it is a special kind of reading: purposeful, planned, and goal-oriented....research and publishing, while not identical, are very closely related.  For the “revision of an accepted conclusion” to be meaningful, it has to be announced, debated, and adopted or rejected, and that means some form of publication.[18]  


Research may be engaged in for a diverse list of reasons, and similarly the inculcation of critical attitudes may serve a variety of ends.  Within institutions of higher education, however, both goals should be pursued for their own sakes.  What separates higher education from indoctrination is just the fact that the instructional goal is the development of the critical attitude, and what separates scholarly research from industrial development, government planning, medical treatment, legal representation, or the management of a businesses, is the fact that scholarly research is directed at achieving the truth rather than at achieving economic, political, economic, or legal advantage.  Of course, multiple motivations are quite possible (critically trained citizens may be necessary for democracy, and the scholarly pursuit of truth may engender economic, political, and legal vitality), but if a college or university is to be an institution of higher education (rather than a business enterprise or a branch of government), the primary rationale for the pursuit of the constitutive goals must be that they are themselves valuable. 


     Many current critics of the academy maintain that the research mission of higher educational institutions has come to overshadow the instructional mission, and they recommend that institutions “stop doing research” in order to ensure that instruction takes place.  These critics fail to recognize the essential connection between these goals.  While such critics lament the “publish or perish” mentality of many institutions, they fail to ask why publication might be important.  Of course, it is not important simply because it is intrinsically worthwhile.  The “publication” of research and scholarly activity is the vehicle which enables us to distinguish “reading” from “research”—it is the means by which the scholarly activities of the faculty are subjected to critical scrutiny, and, thus, one of the primary ways of ensuring that the faculty remain the exemplars of critical thinking which they must be if they are to fulfill their instructional role. 


     The instructional and scholarly activities which are constitutive of institutions of higher learning are not set by the students, the faculty, the administration, boards of governors, or by state legislators.  If one wishes to create or maintain such a college or university, one must be committed to these goals.  There are, of course, innumerable ways to instantiate these constitutive goals in an academic community.  While academic administrators can not create or maintain the requisite identity or character of their academic communities on their own, their primary responsibility is that of ensuring that their institutions develop and maintain a viable collegial governance structure which helps sustain a healthy academic community which can work to achieve these constitutive ends.  To do this, academic administrators must exercise leadership in at least five different ways.  They must:


(i) help the community identify, refine, and maintain a collectively recognized identity and character—one which is appropriate given the constitutive goals;


(ii) critically assess the activities which the community engages in as it endeavors to achieve these goals.  Such critical assessment, of course, must not simply be the province of the administration, and, thus;


(iii) foster the community’s self-conscious assessment of these activities in light of both the constitutive goals and the more particular goals and identity of the institution.  Of course, this means they must foster a healthy system of collegial governance which will enable the faculty to express its collective will both on issues which help define the character of the institution and on the steps it takes to enact that definition and achieve its goals;


(iv) identify where the community is most in need of change if these goals are to be achieved (moreover, of course, where such changes are necessary, the academic administrators must guide the community’s efforts to make such changes); and


(v) where resources are scarce, they should help the community identify where they should be allocated so that the maximal progress toward the constitutive goals may be achieved (of course, they should also work to secure the resources which will enable the community to better work toward achieving the goals). 


Like all administrators, they must also devote attention to the mundane administrative matters which center upon the critical scrutiny the various means, resources, and opportunities.  They must, however, have as their paramount goal the development, refinement, and preservation of the institution’s sense of community—for it is essential if the institution is to fulfill its mission and accomplish its goals.  Academic administration has sometimes been compared to “administration over chaos,” but this is certainly not apt since an academic community should have a broad spectrum of shared goals, and broad agreement regarding appropriate means.  The reason nonacademic administrators sometimes believe that academic administrators are placed in a poor administrative position, is that in other venues administrators are not charged with the administration of a community.  Indeed, only politics comes to mind as an administrative parallel, and in politics the existence and character of any constitutive goals is itself much debated. 


     Effective academic administrators must share the sense of vocation which the faculty must have.  They must devote their efforts to fostering the achievement of the two fundamental goals of any institution of higher education, and must encourage the critical scrutiny of the institution’s specification of these general goals.  They must, of course, carefully manage scarce resources and assess various competing means for the achievement of the goals, but they must do so in a collegial manner if they are to preserve and enrich the requisite sense of community which is essential if the institution is to be successful. 



Notes: (click on note number to return to the text for the note)

[1] The other constituencies (students, administrators, staff, and board members) do not remain at the college or university for the same length of time as do the faculty, and they do not generally devote their lives to it.  Moreover, they do not participate in as broad a spectrum of the activities or purposes of a college or university as do the faculty.  Both the extent of their participation and the span of time they spend at the institution conspire to ensure that it will be the faculty who will ultimately define the college or university’s identity and character. 

[2] James D. Brown, The Liberal University: An Institutional Analysis (N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1969), pp. 168-169. 

[3] Ibid., pp. 166-167. 

[5] Of course, in many institutions there will be intermediate levels of collegial governance (for example, those appropriate for colleges within universities).  Where these intermediate levels are appropriate, academic administrators have the additional challenge of helping to ensure that the different units within the institution develop, refine, and maintain a coherent and common conception the institution’s identity and character, and a clear (and shared) conception and appreciation of each unit’s distinctive contributions to this identity and character. 

[6] Both here and in what follows, the logic of my argument would appear to dictate that the students (and the college or university staff members) should be also be involved.  Thus, it would seem that a “university senate” would be most appropriate.  While I believe that both the students and the staff are integral elements of the academic community, and believe that they must also be involved in the definition, development, and maintenance of the requisite sense of community, as I noted before, it is the faculty which participates most widely (and for the longest periods of time) in the diverse activities which are central to an institution of higher education’s core activities.  This fact, especially when it is coupled with the fact that few institutions have the relevant sort of academic community at present, calls out for special emphasis upon the role and participation of the faculty.  Please see my Why Are Other [Non-Faculty] Senates Important To Universities for my discussion of their importance. 

[7] I believe this is the “best case” for such imposed requirements.  Administrations might, however, impose requirements in order to please outside constituencies, to “fill seats” in specific facilities, or to please certain groups of students or faculty members.  Such impositions have even less to do with an institution’s educational mission than could those which were paternalistically imposed. 

[8] Cf., David Hoekema, Campus Rules and Moral Community: In Place of In Loco Parentis (Lanaham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1994). 

[9] Brand Blanshard, “The Uses of A Liberal Education,” in his The Uses of A Liberal Education (La Salle: Open Court, 1973), pp. 42-43. 

[10] Harvey Siegel, Educating Reason (New York: Routledge, 1988), p. 23. 

[11] Ibid., p. 41.  For more on my view of higher education see my “My View of the Nature of a Liberal Arts Education.” 

[12] Cf., Joan Callahan, “Academic Paternalism” in A Professor’s Duties: Ethical Issues in College Teaching, ed. Peter Markie (Lanaham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), pp. 113-128.  

[13] Ibid., p. 122. 

[14] Israel Scheffler, The Language of Education (Springfield: Charles C. Thomas, 1960), p. 57. 

[15] Again, I should note that the argument here points to the inclusion of students and staff.  As noted twice before, however, the breadth and length of the faculty’s role, however, dictates their special consideration here. 

[16] See my “Business Models Are Inappropriate for University Communities” for why I believe such models are radically inappropriate for Universities and colleges. 

[17] Henry Wriston, Academic Procession (New York: Columbia U.P., 1959), p. 188. 



Revised: 04/30/2014


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