Higher education faculty has ‘autonomy’

By Stephanie Bradley

A recent Carnegie Foundation poll indicated elementary and secondary public school teachers do not believe they have an adequate amount of influence in classroom life. But does this also go for higher education instructors?

NIU history department Chairman Otto Olsen said he does not believe so. He said faculty in his department pick their own textbooks and readings and write their own exams and assignments. “They have total utonomy,” he said.

W. William Minor, chairman of NIU’s sociology department, said, “In universities, faculty have greater academic freedom. In high schools, the school board approves texts.” Sometimes the textbooks are used statewide, so they must be state-approved, he said.

Olsen said, “It’s an issue of academic freedom. No one should interfere.”

More than 20,000 teachers were polled by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, whose purpose is to find teachers’ involvement in certain academic issues.

Some issues the poll addressed were school budgets and dealing with student conduct and administration. Poll results indicated elementary teachers do not feel involved in the decisions of these aspects of education.

Minor said he did not believe the poll applied to higher education. “The (poll) questions are not among higher education’s problems,” he said. University faculty has search committees to choose new teachers, deal with cheating and plagiarism in their own way and have groups which they can join to influence administrative matters.

Olsen said, in certain matters, such as departmental budget, faculty members make recommendations to him which he relays to the administration.

NIU Provost Kendall Baker said elementary and secondary school problems are not those of higher education because of the shared governance system. NIU, Illinois State University and Sangamon State University are all governed by the Illinois Board of Regents.

“It (the Regency system) facilitates and enables faculty input in the policy formation process. It gives faculty an opportunity to be involved in academic policies.”

There is, however, a matter which Olsen said faculty members do not feel involved in—the size of classes they must teach. Olsen said teachers are often forced to teach general education classes which sometimes have more than 100 students.

This is a result of NIU’s funding problems. “There is always pressure to teach more students. No professors like to teach large classes, but we can’t afford to reduce class size unless we have more funding,” Olsen said.

The poll had less than one percentage point plus or minus for its margin of error. Some of the results, as reported in the Chicago Tribune, were as follows:

47 percent felt involved in setting student conduct standards.

20 percent said they influenced school budgets.

0 percent said they were involved in teacher evaluations.

Seven percent felt they had some influence in choosing new administrators.