Ignoring shared governance

Shared governance in higher education is an ideal, not a reality.

Faculty input regarding university curriculums has been treated as a nuisance, not a benefit, by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The IBHE, in carrying out its Priorities, Quality and Productivity initiative, has spent much of its time simply trying to find ways around campus processes and has been insensitive to the concerns of faculty.

The truth is, the IBHE doesn’t want the faculty’s input. The only input it has sought from the faculty has been for show—not substance. Faculty input in the process has been accepted with smiles only when it concurred with what the IBHE wanted. When the input didn’t agree, campus processes were attacked as an attempt by the universities to drag their feet.

Now the IBHE is planning, in some instances, to bypass shared governance all together. The board isn’t even pretending to care or be sensitive about the campus processes. The IBHE is planning to recommend programs a second time that weren’t eliminated the first time, even though the universities and their governing boards have already spoken on the programs in question—so much for the IBHE expecting some disagreements from the universities.

The IBHE will attempt to ram some program recommendations down the throat of the universities through several means. One way will be for the IBHE to delete the costs of programs from a university’s budget when it makes recommendations to the state legislature. This strategy won’t fly.

The legislature surely would perceive this as the IBHE surpassing its legislative mandate by trying to force the universities to eliminate programs. However, the fact this is even being considered should anger and alarm the academic community of Illinois.

A second strong-arm tactic will be a moratorium on program approvals. What a good idea this is! The IBHE won’t approve any good programs which could benefit a school and its students until certain programs that it recommended be cut are eliminated.

Shouldn’t program approval be a part of this process? If universities are being focused and redirected shouldn’t some programs be built up and expanded, and new programs which strengthen high priority areas approved? The IBHE’s priority seems to be in contracting higher education and programs, not improving the system as a whole. While universities have strived to provide students with the opportunity for the most universal education possible, they are now being driven back.

A third plan of attack will be to declare a program educationally and/or economically unjustified. This kind of recommendation will spit in the face of shared governance by bypassing campus processes and sending programs straight to university governing boards.

These three options show a mentality that is increasingly apparent in higher education—a business management approach to education which ignores or shuns the input of the people most directly involved in the system, the educators.

One example of this is the status of NIU’s M.A. in journalism. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences curriculum committee didn’t approve of the recommendation to eliminate the program. However, in the end the committee’s non-action won’t matter and NIU’s governing board, the Board of Regents, likely will kill the program anyway.

While the committee, made up entirely of faculty, apparently didn’t agree with the recommendation, the NIU administration and the Regents do agree with it and the program will be cut. Ordinarily, NIU would have likely dropped the proposal to eliminate the M.A. in journalism at the first sign of faculty opposition, but with the IBHE leading the way, the administration has an excuse to ignore the shared governance process. The next step will be for the IBHE to bully the administrators of universities into implementing program recommendations they are completely opposed to.

America saw its auto industry decline as management began trying to make decisions from the board room and not the assembly line. Higher education might now being traveling down the same dusty road, with program decisions coming out of Springfield conference rooms, instead of teachers’ classrooms.