What is shared governance? And why is it so important that Colorado State University has been operating under this model for a century?
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, shared governance is a collaborative venture involving administrators, faculty, staff and students, who share in key decision-making processes.
To those outside the academic community, shared governance can be a confusing concept. It can be a delicate balance between participation in planning and decision making on the one hand and administrative accountability on the other. Groups exercising primary responsibility for specific areas receive input and feedback from others who also feel the impact of their actions, and, like most democratic processes, it can be a messy business at times.
“But to those of us who have had the privilege of serving in such institutions, shared governance is foundational,” CSU President and Chancellor Tony Frank wrote in a recent email to campus. “We are all CSU, and CSU is at its best when we are all engaged.”
Shared governance at CSU is designed to engage the entire University community through direct and representative participation in planning and decision making. The system ensures all members of the University community have a seat at the table.
The more than 6,000 CSU employees participate in shared governance through three different bodies, each with a range of committees devoted to issues of importance to the entire University:
- Administrative Professional Council (APC) – annually elected body of 40 representatives from all University areas – research associates and scientists, information technology professions, directors, managers and coordinators, student advisors, Extension educators and specialists, foresters and other natural resource managers – actively engaged to enhance the CSU community and the AP experience.
- Classified Personnel Council (CPC) – annually elected body of 20 members representing the needs and interest of State Classified employees and serving as a liaison between employees and the University as a whole.
- Faculty Council (FC) – 92 voting members made up of regular faculty from each academic department and the Libraries, at-large representatives from the larger colleges, and chairperson of Faculty Council standing committees; 24 non-voting members including the President, Vice Presidents and Vice Provosts, academic deans, and chairs of the APC and the Advisory Committee on Special and Temporary Faculty. The faculty representative to the Board of Governors is also an elected officer of the FC.
Students are represented by the Associated Students of Colorado State University (ASCSU). The ASCSU Senate is composed of elected representatives from all eight colleges, open option students, and graduate students. The Student Fee Review Board (SFRB), part of ASCSU, oversees the allocation of more than $54 million dollars in student fees, including 16 different fee-funded areas on campus. SFRB acts as the student voice to the Board of Governors in consideration of fee requests to ensure that students’ money is effectively and responsibly used to benefit students.
Working together since 1915
Many American colleges and universities now operate with some form of shared governance — at least since about the mid-1960s. However, shared governance has been part of the Colorado State system since the first Faculty Council convened in 1915. The concept was even written into state law at the turn of the last century: “The academic faculty shall pass all needful rules and regulations necessary to the government and discipline of the University.”
Just as Colorado State has grown and matured from a rural agricultural college into a major research university, shared governance has matured from its earliest form into the robust representative councils on campus today.
“A huge part of shared governance is building community,” said Toni-Lee Viney, chair of the Administrative Professional Council. “If we come together and see the bigger picture, we can bridge ideas and share feedback and input about how things could be enhanced at CSU.”
Shared governance means that everyone has a role; it doesn’t mean that every constituency gets to participate at every stage, nor does it mean that any one constituency exercises complete control over the process.
“Total agreement and consensus doesn’t always happen, but the point is for all sides to come to the table and present our viewpoints,” said Mary Stromberger, chair of Faculty Council. “We know when a decision is made, it is made taking into consideration the viewpoints of the faculty.”
Even with a century of experience, those who participate in shared governance at CSU know it isn’t easy – and that it shouldn’t be.
“Shared governance is a mechanism of contention,” said Jason Sydoriak, president of ASCSU. “It’s not just shared conversation, where we talk out issues we may not agree on; at the end of the day, everyone has a part in what has been decided upon. That should never be easy.”
It might not be easy, but it is definitely collaborative.
“Shared governance offers equal opportunity for all voices on campus to play a role in decision making that they may not have had otherwise,” said Stacey Baumgarn, chair of the Classified Personnel Council. “The administration and the three councils on campus have invited each other to participate to help make the best decisions we can make together.”
“It sort of defines the atmosphere here, it defines what at CSU truly is,” Sydoriak added. “We are a community, and when something needs to be accomplished we do it together.”
So, what will shared governance look like as it enters its second century?
“I think the future of shared governance here at Colorado State University is strong, it’s healthy, and it’s going to get better,” said Rick Miranda, Provost and Executive Vice President. “I look forward to being an example to the rest of the country of how shared governance can work and work well.”