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spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer March 8, 2007
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The importance of shared governance

by Hamad Ghazle

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Ghazle is director of RIT’s diagnostic medical sonography program.

For decades, higher-education institutions have enjoyed the status, prestige, reverence and support that have helped them to become the fountains of knowledge in both the generation and the sharing of knowledge within the society.

Nowadays, higher-education institutions are confronted with external challenges such as accountability, global competitiveness, access, affordability, efficiency, outcomes and quality. Adding to the dilemma of the external challenges is the number of internal stresses and difficulties.

These stresses include, but are not limited to, budget deficits, downsizing, financial-aid demands, and decreases in federal and state funding. The combination of the external challenges and internal stresses do not only threaten the very nature of the enterprise but also provides a significant increase in the complexity related to decision-making in higher-education institutions. The increase in complexity of various tasks promotes inescapable interdependence among various institutional components (boards, administration, faculty, staff and students).

However, anytime institutional decision-making or governance is raised, it invites discussion about who should govern and in what capacity. Consequently, debates arise and divisions and anonymity among various constituents are established. Many indicate that involving too many institutional constituents in the decision-making process limits the institution’s agility and flexibility, creating obstructions and sluggishness and fostering permanence and stability. Others argue that increasing participation and involvement of various university constituents can act as a check-and-balance mechanism by which sources of power can be counter balanced or kept in check by the other source of power. In this way, better decisions are made.

Whatever signs of frustration regarding governance may appear from time to time, it is important to ask ourselves whether we want to make governance more efficient or we want to preserve academic institutions. If we want to preserve academic institutions, then shared governance becomes an essential precondition.

I believe as new patterns in the economy, demographics, government spending policies, the use of technology, and the expectations of students and their families change, the need for quick decisions and effective shared governance are needed. Clearly, every faculty member, staff member, administrator and student has an important role to play in the development and ongoing success of the new decision-making paradigms. We can be active participants in shaping the common good. The more effectively we are involved in the decision-making process the more the institution will be able to respond to the present and future challenges and stresses.

I believe that the relationship that should exist among all university constituents should be based on collegiality, tolerance, trust and mutual respect. If we all put our personal agendas, interests and differences aside, work together collectively and unselfishly, and act in the best interest of the university, then we will ensure that shared governance becomes effective and fruitful.

I believe shared governance should be utilized to improve the effectiveness of the institution, enact decisions faster, ensure the acceptability of the decision and institutionalize change. It should not be a means to enforce and preserve the status quo.

This column presents opinions and ideas on issues relevant to higher education. To suggest an idea for the column, e-mail newsevents@rit.edu.

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