When I was a faculty member, I always assumed that shared governance meant that faculty got a piece of the governing pie. Faculty were in charge of curriculum and other items delegated to them by the Board of Trustees; administrators were in charge of administrative things; the Board was in charge of Board things; and there was little interactivity. Unfortunately, my myopia did little to advance the important task at hand: helping our students and, in turn, the college succeed.
In my role as associate dean for curriculum and faculty development, I have come to understand that shared governance is much bigger than the sum of its individual components. In terms of finishing a puzzle, working within a model of shared governance is about knowing how your puzzle pieces fit into the larger whole, not making sure you have more puzzle pieces than others or directing others how to place their pieces.
My current responsibilities include curriculum, advising, assessment, accreditation, student support, faculty professional development, and academic policy (and, of course, “other duties as assigned”). In other words, my job is to provide leadership in helping faculty achieve their greatest potential as scholars, as teachers, as advisors and mentors, and as advocates of student success. Over the last two years, when I had an idea or initiative, one of the first things I would hear from my vice president was, “How does that fit into shared governance?” or “Which faculty committee should get this?” At first, I found this frustrating: why couldn’t it just come from our office to the faculty? After all, isn’t that the job of an administrator, to administrate new ideas? The more I was told to look to the governance process for guidance, however, the more deeply I started thinking about the manner in which work gets done on campus, and the more I started to get a much clearer sense of how shared really means integrated, not individual and additive.
Working within and for faculty governance isn’t always easy. Like many others who move into administration, I enjoy finding different ways to integrate outside speakers into our curriculum or bring new forms of faculty professional development into the intellectual life of the campus. There are times, though, when faculty members don’t share the enthusiasm I may have for something new. However, as I enter my third year as associate dean, I have focused on an idea that’s made my job much richer and more fulfilling: it’s not about me. It’s not about faculty, either. Our work is about something much bigger: reaching my potential as a leader and administrator is fundamentally about helping faculty reach theirs. As that happens, our students are more successful.
Our faculty just finished a thorough restructuring of their governance structure, including how faculty members interact with administration and with our Board of Trustees. It truly was an exceptional effort: not only did the faculty identify ways to keep the day-to-day work moving forward, but they also found ways to be collaborative with other areas of governance, and to engage in strategic thinking—something the previous structure did not facilitate. I just finished reading James Lang’s Small Teaching,1 an excellent discussion of ways in which new pedagogical innovations grounded in learning science can be included in very small, immediate ways to improve teaching, and it struck me that this would be a great book for a small group reading or a monthly lunch-‘n-learn among faculty. Rather than emailing our faculty to express my thoughts about the book and suggest that we talk about it in some way, I bought three copies for our Faculty Development Committee members and suggested that they use this resource as they consider new forms of pedagogical development for our faculty this year. This wasn’t a significant action to be sure; it was, however, the result of the realization that a recommendation coming from within the context of faculty governance will help begin an organic conversation in ways that a top-down suggestion could never accomplish.
Central College’s graduates are our completed puzzle. As an administrator, or as a faculty member, I don’t have to know how all the pieces fit together, and I don’t have to see the individual puzzle pieces being put into place. I only have to know how my pieces fit together, put them where they belong, trust that others on campus are putting their pieces in place, and understand that what I am doing in context of the larger whole creates the finished product.