How, when, about what, and with whom, can faculty in a school of education govern?

It is not quite enough to talk about “shared governance” without specifying “with whom” and on what grounds, formally and informally through networks of interest.

(Part 2 of the blog posted on June 12, 2013)

In one way the questions are easily answered for Teachers College by a quick look at the statutes

The Faculty of Teachers College play a central role in determining the standards, the values, and the character of the institution. Members of the Faculty provide the instruction, conduct the research, and perform the professional services necessary to accomplish the purposes of the College. The Faculty, subject only to the control reserved by the Trustees, have ultimate authority to establish requirements for student admission, programs of instruction, and student academic progress, and to recommend the conferring of degrees and diplomas. The Faculty also make recommendations to the President and the Trustees concerning its own welfare. (My emphasis Governance and Organization of the College Section 3, page 2, retrieved June 17, 2013).

Note the capital ‘F’ in “Faculty,” the word “ultimate,” and the absence of any mention of an administrative structure in the relationship between “Faculty” and “Trustees.”  Note also the absence of any mention of Columbia University, New York State, or the Federal Government—all of whom are intimately involved in all these matters and significantly Faculty authority.  And note, of course, the absence of any mention of unauthorized power and, by implication, resistance, bricolage, etc.

But, as we, individual members of a Faculty, soon experience, the questions are not easily answered in the details of our everyday encounters with this or that regulation, or this or that possible future whether personal (e.g. new course) or collective (e.g. new program).  The following is some thoughts about my personal understanding of how these questions are answered at this moment in our history.  I am particularly interested at this moment on the subquestion “with whom do we govern?”  This a question about contexts of significance: who are the people who can make the most difference on matters we might want to legislate? Who is impacted, directly or indirectly?  In brief, what are the conditions and limits to the Faculty’s “ultimate authority” on requirements, programs, and student progress?  I sketch how this could be investigated through several examples, from the not so trivial to the imaginary.

1) We, as assembled Faculty, could probably deal in a few months of debates and resolution with an irritant to a few employees in the Office of Doctoral Studies, doctoral students and their advisors: the “Statement of Total Program.”  If you think, while reading this, “what’s that?”, then you are either very new to Teachers College, or not dealing with many doctoral students.  If you ask “why,” then you risk a history lesson from the long-timers at the College who may remember that this was created in the 1970s to replace the year-long residence then required of all doctoral students.  As far as I know this is a matter under full Faculty control (though I suspect New York State and Columbia University would have to consulted).  But “they” did not do it sometimes in the past.  “We” do it, on an ongoing basis every time we deal with student puzzlement about this piece of paper that stands on their way to graduation.

2) Who controls what individuals teach?  Why should “new courses” be “approved,” by whom and on what grounds?  The FEC approval process would appear to be under Faculty control (leaving aside NYC authority over “credit hours” and the like).  Other Faculties, in other schools of education, appear to have a very different process.  Our own process has many side effects on individual faculty academic freedom that we must deal with whether we, as individuals, agree with the policy or not.

3) How much should we receive in return for our work?  Or, to put slightly differently, how much of a share of the College’s total income, can we claim? Is this a Faculty claim, or an individual faculty claim?  This issue is most salient when discussing salary (the “pool” vs. individual remuneration), or special rewards for special tasks (e.g. share of research funding, external work, etc.).  But it is also implicit in every discussion of administrative salaries and bonuses, tuition level, financial aid, capital campaigns, etc.  On these matters the Faculty has no authority, but it has significant power, both as Faculty and as individuals.  Given this power, it is in the very best interest of those en-trustee-ed to deal with these matters to play close attention.

4) Given the complexity of most of the questions immediately facing us, does it make sense for Teachers College, as a corporation, to be organized as one school though it may have several major goals.  Who has the power to lead? Who has the authority to make what kind of changes.

Item: In the late 1970s, a long debate enshrined a new self-description of Teachers College as “a school of education, psychology, and health profession.” The current self-description, as it appears on the introductory page for the College now says that it “is committed to a vision of education writ large, encompassing our four core areas of expertise: health, education, leadership and psychology” (“About TC” , retrieved on June 15, 2013).  I am not sure whether the old description is still used or in what contexts. I do not remember any debate about adding the word “leadership.”

Item: The multiplicity of titles our “deans” have had over the past 30 years suggest that it might be time to move to a multiple school structure with two or three deans reporting to a provost. The vectors of power and authority on such matters are quite murky, which may be why we rarely do more than hint that such conversations may be happening (note that there may be further movement on this than meets the eye, what with the appointment of Vice Deans and Deputy Provosts).  And yet, if the Faculty “establishes programs of instruction,” then, arguably, leadership about its organization, including its possible division, should come from this Faculty.

5) What is the scope of Teachers College?  What programs belong? And how is this related to the size of the faculty or the physical plant?  Is this a zero-sum game where new programs can only appear at the price of the end of other programs?  Must we do what we do with 155 faculty (+-10)?  Should we expand?  Should we build, or just repaint?

All these are matters for governors, and the governed to deliberate about and then act on.  Where do we, as both governor and governed, enter the deliberation and participate in the decision?  It is not quite enough to talk about “shared governance” without specifying “with whom” and on what grounds, formally and informally through networks of interest.

One solution I am experimenting with here, is blogging about it…

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