Shared Governance in Program Redesign

January 5, 2021

The Reciprocal Relationship between Academic Freedom and Shared Governance

The OAH believes that academic freedom rests on a foundation of shared governance. As such, the OAH affirms the inextricable link between academic freedom and shared governance articulated in the AAUP’s 1966 statement on shared governance, developed jointly with trade associations representing college and university governing boards and administrators; elaborated further in a 1994 statement. These statements recognize that the complex nature of college and university activities demand well-governed institutions capable of achieving their academic missions.

Recognizing False Claims of Shared Governance

Key determinants of real shared governance:

  • Were the faculty selected in accordance with the institution’s shared governance structure and practices?
  • Are these faculty representing and answerable to the relevant faculty shared governance bodies?
  • Have faculty shared governance bodies been fully involved at all steps of the program redesign process?

The fact that some faculty participate in program redesign or curricular decision-making bodies does not necessarily meet the professional standard of shared governance that protects academic freedom. Examples of obfuscating claims:

  • Faculty participate in the program redesign committee—however, faculty representation is too small to influence committee outcomes
  • Faculty serve on the program redesign committee—however, they are hand-picked in a way that by-passes faculty governance bodies and policies
  • Faculty governance bodies are consulted and/or asked to approve a program redesign—however, this occurs only at a mid- or end-point of program redesign

Major Drivers of Program Redesign that May Threaten Academic Freedom

1. Financial Hardship: Program redesign motivated by financial pressures or emergencies may include:

  • claims of financial emergency that do not provide research-based evidence meeting the professional standard of “financial exigency” (AAUP, Responding to Financial Crises: Policies and Best Practices)
  • program closures and mergers not connected to research-based changes in disciplinary knowledge and purview
  • on-line program or course development and delivery offered by internally or externally sub-contracted On-Line Program Managers [OPMs]
  • outside funder with particular program, content, and/or personnel authority or requirements. NOTE: This poses a distinct category of threat elaborated here (page forthcoming). 

2. Institutional Mission: Program redesign directed at non-financial, academic objectives may include:

  • program redesign to address retention, graduation, or other metric concerns without providing research-based evidence of need or efficacy 
  • program redesign directed at sub-sets of the student population without providing research-based evidence of need or efficacy (eg: first-year experience, “under-represented minorities”)
  • on-line program or course development and delivery offered by internally or externally sub-contracted On-Line Program Managers [OPMs]

3. Intellectual Property: Curriculum development and/or redesign grounded in institutional rights to employee-created materials may include:

  • in-contract requirements or extra-contract opportunities to develop course materials without intellectual property protections for the faculty developer(s) 
  • impact on individual faculty whose non-exclusive rights to their intellectual property allows an institution or sub-contractor to use their created materials without further permission or compensation
  • impact on the faculty at large whose expertise and value may become less essential to the institution’s educational mission as it is able to employ non-experts or under-pay scholars to facilitate teaching of pre-created curriculum

Recommendations and Best Practices

Shared governance that respects and protects academic freedom requires the vigilant and robust exercise of faculty governance rights and responsibilities. Faculty must be active participants in their shared governance bodies and responsibilities if they are to succeed in their teaching, research and service roles. 

  • Develop a good understanding of the relationship between academic freedom and shared governance. 
  • Be active in your institution’s shared governance bodies and practices, and promote active, engaged participation by faculty colleagues. 

Pro-actively consider and seek clarity on the intellectual property implications of curricular and other teaching materials that you create in your capacity as an employee or contractor of an institution of higher education [IHE]. 

Useful Tools

Selected Case Studies of Program Redesign the Violate or Denigrate Academic Freedom

  • Cuts to Arts and Humanities Programs. College Art Association of America [CAA], “Colleges Facing Cuts to Arts and Humanities Programs” 2018 article identifies campuses and systems where program mergers and cuts have been announced, and in some cases rescinded, in the face of faculty and student resistance.  Includes links to articles detailing developments in each case. 
  • Redesigning the First-Year Experience, CUNY.  AAUP, “The Fight Against Pathways at CUNY” 2014 article recounts the years-long efforts by CUNY faculty to resist an administration effort to directly control the curriculum by creating a new first-year student program undertaken without faculty governance. 
  • Consolidating Community Colleges, Connecticut. Inside Higher Education, “Connecticut Moves to Consolidate Community Colleges Amid Faculty Opposition,” 2019 article chronicles the system President’s persistence, in the face of both faculty and accreditor opposition, to pursue his plan to consolidate the management and governance of the state’s twelve community colleges. Faculty questions about transparency and the accuracy of administration claims of cost savings have not been addressed.   
  • Intellectual Property Rights, Purdue University. Inside Higher Education, “Faculty Rights at Purdue” 2018 article discusses Purdue’s contract with Purdue Global University (an OPM, formerly for-profit Kaplan University) that requires faculty to sign non-disclosure agreements and potentially waive their rights to course materials they create.
  • Current Status and Projected Growth of the OPM Industry. Inside Higher Education, “A Tipping Point for OPM?” 2018 article reveals the financial incentives and educational arguments behind the rapid expansion of outsourced OPM programs [on-line program manager].  
  • End of Shared Governance, Wisconsin. AAUP, “The Downfall of Shared Governance in Wisconsin,” 2017 article is a history in three acts of the rise and systematic destruction of shared governance Wisconsin’s public university system. A lack of faculty engagement over the long-run, combined with well-targeted tweaks in university regulations and state statutes brought an end to shared governance (and meaningful tenure) for all faculty.