Shared governance is a difficult topic to wrap your head around, especially since it has a unique interpretation almost anywhere you find it.
Generally, when in reference to a college it can describe two concepts which are meant to coincide and overlap easily: according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, these concepts are “giving various groups of people a share in key decision-making processes, often through elected representation; and allowing certain groups to exercise primary responsibility for specific areas of decision making.” Essentially, shared governance policies outline the way a college is run with emphasis on giving a voice to all components of the institution.
A. Variants of the above definition were first established in the 1960s, particularly when the “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities” was published by the American Association of University Professors in 1966. That statement emphasized the importance of shared governance policies and stated some commonly understood principles, like the primary responsibilities of the faculty, administration, president and governing board of a college.
B. So, how does this apply to JCCC? To answer that question, we’ve got to start in 2011. That year, a group of faculty members began considering the creation of a Faculty Senate. The next two years were spent researching and drafting a constitution that the full-time faculty on campus would vote in favor of.
C. In 2013, the Faculty Senate held their first meeting and elected their officers. Having a Faculty Senate isn’t unusual for a college, especially because adjunct faculty aren’t allowed to be represented on the already-established Faculty Association and the Senate is a way to give those part-time faculty members — of which JCCC has over 500 — a voice.
The Faculty Association is meant to represent “the interests of faculty in negotiating salaries and benefits with the college administration and the Board of Trustees… [and] also represents the faculty in other capacities, such as providing political advocacy at the local, state and national levels,” according to the JCCC website. However, those who began the Faculty Senate didn’t feel that all faculty were being represented on the Association, particularly adjunct faculty. The Association wasn’t addressing the issues some faculty wanted addressed, so the Senate was born.
D. In the spring of 2018, the Higher Learning Commission visited the campus; the HLC is responsible for accrediting academic institutions, which means they decide if students’ credits can transfer to other colleges. If Johnson County Community College wasn’t accredited, the credits students have gained here would be relatively useless when it came to transferring them to four-year universities. Thus, the HLC’s opinion is extremely important.
However, the HLC team who came to the campus raised concerns about JCCC’s shared governance policies and specifically recommended a report outlining our “academic governance structure,” specifically including “academic and faculty committees,” a description of “shared governance protocols and communication between faculty, academic leadership and JCCC leadership” and an outline of “decision-making protocols as well as communication protocols when decisions are final.” In the HLC’s eyes, our faculty didn’t have enough of a voice, and they gave the college until May 1, 2020 to solve the problem.
Therefore, the HLC’s findings were in line with the claims of those who branched off to begin the Faculty Senate nine years ago. After their findings were relayed to the college, two task forces were created to fix the long-broken system.
E. In September of last year, two task forces were announced and pages describing the task forces, listing their members and providing their meeting minutes were created. The Academic Branch task force focuses specifically on addressing faculty governance; it consists of Chair Jim Hopper, division representatives in the form of a single full-time faculty member from various departments, a single representative from both the Faculty Senate and the Faculty Association, two adjunct faculty members and a few other members (find the full list of members below). On the other hand, the Institutional Shared Governance System task force (ISGS task force) is focused on developing and recommending governance policies for the college as a whole. This task force consists of Sheri Barrett serving as the facilitator as well as several members of the JCCC administration, two full time faculty members, an adjunct professor and a student currently serving as vice president of the Student Senate (find the full list of members below).
F. The ISGS task force got off to a rocky start, though, when member Vincent Clark resigned from his position as one of three faculty representatives; this resignation came in mid-October, a little over a month after the initial creation of the task forces. According to Clark’s letter of resignation from the task force, he decided to resign after “the administration announced that creating faculty shared governance was not the primary task [of the task force]. Instead, it was developing institutional systems of shared governance for the whole college,” saying that “this metamorphosis seemed to me to endanger, at the very least, faculty shared governance.” Beth Edmonds, senator on the Faculty Senate and chair of the Math Department, responded to Clark’s resignation by confessing that the Faculty Senate Executive Committee was “concerned by the circumstances that led to this outcome” and emphasized the need for shared governance and the importance of maintaining “close scrutiny” over the two task forces.
I. The HLC required that the college submit their plans for the future of JCCC’s shared governance policies by March 1 of this year. Both committees are planning on wrapping up in late February by submitting and voting on final proposals for change.
Stay tuned for more in-depth explorations of shared governance in the coming weeks.
Story by Samantha Joslin