Peer Review, Spring 2001
Divided We Govern?
Patricia J. Gumport, Director, Stanford Institute
for Higher Education Research and the National Center
for Postsecondary Improvement, Associate Professor of
Education, Stanford University
In this essay, I discuss two significant problems facing
academic governance in the contemporary era. I portray each
as a chasm that divides the campus, and I argue that institutional
leaders, with help from higher education researchers, can
succeed in bridging those chasms if they strengthen their
collaboration with faculty.
First, though, I want to clarify the spirit of my proposals
and to emphasize their urgency. Over the past decade there
has been an unfortunate drift in attention away from the internal
functioning of academic governance. In response to heightened
demands for accountability and increased mandates for performance
assessment, many campus leaders have focused their attention
outward, scanning the larger political environment and struggling
to respond. While this shift in priorities is understandable,
the result is that some important campus dynamics have been
When internal dynamics have remained in the spotlight, the
tendency has been for off-campus critics, sometimes joined
by campus leaders, to offer harsh criticism. Colleges and
universities of all types have been condemned for their inertia,
inherent inefficiency, or resistance. Faculty have been cast
as either the problem or the obstacle to the solution (Gumport
1997). They have been derided as unproductive and self-interested;
their self-governance practices have been labeled ineffective
and at times even obstructionist.
According to prevailing management theories that prize speed
and adaptability, the prescription for such problems is to
bypass traditional governance structures and consultation
processes-only thus, it's said, can leaders make swift decisions
and much-needed changes. For instance, one popular way to
facilitate strategic planning has been to create ad hoc committees,
which are assumed to be more efficient than more deeply entrenched
decision-making bodies (Keller 1983). As such approaches become
commonplace, however, they threaten to displace faculty's
expertise and professional authority (Schuster et al. 1994).
Simply put, the locus of control for academic decision making
and priority setting moves out of departments, a shift that
can be detrimental to faculty morale.
Why Focus on Collaboration?
As many observers have noted, the past decade has seen the
rise of powerful external "drivers of change" in higher education
(Mingle 2000). On some issues, the locus of control has even
shifted off campus entirely-especially for public universities,
which face increased involvement of state officials and initiatives
from activist boards (Hines 2000). From California to New
York, we have recently seen mandates for programmatic restructuring
(Gumport and Pusser 1999; Gumport and Bastedo 2001) and pressures
for institutions to adopt year-round calendar operations,
distance-learning programs, and mechanisms to assess student
outcomes-all of which have educational implications that could
clearly benefit from faculty input.
Of course, faculty members tend to be quite critical of
their exclusion from these decision-making processes. After
all, generations of faculty have been socialized in the ideal
of shared governance, and they have long taken for granted
certain prerogatives, such as the right to active participation-or
at least consultation-in academic decisions.
My concern is that today's universities are rapidly coming
to disappoint-and tomorrow's may ultimately disillusion-the
talented faculty that we desperately need to recruit and retain.
In short, I see an urgent need to discuss not only how our
institutions may be sustained within a turbulent economic
and political context but also how we may sustain them as
intellectually viable and attractive places for academic work.
Given these concerns, and in the context of recent higher
education research, I see two potential improvements to internal
campus dynamics: to bridge the chasm between management and
governance, and to bridge the chasm between individual and
The Tension Between Management and Governance
The divide between academic management and governance has
been characterized by scholars as a tension between bureaucratic
and professional authority (Etzioni 1964), between planning
and governance functions (Schuster et al., 1994), and between
corporate and collegial modes of decision making (Gumport
Whichever lens we prefer, though, several recent studies
have brought to light the complexity of these dynamics, including
the need to more effectively manage the cultural aspects of
change in college and university governance. Prominent works
include, for example, Schuster et al.'s (1994) Strategic
Governance, Leslie and Fretwell's (1996) Wise Moves
in Hard Times, Clark's (1998) Creating Entrepreneurial
Universities, and Tierney's (1999) Building the Responsive
Campus. As these titles suggest, such change is unlikely
to be accomplished through sheer will or blunt instruments.
Given inherited and well-institutionalized collegial norms
for shared governance, the challenge for campus leaders is
to reconcile the need to act decisively with the need to do
Each of these studies is also instructive in diagnosing
several internal organizational challenges, including marked
fragmentation, an absence of a working consensus, and ambiguity
over jurisdictions of authority. Campus leaders have no choice
but to forge ahead in spite of value conflicts that are explicit
and not easily reconciled. But, even if they do have the managerial
authority to make real changes, and even if they are unusually
successful in pushing their agendas forward, the management/governance
divide will likely remain.
From the perspective of academic managers, it seems irrational
that faculty would have negative responses to perfectly well-intentioned
efforts to improve coordination and academic quality. From
the other side of the chasm, however, things look very different.
Faculty suspect that new administrative mechanisms will be
used to assess their work, and ultimately to redefine the
terms of that work, as well as to replace decentralized decision-making
practices with centralized authority.
It may be helpful to recount, in a few brush strokes, how
the rise of academic management has been facilitated by faculty
ambivalence toward shared governance. According to George
Keller (2001), who draws upon the earlier work of Walter Metzger,
it was not until the early decades of the twentieth century
that American professors moved beyond their independent pursuits
and began to assert themselves as partners with trustees,
presidents and deans in governing, pressing hard for shared
governance to codirect their institutions....Reaching its
zenith in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, shared governance
became less attractive to faculty, who grew disaffected with
it once they realized how time consuming and contentious (even
politically nasty) administration could be.
Meanwhile, higher education saw a great rise in the numbers
of full-time, non-faculty personnel and academic managers.
For this group, of course, the problem with traditional faculty
governance was that it seemed unduly slow and could frustrate
their efforts to move forward with campus initiatives, such
as efforts to streamline budgeting, hiring, and program review
practices. At the same time, some faculty began to perceive
that the domain left for their governance didn't deal with
anything really important.
By the 1980s, according to Keller, faculty retreated even
further from a commitment to governance, as they simultaneously
expressed frustration over the increasingly bureaucratic practices
of their institutions. As changing economic and political
conditions produced resource fluctuations, campus managers
turned their attention to cost cutting in the name of efficiency.
Moreover, technological advancements enabled the creation
of centralized information systems, greatly expanding their
capacity to monitor the detailed workings of even the largest
and most decentralized of universities.
By the end of the 1990s, Keller (2001) concludes, most American
professors, particularly at elite universities, had come full
circle, embracing the sort of independence that was common
a century ago. Faculty members generally like to think of
themselves as independent semi-professionals, free to lecture
or consult off campus, conduct research instead of teach,
and own a business on the side; they see their time as their
own, not belonging to their university; they do not regard
themselves as employees, although everyone else in the institution
is regarded as such.
Based upon Keller's account, it seems entirely predictable
that faculty today would resist administrative controls that
treat them like employees or skilled workers. The heart of
the matter is that faculty treasure professional autonomy,
and they expect jurisdiction over the academic domain, particularly
with regard to the appointment and promotion of academic personnel,
the restructuring of academic programs, and the decisions
as to what and how students need to learn. While faculty may
complain about the time involved in meeting these responsibilities,
they strongly believe them to be theirs. Moreover, faculty
tend to be aware of a decline in the public's trust in them
as professionals, which has occurred alongside a rise in enthusiasm
for managerial initiatives.
With this in mind, a key challenge for campus leaders is
to face the potential downside of the entrepreneurial spirit
that is so highly valued today, including the ways in which
competition can erode a sense of community and demoralize
faculty who do important educational work, but who are not
the big revenue generators. It is possible that campus leaders
can attend to their organization's vital integrative needs,
to enhance collegial practices alongside managerial ones,
and to address directly the expectations of faculty who may
already be disillusioned. The failure to do so would lead
predictably to increased faculty distrust and resistance to
the very initiatives that might allow the campus to thrive
amidst changing conditions.
The Tension Between Individual and Collective Interests
Noting the inseparability of academic settings from broader
economic, political and cultural changes, higher education
researchers often find it valuable to regard the campus as
a microcosm in which broader societal tensions are played
out. Among those tensions, one is especially prominent in
this era: the fundamental divide between individual and collective
As I have seen in my own research on academic restructuring
in public higher education, this tension is manifest within
the campus in several ways (Gumport 2000). It arises when
faculty members try to get what they can from their institutions,
rather than trying to serve them. It is present when the more
cosmopolitan of faculty members choose to neglect curriculum
planning in favor of their scholarly pursuits. And it is evident
in the arm-twisting that is often required to appoint new
department chairs, deans, or committee leaders.
We see it especially when there is competition for scarce
resources, as when academic units hunker down to protect their
turf from downsizing and restructuring, whether or not the
collective good depends on consolidation. Under such conditions,
any proposed change is viewed as a potential loss. At the
system level, we see it when an institution demands new faculty
billets or academic programs in spite of budgetary or political
constraints. Finally, we see it at the level of governing
boards when special interests clamor for attention, or when
trustees fail to act in accordance with the AGB's mandate
to "serve the institution or the system as a whole and not
any particular constituency or segment of the organization."
The basic challenge, here, is one that has often been explored
by economists, political scientists, philosophers, and sociologists:
how do we get from yours and mine to ours? This is a question
that is certainly amenable to research. Scholars in various
disciplines have studied, for example, the nature of incentives,
coalitions, personal choice, and institutional commitment.
Yet, for some reason, the topic of academic governance has
eluded their careful analysis.
As a starting point, the question is: what would it take
for campus leaders to draw others into a more explicitly collective
enterprise? It is certainly feasible to anticipate which proposals
will provoke apathy or spark a prolonged contest. In this
context, it is possible to move discussion up a level from
what is often reduced to platitudes about social obligation
(e.g., "It's time for the faculty to give back-after all,
whose university is it?"), vague appeals to balance and fairness
("We all need to be heard"), and fuzzy references to a mythic
academic community ("We're all in this together"). What is
called for is more meaningful debate that specifies pressures
and tradeoffs along with hopes for the future.
Enhancing Shared Ownership
Campus leaders today have a critical opportunity to enhance
the sense of shared ownership on their campuses. I found evidence
of this potential among college and university presidents
whom I interviewed during daylong focus groups in the summer
of 1998 (Gumport and Dauberman 1999). As one might expect,
these discussions surfaced many frustrations about the task
of managing in the face of heightened public scrutiny and
demands to demonstrate accountability. My research affirmed
prior research that found many presidents seeing their job
as "impossible," full of responsibility but lacking in authority
However, I also heard something new. Presidents discussed
their own agency, specifically their potential to reshape
expectations for and within their institutions. They were
largely optimistic, for instance, that they could cultivate
a demand for the enduring academic strengths in their programs;
that they could speak for the long-term public interest and
provide a moral compass (particularly in urban settings);
and that they could convey to external stakeholders that it
is possible to move internal campus norms toward an improved
form of academic resource sharing.
I think it is noteworthy that public university and college
presidents also expressed the willingness-even a sense of
obligation-to speak out as advocates for the public value
of higher education, although some anticipated that critics
would view them as self-serving. (How powerful is the individualism
in our contemporary society, where the presumption of self-interest
is used to dismiss academic leaders who intend to speak for
a broader collective interest!)
This raises obvious questions about the role of trustees,
as well, whether they will act independently or in concert
with campus presidents. For example, in what ways can or should
trustees attempt to reshape environmental pressures or cultivate
constituencies to support their campuses? To what extent can
or should trustees legitimately and effectively speak for
the whole, regardless of whether they are dismissed by stakeholders
of opposing viewpoints?
Bridging the Chasms
There is, I think, much that researchers still do not understand
about how campus leaders can most effectively reconcile institutional
legacies with today's market forces (Gumport 2000). At the
same time, there is tremendous potential for campus leaders
themselves to be pioneers in developing intentionally collaborative
initiatives. This is not meant to impose another layer of
expectations on an already full agenda of managing environmental
complexity. Rather, my point is to suggest that presidents,
deans, and other academic leaders can be supported to deal
head-on with these internal campus dynamics, in order to give
faculty opportunities to be informed, to participate, to consider
the dilemmas of the whole enterprise, and to offer potential
Given that this is an era in which critics presume higher
education to be "self-indulgent, arrogant, and resistant to
change" (Rhodes 1998), the bold actions of campus leaders
can contribute evidence to the contrary. As evidenced by the
research mentioned above, we in the academy already know that
there is much thoughtful reflection among campus leaders.
They carefully consider how to reconcile multiple and, at
times, conflicting environmental pressures, how to weigh the
merits and liabilities of alternative responses, and regarding
questions of how to improve their stock of legitimacy with
various stakeholders. Some visible initiatives by presidents
and some demonstrated successes in working collaboratively
with faculty may offer a valuable empirical counterpoint to
widespread criticism of higher education. These bold moves
would simultaneously provide some insights to others who seek
to effectively bridge the persistent chasms that divide our
Birnbaum, R. 1989. "Responsibility without authority: The
impossible job of the college president." In, J. Smart, ed.,
Higher education: Handbook of theory and research,
Volume V, 31-56.
Clark, B. 1998. Creating entrepreneurial universities.
Etzioni, A. 1964. Modern Organizations. Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Gumport, P. J. 1993. "The contested terrain of academic
program reduction." Journal of Higher Education, 64:3,
Gumport, P. J. 1997. "Public universities as academic workplaces."
Daedalus, 126: 4, 113-136.
Gumport, P. J. 2000. "Academic restructuring: Organizational
change and institutional imperatives." Higher Education,
Gumport, Patricia J. and Michael N. Bastedo. Forthcoming,
2001. "Academic stratification and endemic conflict: Remedial
education policy at CUNY." Review of Higher Education,
Gumport, P. J. and J. Dauberman. 1999. "Managing for legitimacy:
Presidents' perspectives within public higher education."
Paper presented at the Association for the Study of Higher
Education Annual Conference, November 18-21.
Gumport, P. J. and B. Pusser. 1999. "University restructuring:
The role of economic and political contexts." In, John Smart,
ed. Higher education: Handbook of theory and research,
Volume XIV. Bronx, NY: Agathon Press, 146-200.
Hines, E. 2000. "The governance of higher education." In,
John Smart, ed. Higher education: Handbook of theory and
research, Volume XV. Bronx, NY: Agathon Press, 105-155.
Keller, G. 1983. Academic Strategy. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press.
Keller, G. 2001. "Governance: The remarkable ambiguity."
In, Philip Altbach, Patricia J. Gumport, and D. Bruce Johnstone,
eds. In defense of the American university. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press.
Leslie, D. and E.K. Fretwell. 1996. Wise Moves in Hard
Times. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Mingle, J. 2000. "Higher education's future in the 'corporatized'
economy." AGB Occasional Paper #44. Washington, DC: Association
of Governing Boards.
Rhodes, F. 1998. "The university and its critics." In, W.
Bowen and H. Shapiro, eds. Universities and their leadership.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Schuster, J., D. Smith, K. Corak, and M. Yamada. 1994. Strategic
governance. ACE: Oryx Press.
Tierney, W. 1999. Building the responsive campus.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Portions of this article draw from an earlier paper, titled
"Academic Governance: New Light on Old Issues," published
by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and
Colleges (Occasional Paper #42, September 2000). Adapted with
the permission of the publisher.