Voting for Committees

Faculty Representation in Governance.

Voting for professors?

Voting for professors?


An interesting piece on faculty representation in governance the Chronicle of Higher Education. The argument is that faculty representation in governance structures is not always ideal:

Perhaps this will sound familiar from your campus: Some appalling, or just bizarre/confusing, initiative will come down the pike, and faced with faculty protests, the administration will say, “But there were faculty on the committee–this was vetted by the faculty.” In such events, it invariably turns out, a few faculty members had in fact been appointed to the committee, typically chosen by an administrator, usually (if ironically) in the name of faculty governance.

Why ironically? Because the mere presence of some faculty members doesn’t constitute representation. The administrative selection of congenial faculty for certain committees is just a form of governance-washing (cf.): You pick faculty members who you can be reasonably confident will go along with something, regardless of whether they have any particular constituency on campus or any particular expertise. (A colleague elsewhere describes this, a little unkindly, as the sycophant pool.) Presto: you’ve insulated yourself from faculty criticism, comfortable in the notion that you did the right thing by appointing some professors.

All university committees are pretty much like this

All university committees are pretty much like this

It’s an interesting argument. Should academic members of committees and working groups always be elected, either directly or through a representative structure such as Senate? I’m not convinced. In my experience such representatives are chosen to ensure that they will contribute meaningfully, they have relevant knowledge and expertise and are able to take a wider view. Elections take time and significant effort to organise and do not necessarily deliver any of these things. There really isn’t anything to be said for appointing committees of yes-people who aren’t going to contribute at all. In most cases appointments rather than elections mean that you get the right mix of academics involved. And you are able to bring in new people rather than just the usual suspects or the best known.