Penn State and Shared Governance

I’ve been tempted not to comment on the Penn State scandal simply because of the massive attention it’s already received and the fact that speaking out against child molestation is hardly a controversial stand. But the scandal is important precisely because of that attention, and what lessons are drawn from it.

Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux write at Truthout about the massive revenues involved in Penn State athletics and how big money helped create the atmosphere for a cover-up. When the job of administrators is to protect revenue streams rather than ethical ideals, scandals like Penn State’s become a lot easier.

In a New York Times op-ed last fall, Penn State professor Michael Berube argued that “The principle of ‘shared governance’ is the least well understood aspect of academic freedom.” Actually, I tend to disagree with that analysis; shared governance isn’t part of academic freedom. But shared governance is an essential mechanism for protecting academic freedom. However, it shouldn’t stop there. Shared governance is also an important part of effective university management, precisely because it prevents the kind of unfettered power that leads to abuse. Shared governance isn’t some petty power play by professors; it’s a fundamental to creating better universities, whether we’re talking about athletics or finances or academic freedom.

I’m not sure that shared governance (or any other structure) would have stopped the kind of abuse and individual failings at Penn State, but certainly Berube is right to argue that faculty involvement is much more important than hiring an “ethics officer.” The AAUP’s National Council endorsed Berube’s views.

In a time of campus scandals and budget cuts, we need to point out the necessity of shared governance (and academic freedom, which is essential for employees to offer meaningful oversight and criticism). For years, universities hired more administrators and consultants whenever a problem popped up. What they should have done was turn to the faculty (and other stakeholders on campus) for expertise on what to do.

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.