The 1920 Governance Committee Survey

Before 1915, AAUP founders Arthur Lovejoy and James McKeen Cattell stressed the need for significant reform of the traditional mode of governance prevalent in US higher education. Both proposed to have the president be elected by the faculty and to reduce the power of governing boards. Lovejoy proposed that reforming governance be the main focus of the soon-to-be-founded Association, because it would aid in the professionalization of faculty. However, the AAUP never went as far as either of its founders in calling for a change in the balance of power in the American university.

The first AAUP committee to issue a report on governance, Committee T on the Place and Function of Faculties in University Government and Administration, was appointed by AAUP President Frank Thilly of Cornell in 1917. Edward Ross, who was a member of the Council at the time, proposed Cattell for the chairmanship of Committee T on a nomination form for committees (which can be found in Ross’s correspondence). Cattell, however, was not appointed chair, most likely because of his reputation as a radical in these matters. Nevertheless, he was appointed to the committee as a member. Committee T’s first chair was Ohio State University philosophy professor Joseph A. Leighton. Also appointed, apparently upon Ross’s nomination, was Wellesley professor Emily Green Balch, who went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946. 

The committee issued its first report in 1920. That report had three parts: a discussion of problems and principles of governance (authored by Leighton), a list of recommendations (endorsed by the committee), and the results of a survey. The recommendations were concerned with the relationship between the faculty and the governing board, the faculty and the president, and the faculty and deans; the role of the faculty in the determination of educational policies and in the preparation of the budget; and the government of departments. I will discuss these recommendations in a subsequent post and review the results of the survey here.

I have converted the responses reported into the charts below (you can click on them to enlarge them). In the report, the committee assigned each response to a category but gave further detail about the responses as well. These additional details are not reflected in the charts. Two questions (on the terms of deans and on the method of selection of trustees) were omitted here.


While the report recognized the final authority of the governing board in all decisions, the responses to this question indicated that the faculty were directly involved in matters of educational policy at almost all institutions. The report listed as examples of “educational policy” entrance requirements, courses of study, and requirements for degrees. It some institutions, this role was recognized explicitly, but in a majority of institutions it was only based on custom. There is no further discussion in the report of the arrangements of “divided control” found at one institution (Colorado), but presumably faculty approval of curricular policy there required the explicit approval of the administration.


While the role of the faculty in educational policy was well-established, their role in the appointments of faculty was not. In less than a third of institutions were faculty appointments based on the recommendations of a faculty committee. In all other cases, the department chair, dean, or president was responsible for the appointment.


Two separate questions addressed the issue of who among the faculty could participate in governance activities. Membership in the general faculty meant that a faculty member could participate in meetings of the entire faculty, which in many institutions were subsequently replaced by a representative or senate-like structure. Departments, schools or colleges within a university were  referred to as “minor faculties” in the report. As I mentioned in a previous post, at the time of the AAUP’s founding, security of tenure, where it existed, was tied to rank. During the time of the survey, a significant proportion of faculty were at the rank of instructor – and thus usually on annual appointments. As the results show, about two-thirds of institutions excluded instructors from university-wide governance and from departmental, school, or college governance. Given the much smaller sizes of faculties at the time, it is not surprising that only 4% had a faculty-senate structure.


The question of the function of the faculty was presumably aimed at determining whether the faculty as a body was empowered to take votes to make recommendations to the administration or the governing board.  The faculties of 9% of institutions were not so empowered, and instead their meetings were purely deliberative.


The participation of faculty in the preparation of the budget was, as it perhaps would be now, the most complex question. In 40% of institutions the faculty had no official role in budgetary questions, while in 15% of institutions a faculty-selected committee existed for that purpose. The remaining 45% of institutions had a variety of arrangements that frequently included department chairs, deans, and the president.


Faculty had a minimal role in the selection of chairs, deans and presidents at the time. Faculty nominated their department chairs in 20% of institutions, their deans in 18% of institutions, and they had a formal role in the selection of the president in only 13% of institutions.


Faculty-board communication is a topic that has recently received some attention by the successor committee to Committee T (the Committee on College and University Governance). Based on a long tradition of recommendations by the AAUP, its report recommended that such communication be conducted via a conference or liaison committee. Thirty-five percent of institutions had some mechanism of direct faculty-board communication at the time, a number that would certainly be much lower today.

Perhaps what is the most surprising about this survey is that it identifies the very same issues – in 1920 – that subsequent reports of the Association have identified as central to institutional governance. While the responses to individual questions would change if given today, the selection of questions for the determination of today’s governance climate would arguably change very little.

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