New Leadership Institute: Shared Governance Makes Change "Problematic"

“Change in any industry is difficult, but it is particularly problematic in higher education with its unique culture and history of shared governance.”

So begins the description of the first “module” offered by the new Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership. The Academy, which launches in November, bills itself as “the premier training ground for those who aspire to senior leadership positions in higher education, and those who want to lead organizational change at colleges and universities in the future.” Evidently, this premier training begins by teaching aspiring administrators that shared governance somehow acts as an impediment to institutional change.

A joint venture between Arizona State University (ASU) and Georgetown University, the Academy is directed by journalist Jeff Selingo. His recent books MOOC U. and College (Un)Bound, coupled with his slick website, give the clear impression of a man who is confident that he knows how to fix higher education (it’s simple: more MOOCs and more technology). It is worth noting that Selingo is a special advisor to Michael Crow, president of one of the Academy’s two sponsoring institutions (ASU). A small, but perhaps telling, final point is that neither Selingo’s books nor Crow’s recent co-authored book–rather presumptuously titled Designing the New American University–have index entries for “governance,” “shared governance,” or “AAUP.”

Be that as it may, their brand new Academy is–inhale deeply here–an “eight-month, design-based program [that] focuses on bringing ideas to practice, linking theory to relevant applications and scaling innovations in teaching and learning, leadership, finance and technology that can transform higher education institutions today and in the future.” I have no idea what most of this means, especially the “scaling innovations” part. I do understand, though, that the Academy’s inaugural 2015-16 program is comprised of “online seminars and executive coaching sessions” as well as four three-day, face-to-face meetings (sorry, “modules”).

Which brings us back to the beginning of this post. To repeat: the Academy’s first module–titled “Change Leadership for the Innovative Institution”–begins from the assumption that shared governance somehow makes institutional change difficult or “problematic.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. A true shared governance model, one in which faculty are centrally and formally involved in institutional decision making, does not make organizational change problematic. Quite the contrary: a true shared governance model produces meaningful and positive change precisely because the faculty’s professional expertise is brought to bear on decisions related to the institution’s academic mission. When an institution’s governing board, administration, and faculty work cooperatively within a structure of true shared governance, change is anything but “problematic.”

This is an old idea, of course. It underlies the AAUP’s 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, which celebrates its golden anniversary next year. Jointly formulated with the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), the Statement was promptly commended by their respective governing bodies to their member institutions. The ACE and AGB commended it to their members because they understood that institutions that practice true shared governance would, as the Statement says, “enjoy increased capacity to solve educational problems.”

For their $12,000 tuition payment, the 24 fellows in the inaugural class of the Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership deserve to be taught at least that much.

3 thoughts on “New Leadership Institute: Shared Governance Makes Change "Problematic"

  1. So it only takes 8 months to learn how to ruin university? Sounds like we (AAUP) need to provide an alternative to this so-called “Academy.” I have seen smaller (but still pricey) versions of this for the National Association of College and University Business Officers ( see https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/22/slightly-more-nuanced-bill-gates-offers-vision-higher-education). Thanks so much for writing about this. I hope it spurs us on to providing a stronger vision for those who want to manage universities like any other corporate interest. Our “product” is much too precious.

  2. Last month I posted a piece (https://academeblog.org/2015/08/06/education-innovation-quality-and-disruption/) about one George Siemens, an “inventor” of the MOOC, who has become something of an insightful critic of so-called “disruptive innovation” of the type clearly promoted by this so-called “Academy.” This quote from his notes on a secret Dept. of Education meeting on innovation seems appropriate to repeat here:

    “I’m getting exceptionally irritated with the narrative of higher education is broken and universities haven’t changed. This is one of the most inaccurate pieces of @#%$ floating around in the “disrupt and transform” learning crowd. Universities are exceptional at innovating and changing. Explore any campus today. It’s a new world on most campuses, never mind the online, competency, and related systems. And if your slide deck includes an image of desks and argues that nothing has changed, you’re being dishonest and disingenuous. Repent. Healing is possible for you, but first you must see the falseness of your words.”

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