Shared Governance or the Divine Right of Administrators?

By Gus Bode

From the administrative propaganda e-mail, “Straight Talk”, that goes out

to University staff:”The Role of the Administration in Shared Governance – Leadership”

“The administration is charged with leading this university. That’s its job.


However, the administration is also charged with being responsive to the

Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, students, elected and appointed

officials, and the people of the state of Illinois. But in the end, it is

the chancellor and other administrators who are expected to make final

decisions. Before they do, they seek suggestions from various constituency

groups. Does that mean the administration always does exactly what any

group asks? No. And this can create concern for many in our midst.”


Well, at least they’re concerned. “Straight Talk” is very “straight”

indeed:it gets right to the heart of the Administration’s belief system,

and in fact, the major difference between faculty and administrative

thinking that will soon lead to a work stoppage.

The Administration comes right out and says it:our role is leadership.

The students and faculty may “share” in the governing of the University by

offering “suggestions”, but of course, the Administration is under no

obligation to act on any of these “suggestions”. If the Administration need

not listen to it’s “constituents”, then its constituency is rendered

powerless. Come to think of it, “constituent” is a strange choice of words,

as a “constituent” authorizes another to act in his stead, and thus does not

actually share in governance. That’s funny, I don’t seem to remember voting

So we see that “shared governance” is not shared at all. Rather, it is a

catch phrase designed to appeal to our democratic nature, while in reality

it is authoritarian and absolutist. The Administration seems to believe

that the students, faculty, staff, and taxpayers are their subjects, and

must accept their decisions as final. Apparently, like kings of old, God

himself has entrusted the Administration with ruling Southern Illinois

University. The Administration thinks it can make decisions with the

authority of divine right, and that since all decisions come from the

Administration, they are above questioning.

Unfortunately for the Administration (and the kings of old!), not everyone

agrees that decisions that affect many people’s lives should be made by so

few, and by a group that has proven itself to be so inept in the past. This

is where the students and faculty come in. You see, students are upset

about the way their money is being spent, and the faculty is watching SIU

spiral into academic decay. The Administration (being all powerful) laughs

at the silly peons, and says, ‘Don’t you know there’s no money?’ And maybe

they’re right. Maybe there is no money.

Regardless of whether the money for faculty raises exists, whether it was

squandered needlessly on administrative costs or whether there just never

was enough, there is another issue at stake in the current faculty

negotiations:shared governance. As most of us know by now, money is not

the only issue being discussed, and while it is important, in some ways it

is less important then the other issues. The faculty may win their raises

this year, but the real battle is over how much control the Administration

will have over the money, along with hiring, tenure, and academic freedom,

It seems strange that in a country founded on democratic values, we should

still confine those values to the political world. We still run businesses

and public institutions, such as Universities, in an archaic manner,

distinctly reminiscent of monarchical rule. Can democracy not work in these

institutions? If we answer ‘no’ to that question, we are calling into

question our cultural values and our very system of government. If we

answer ‘yes’, then we must ask ourselves, where better to begin building a

democratic society then in our Universities. After all, these are the

institutions that train the future leaders of our nation; should they not

receive lessons in democracy at their Universities?

It seems obvious that those who attend and work at the University should

have a binding and decisive say in the way their institution is run.

Obviously, this power must be shared among the differing groups as well as

the taxpayers of the state of Illinois. There is simply no room for a

powerful (or high-paid) Administration in shared governance. The

Administration’s role would simply be to execute the will of the various

These changes can certainly not occur in a day, and perhaps they never

will. Yet this much seems clear:for governance to be shared, power must

also be shared. If the people who make up this University are to have a

voice, they simply must share in the Administration’s power. Hopefully the

faculty can take some of that power in upcoming weeks.