Statement Affirming Shared Governance During COVID-19

On behalf of faculty and staff, we want TCU leaders to know that we very much want to work with them to navigate the pandemic’s troubled waters. We want to commit our full energy, expertise, and enthusiasm to helping ensure that TCU students learn as well as possible, while we also protect the health and safety of all members of our community.

For such a partnership to work, TCU leaders need to reciprocate by recommitting to principles of shared academic governance that are essential in shaping the direction of the university. As the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has noted in its Statement on Governing Colleges and Universities:

The allocation of resources among competing demands is central in the formal responsibility of the governing board, in the administrative authority of the president, and in the educational function of the faculty. Each component should therefore have a voice in the determination of short- and long-range priorities, and each should receive appropriate analyses of past budgetary experience, reports on current budgets and expenditures, and short- and long-range budgetary projections.

Despite the emergency situation we are in, the COVID-19 pandemic is not an excuse to abandon principles of shared governance, as the AAUP affirmed in a statement earlier this month (see below).

If TCU leaders intend to alter compensation or working conditions for university employees, this must be done in consultation with faculty and staff in advance. While we understand that ultimately, financial decision-making and budget approval rests with the board, principles of shared governance demand that faculty representatives be meaningfully involved in informing these decisions.

In May, without consulting with the faculty senate or staff assembly, the chancellor announced compensation cuts through a 30.4% reduction in university retirement contributions to all employees. This came after the University Compensation Advisory Committee spent months considering the issue at the direction of the chancellor, concluded its work by specifically recommending against such changes for future employees, and was told that such cuts for current employees were not on the table for consideration.

Pay cuts, layoffs, and furloughs must not be announced from TCU leaders without consultation with and clear communications to university employees in advance. University leadership has disregarded multiple Faculty Senate resolutions calling for access to budget information and meaningful shared governance regarding financial decisions for the university in recent years.

TCU regularly touts itself for being recognized as a “great place to work.” Our collegiality and friendliness as a community are hallmarks of the TCU experience for students and employees. Involving faculty and staff in critical decisions regarding the direction of the university and its allocation of resources during a time of crisis will help to preserve the strong sense of community and collegiality we all treasure.

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Principles of Academic Governance During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance today issued the following statement:

In response to growing concern over unilateral actions taken by governing boards and administrations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee on College and University Governance affirms that the fundamental principles and standards of academic governance remain applicable even in the current crisis. These principles are set forth in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, formulated in cooperation with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges and the American Council on Education.

The Statement on Government famously recommends “adequate communication” and “joint planning and effort” (commonly referred to as “shared governance”) among governing board, administration, faculty, and students. A key principle articulated in the Statement on Governmentis that, within the context of shared governance, the faculty has “primary responsibility” for decisions related to academic matters, including “curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.” Although the statement acknowledges that governing boards have final decision-making authority (and may have delegated this power in certain areas to the president), it asserts that that authority “should be exercised adversely only in exceptional circumstances, and for reasons communicated to the faculty.” Under the Statement on Government, decisions to revise (even if only temporarily) tenure and promotion procedures and standards, to elect a preferred method of delivering courses, or to replace letter grades with pass-fail or incomplete designations fall within the faculty’s area of primary responsibility. Even in areas in which the faculty does not exercise primary authority—such as whether and how to reopen campus, budgetary matters, and long-range planning—the faculty still has the right, under widely observed principles of academic governance, to participate meaningfully. No important institutional decision should be made unilaterally by administrations or governing boards.

Nor should administrations or governing boards suspend provisions of faculty handbooks or collective bargaining agreements in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis by invoking “force majeure,” “act of God,” “extraordinary circumstances,” or the like. The AAUP addressed this issue in its 2006 investigation of five New Orleans institutions that terminated the appointments of faculty members in response to the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina the previous summer. The investigating committee observed that “the relevant AAUP-supported policies—most notably those that recognize the special challenge of ‘financial exigency’—are sufficiently broad and flexible to accommodate even the inconceivable disaster.”

The investigating committee also found that the LSU Health Sciences Center violated the provisions of Regulation 4c, “Financial Exigency,” of the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. As its title suggests, the purpose of Regulation 4c is to set forth procedural standards for a financial emergency—standards that safeguard academic freedom and tenure and that ensure meaningful faculty participation in decision-making. Obviously, suspending the faculty handbook or specific articles of the collective bargaining agreement for the ostensible purpose of grappling with a disaster but for the real purpose of circumventing these standards is inimical to principles of shared governance and academic freedom.

As the authors of the Katrina report observed,

However cumbersome faculty consultation may at times be, the importance and value of such participation become even greater in exigent than in more tranquil times. The imperative that affected faculties be consulted and assume a meaningful role in making critical judgments reflects more than the values of collegiality; given the centrality of university faculties in the mission of their institutions, their meaningful involvement in reviewing and approving measures that vitally affect the welfare of the institution (as well as their own) becomes truly essential.

The COVID-19 pandemic must not become the occasion for administrations or governing boards to jettison normative principles of academic governance. The Committee on College and University Governance regards such a course of action as not only unacceptable but detrimental to both the effective operation and the welfare of the institution. During this challenging time, the committee calls upon administrations and governing boards, in demonstrated commitment to principles of shared governance, to maintain transparency, engage in “joint effort,” and honor the faculty’s decision-making responsibility for academic and faculty personnel matters as the most effective means of weathering the current crisis.

Published by Chip Stewart

Professor of Journalism at Texas Christian University. J.D. (University of Texas), LL.M. (University of Missouri), Ph.D. (University of Missouri). Former head of the Law & Policy Division at AEJMC. Founding editor of Community Journalism. Author of "Media Law Through Science Fiction: Do Androids Dream of Electric Free Speech?" (Routledge, 2020); co-author of "The Law of Public Communication" (11th ed., Routledge, 2020); editor of "Social Media and the Law" (2nd ed., Routledge, 2017).

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