TCU Needs Shared Governance

In July, AAUP members at TCU issued a statement of concern about the lack of shared governance in recent years, particularly noting compensation cuts and changes to working conditions made without input from faculty or staff.

Since then, promises have been made by Chancellor Boschini and Provost Dahlberg to affirm the value and importance of shared governance at TCU. At the Town Hall meeting in July, for example, Chancellor Boschini said:

“I would love to just rebuild that trust or whatever we lost to everybody. I think shared governance is really important. I think some people mix up ‘shared governance’ and ‘their governance.’ In that, shared governance doesn’t mean you’ll ever get what you want. You should assume that. Now, lots of times, you will. It just means you’ll have a say in everything.”

This was specifically directed at the lack of involvement by faculty in the permanent 30% cut to employee retirement contributions that was announced in May, which severely damaged the trust of the faculty in our administrators who handed down this decision without our knowledge or participation. 

In response to this, as well as a longstanding lack of transparency in budget and financial matters, Chancellor Boschini at that same Town Hall announced, “I have asked our financial affairs people to reboot, reinvigorate…our Budget Advisory Committee. And I think that will help too, because I think, looking back on it, you know everything in hindsight is so much better, I think that was one of our downfalls.”

Indeed, the Budget Advisory Committee was assembled in early August. But on August 12, when the chancellor announced a permanent cut of 12% to the academic budget to help to fund expanded student financial aid, this cut was once again made without consulting or otherwise involving the Budget Advisory Committee, a body representing the faculty and staff that specifically exists for this very purpose. 

Likewise, at the Faculty Senate meeting last week, Provost Dahlberg said she was “committed to shared governance,” which she described as requiring sharing of views, respectful dialogue, and active listening among stakeholders. “Shared governance isn’t a one-way street, we all know that, it’s a multi-lane highway that involves dialogue between faculty, staff, students and administrators,” she said. Provost Dahlberg specifically noted that, “As provost, I don’t set the P&T (promotion and tenure) policy. I uphold the P&T policy that you set.”

And yet, last night, Provost Dahlberg announced a unilateral revision to the TCU Faculty-Staff Handbook on making salary increases that come with tenure retroactive to the original year of tenure eligibility if the faculty member has taken an extension due to COVID-19 or other medical or family issues. 

While the substance of this policy may be welcomed and even appreciated, the procedure is again not in accordance with any principles of shared governance. Neither the Faculty Senate, nor any other governance body on campus, was consulted before this announcement was made. It is not sufficient for the provost to read a suggestion elsewhere, announce that we will adopt it as a university via email, and then tell us, “We will get it in the Faculty-Staff Handbook at the next revision.” 

Shared governance means consulting with and involving faculty and staff in decisions BEFORE they are made. Shared governance is not unilaterally announcing cuts to retirement, permanent academic budget cuts, and revisions to university promotion and tenure guidelines, and then only involving employees when it comes time to manage the fallout from those dictates.

We recognize that this is a time of crisis at Texas Christian University. But a time of crisis calls for even more communication and shared responsibility in the decision making of the university, not less. Time after time, TCU administrators say they support shared governance, and yet they continue to make decisions from on high without involving or consulting the faculty. 

We call on TCU administrators to undo these unilateral actions. Specifically:

  1. The provost should submit the recommended language on promotion and tenure guidelines to the Faculty Senate for review and consideration, which may then take it under advisement before deciding whether and how to alter the Handbook regarding such policies.
  2. The 12% cut to the academic affairs budget to help fund student aid should be undone until the Budget Advisory Committee has a chance to fully review financial documents and make a recommendation on how the university should fund additional student aid.
  3. The reduction in the retirement contribution for all employees from 11.5% to 8% announced in May should be made temporary for the 2020-21 academic year rather than permanent, with the Faculty Senate and Staff Assembly involved in any alterations to our compensation before they are announced for future years.

We want to work with TCU administrators to help the university make it through these challenging times. Rebuilding the lost trust of your employees can only be done through recommitting to shared governance. To achieve this, you must allow us to participate in any deliberations, especially those involving our working conditions, before any decisions are made.

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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