Shared governance debate exposes concerns about power balance, political discourse

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

The Academic Senate, with 73-percent support, enacted the fifth shared governance committee in Central Michigan University history on Feb. 29.

The vote came at the tail of a long discussion that cast a hard light on political discourse within the university.

Faculty expressed fear and concern in the A-Senate meeting that the new 13-member committee could become a battleground for power.

Political Science Professor Won Paik said the political tension is essential, as long as it's managed.

"We are talking about the democratic theory," Paik said about the formation of the shared governance committee. "The committee is a principle of this theory. From a shared government point of view, (the faculty) are seeking a shared point of their views."

Faculty from a variety of departments serving on the senate expressed conflicting views about the committee. Some made the point that the committee would become a time-waster, while others said it could become a starting point for the university to “heal” from the rifts created in contract negotiations last semester.

Christi Brookes, chairwoman in the foreign languages, literatures and cultures department, said how the committee is formed will make all the difference.

“I have some concerns currently about how the committee is to be made up,” she said. “First, the notion of this would be half faculty, half administration. The (professional and administrative) employee would line up on the administration’s side. (It’s) a similar problem with the board of trustees. I think they’ve got a limited understanding of what shared government would be. I’m not sure the honest discussions that need to happen will.”

The concerns voiced by faculty and vetted by others ranged from fear of the administration acquiring too much power to student representation becoming too minimal.

The senate acknowledged that many people within the university make up a complicated political landscape. Most of the expressed concerns addressed how the committee would balance the power and equally represent all.

The 13-member committee will include members from faculty, student body, administration, board of trustees and staff.

Relations within the university were shaken last semester by the contract dispute between the Faculty Association and CMU, along with academic departments' vote of no confidence against University President George Ross and Provost Gary Shapiro. Many units, including the Council of Chairs, who have since endorsed the vote.

As tensions between university employees settle after the controversial contract negotiations, faculty at the senate spoke of a possible power struggle.

“This committee (and) the whole campus needs healing, not just the faculty and administration,” said Andrew Spencer, professor of music. “There’s a lot of players on this campus and we need their constituency as well.”

Members of the A-Senate said no one wants to be given a minimal or under-represented role in the restructuring of the political landscape within the university. The committee is seen by some as more of a symbolic body to help unify political divergence.

Paik said the committee would also help the administration establish transparency.