A Post by Michael B. Spring

(A list of all posts by M.B. Spring)

Shiva and Yeshiva (September 19, 2012)

In some Hindu sects, Shiva is the Supreme God who has five primary powers: creator, preserver, destroyer, concealer, and revealer. Shiva is all powerful, is trusted, is revered.

Yeshiva is a private university in New York. The University was involved in a 1980 case that reached the Supreme Court. The decision, commonly referred to as the Yeshiva decision, applies to faculty at private institutions that have certain types of governance. Basically, if faculty have control over the curriculum, hiring, tenure, promotion, sabbaticals, and other "managerial" functions, they are considered "managerial employees" and excluded from membership in National Labor Relations Board certified collective bargaining units. Basically, the Supreme Court defines them as mangers and not labor. Over the years, some have questioned whether faculty are indeed sufficiently involved in management to warrant this ruling.

Over the last couple decades, the University Senate, the Faculty Assembly, and a number of faculty committees have struggled to interest the faculty as a whole to be more involved in governance. During this same period, senior management has done a superb job of both leading and stabilizing the University. There is a small dedicated subset of the faculty who are involved, but many are very happy with the excellent work done by the Chancellor and Provost of the University. Under their visionary leadership, the University has achieved much. The senior administration is careful and right to credit the faculty with much. Similarly, the faculty are appreciative of the careful and balanced leadership style at the top. Similar stories might be told at unit levels where Deans have grown increasingly powerful and autonomous in their decision making. They have become much loved Shivas with the power to create, destroy, preserve and conceal. On the whole, living under a competent and beneficent dictator, whom you come to love, is a most pleasant experience. I firmly support most, if not all, of these individuals. Their dedicated work has earned them the respect, trust, and support of the vast majority of the faculty.

At the same time, there is a difference between true shared governance and the appearance of shared governance. Our Universities, it is often said, are controlled more today by lawyers and accountants than by academic visions. Universities today need to be politically savvy and economically prudent while watching for legal liabilities. Faculty are not necessarily the best at doing this. Shared governance can be messy. It can be too public for some and too controversial for others. Faculty can be collectively wise and individually careless. Keep in mind our primary focus is on discovering new knowledge and sharing it both with our students and other scholars.

Over the last couple years, I have observed situations in which some of our administrators crossed a delicate line. They found it important to dictate outcomes, or ask for approval of decisions actually made without the substantive involvement of the faculty. For example, I have seen senior faculty positions filled without a faculty led search. I have seen curriculum decisions reached at a staff level. I have seen formal budget and planning committees frustrated by administrative brow beating. I have seen administrative reversal of policies approved by formal faculty votes. Now, I have been vague here so as to not get into accusation and counter accusation. I am firmly convinced of the good intention of the individuals involved. Indeed, many of the key individuals in my institution have earned significant rights to act like Shiva.

The point is that we need to be vigilant that we don't leave the world of Yeshiva and turn to a world controlled by self-entitled Shiva's. For faculty to provide the best environment for students to learn and scholarship to be produced, we must play our role in shaping the priorities and operations of our institutions. We must play a significant role in managing. In the operation of our institutions, faculty must always be willing to accept a meaningful role in management, particularly in the areas of hiring, promotion, curriculum, evaluation, etc. We cannot abrogate this responsibility. Similarly, administrators must be vigilant against allowing faculty to become complacent. They must encourage and suffer the inefficiencies of faculty management. Most important, those hired as administrators into a culture of extreme trust and respect must be careful to keep in mind that such is earned not conferred by appointment.