Staff Governance and Institutional Policy Formation
reviewed by Dennis McElhoe - September 28, 2012
Title: Staff Governance and Institutional Policy Formation
Author(s): John W. Murry & Michael T. Miller (eds)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617355992, Pages: 148, Year: 2011
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Staff Governance and Institutional Policy Formation (2011), edited by Michael T. Miller and John W. Murry Jr. is one of a series of books addressing relevant issues of importance to educators, administrators, and others with significant influence on educational policy and administration. This particular volume is a compendium of articles that have as their objective the establishment of a foundation for gaining a better and more detailed understanding of the concept of shared (or staff) governance.
In Chapter One, Miller and Murry Jr. set the stage for a discussion throughout the volume on the role of staff within todays colleges and universities, beginning with an overview of the evolution of higher education from small institutions where faculty served as registrars, admission officers, housing directors, and bursars. As these institutions became more complex in response to the demands of a growing and increasingly diverse nation, the purely administrative responsibilities once held by faculty were being filled by an expanding cadre of staff, who soon outnumbered faculty at some institutions. While this segmentation of responsibilities resulted in greater efficiencies, the authors noted it also resulted in a degradation of the close-knit collaborations that previously existed between faculty and staff.
Chapters Two through Four of section one address the continued increase of professional and support staff, their growing influence on quality enhancement within their respective institutions, and the pressures exerted by current society, resulting in organizational structures comparable to market driven models. While perhaps more efficient, such transitions are resulting in the further growth of staff with responsibilities increasingly reflective of their private sector counterparts.
The authors of section one compare the ideal of shared governance with the stark reality where staff are often ignored, excluded from participation or worse, viewed as second-class citizens by faculty simply because they do not hold rank, regardless of the fact that the limited authority they hold in relationship to their responsibilities can significantly impact the institution. External pressures facing todays institutions from accrediting bodies, the federal government, and the rapid growth of for-profit institutions result in the emergence of hierarchical organizational structures as institutions struggle to address these challenges. Recent court rulings restricting first amendment rights of public employees have contributed to the further diminishment of staff influence within many institutions, as discussed by the sections authors. These issues, combined with the significant budget challenges faced by state-supported institutions, resulting in reductions in staff, appear to be highly relevant to todays higher education environment.
While the chapters of section one succinctly describe the challenges facing staff, faculty and institutions from internal as well as external pressures, Chapters Five through Eight of section two address the advantages to institutions of staff involvement in building organizational capacity and effecting cultural and organizational change, the origins and culture of private institutions, the challenges faced by these institutions in todays economic climate, the limited and in some instances non-existent influence of staff employed by private institutions, the complexity of student affairs organizations and the roles of unions and their impact on staff and the institutions where they exist. Missing, however, was a detailed discussion of the union avoidance strategies that remain active at a number of institutions throughout the nation. Although the chapters author provided insight into how some non-union institutions provide their staff with an advisory role, an in-depth discussion of such strategies would have been appropriate so that the reader could gain a better understanding of the dichotomies that exist in American higher education on this issue.
The recommendation in Chapter Six that suggests that staff insert themselves in the governance of private institutions seemed somewhat disingenuous, particularly since the chapter focuses on the organizational structure and culture of these institutions in which staff can exert little or no influence. If staff of private colleges are, as the authors suggest, essentially disposable commodities to faculty and senior administration, the question then seems to be how staff at these institutions can forcefully integrate themselves into such organizational cultures?
The extensive focus in Chapter Seven on student affairs organizations was disappointing. The challenges faced by student affairs personnel due to their diverse responsibilities are often significant. However, the dedication of an entire chapter to this area of staff responsibility seemed out of place in a volume intended to provide a broad general view on the evolving role of staff in higher education.
The chapter on student affairs organizations would be more appropriate in a comprehensive volume that would include in-depth discussions of areas of higher education that because of their institutional charters operate quite differently from more traditional units of the institution. Examples include not only student affairs, but also development, marketing and communications, and continuing education operations which at many institutions today are referred to extended campuses or extended academic programs.
Section three concludes the volume with a discussion of the changes occurring within higher education that significantly impact the role of staff including, the emergence of professional staff with credentials comparable to those of tenured faculty, the inclusion of students and professional staff on committees previously reserved for faculty with responsibilities for campus policy development and implementation, the expanding influence of staff councils which at some institutions have resulted in the attainment of benefits previously limited to faculty positions; and the impact of staff councils on institutional and in larger organizations, system-wide policies and decisions. The section ends with recommendations for administrators, which if implemented, could result in greater short and long-term organizational improvement due to better communication with and greater integration of staff councils into institutional governance.
Overall, I recommend the book for anyone currently engaged as a first-time administrator or staff member, as well as those who may aspire to a staff position within a college or university. Given my twenty years experience working with department chairs and deans, I also consider this volume recommended reading for any faculty member beginning their career as an academic administrator who may work extensively with or supervise non-faculty staff.