Governance Reconsidered: How Boards, Presidents, Administrators, and Faculty Can Help Their Colleges Thrive
reviewed by Andrew Saultz & Tiffany J. Williams - March 23, 2015
Title: Governance Reconsidered: How Boards, Presidents, Administrators, and Faculty Can Help Their Colleges Thrive
Author(s): Susan R. Pierce & Stephen Trachtenberg
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 1118738497, Pages: 256, Year: 2014
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Susan Resneck Pierces new book, Governance Reconsidered, examines the changes in the management and governance of higher education. She draws heavily on her vast experience as a professor, department chair, dean, and the former president of the University of Puget Sound. Pierces central theme is that shared governance in higher education is being challenged due to financial pressures, the growing reliance on non-tenure track faculty, and questions about the value and cost of higher education. She weaves detailed case studies into her historical analyses to provide a rich overview of the changes and obstacles facing higher education.
Pierce argues that communication is key to success. Despite the many changes to the landscape of higher education, faculty, presidents, and boards can thrive if they strategize and communicate effectively. She gives concrete examples for trustees, faculty, and presidents on how to best navigate the many changes within the academy. Her skill for being able to explain how the larger contextual factors influence the historic relationships among various constituencies in higher education is valuable, and she has a keen ability to condense complex ideas into clear, concise lessons.
The author uses specific cases to exemplify and illustrate her larger points about governance and leadership. These examples demonstrate her argument more clearly, and provide valuable evidence for her recommendations. She blends positive and negative exemplars of various relationships among trustees, presidents, and faculty. The case studies, scattered throughout the book, leave the reader with an understanding of how easy it is for university administrators to lose sight of the diverse facets and perceptions of change within the academy. For example, in many of the illustrations where presidents experienced disruptions on campus, the president did not anticipate the faculty skepticism. Pierce uses a historical approach to not only explain the faculty perspective, but to empathize with it. She reiterates that the faculty is the core of the academy.
Two larger issues emerge from Pierces analyses. The first, to no surprise, is that higher education is changing rapidly. The book synthesizes shifts in hiring practices, finance, and larger political contexts that have altered how universities function. This background is valuable, particularly to faculty, students, and the public who may only see snippets of these phenomena. The second is that the relationships among these groups are increasingly volatile. Part of this volatility is due to structural changes. For example, fewer tenure-track faculty positions on campuses lead to potential divisions within the faculty. Another valuable point that Pierce makes is how the increase in hiring non-traditional university presidents has led to more complex relationships with the faculty. The book provides concrete evidence that fewer chief academic officers are going into the presidency, or even desiring to end up there. As a result, more presidents throughout the country lack direct experience working with faculty. This can lead to distrust at the onset of a presidents tenure.
Pierce navigates a difficult balance by providing important background information about context for a novice to higher education policy along with specific, detailed, and relevant advice for veteran administrators. At first look, skepticism abounds, as many how-to books oversimplify and come off as pedantic; however, Pierce does not fall into this trap. Instead, the book provides helpful suggestions without losing sight of the difficulties involved. Pierce should be applauded for being able to articulate lessons for administrators, trustees, and faculty, while still keeping the complex realities in mind.
This book adds a significant contribution to the literature. Pierce goes beyond merely providing a contemporary panorama of the American academy. This book, read by the right people at the right time, could help prevent major leadership crises. While there are many books that describe changes to the university, and others that provide anecdotes for educational leaders, this book is able to do both well. Anyone looking to fully understand either of these important subfields should add Governance Reconsidered to their canon.
Despite the overall quality of this text, the reader is left wanting for more. While the text looked to provide a holistic overview of shared governance, there was a very limited discussion of students role in the university. The majority of discussion involving students had to do with students reacting to decisions, or how decisions affected them rather than how they were a part of the process. Since the definition of shared governance continues to evolve over time, it is paramount that students be included in major university decisions. Future discussions of shared governance should explore how students get involved in shared governance, when students need to be involved, if there are existing student organizations that assist the university in the process of shared governance, and the educational benefits of including students in decision-making on campus. We encourage scholars to examine these lines of inquiry in future work on shared governance.
Overall, we highly recommend this book for trustees, aspiring and current higher educational leaders, and faculty. This book serves as an important text for student affairs and educational leadership courses, and provides background on shared governance through case studies to individuals at all levels. While Pierce clearly writes from the perspective of a seasoned university president, she also balances her writing by repeatedly emphasizing the importance of the faculty to the university community. The book is well written, accessible, and provides an important contribution to the literature on governance in higher education.