Many people imagine that professors' primary jobs are to educate students, and therefore that is where most of their energy is being spent. However, underneath the task of teaching, there is a long list of administrative work educators must perform. This administrative work is known as ‘service’. Service often takes the form of committee work for a college or university. Committees have a wide range of responsibilities and powers bestowed upon them, and are meant to be a form of shared governance.
Examples of some committees in higher education are curriculum development, promotion and tenure, faculty development, student grant reviews, graduate admissions and funding, and many others.
In theory, this concept of shared governance in higher education improves outcomes and fosters innovation by leveraging the talents of teams of faculty members. In practice, committees often do not live up to their potential, and can even be a hindrance to quality teaching and governance.
The issue is not a lack of commitment from faculty members to perform their duties well. Rather, it is a lack of clear guidelines and guardrails that lead to confusion and frustration. To unlock the true potential of shared governance, higher education institutions must invest in developing the right infrastructure to support it.
Historically, faculty and administrators have had the power to collaboratively shape the future of their institutions. There is no denying that getting a group of smart people together who are passionate towards the mission of serving students, can come up with some creative solutions to the many pressing problems facing higher education. This work can be transformational, but without clear purpose can feel mundane and pointless.
In most instances, faculty committees lack clearly defined roles, responsibilities, meeting/project management skills and structures. The result is confusion, wasted time, and missed opportunities for students. Guardrails and guidelines need to be expanded on for how to create effective meeting agendas, create clear project charges, and develop communication protocols between committee members.
It is important to realize that institutions rarely train incoming faculty or administrators in project management, strategic communication, or even how to effectively run a meeting. It is assumed that a brilliant scientist, sociologist, author, or artist can just step into a project manager role and succeed. Rather than realizing this gap, it is easy to place blame on each other for shortfalls.
Instead of pointing fingers or expecting faculty to suddenly become experts in project management, colleges and universities should construct guidelines to increase agility and effectiveness.
Working without clear guidelines can be a difficult task for both faculty and administrators. Bringing in an external partner like Van Allen Strategies can save time, money, and strengthen outcomes. Van Allen Strategies can facilitate the creation of improved process management and can be a lifesaver to faculty. Having an external partner can be objective, as to avoid potential bias while sustaining a clear view of the internal dynamics. The purpose of the partner is not to take over from faculty. Rather, it is to help committees reach their true potential of shared governance.
Imagine a world where the true power committees were unlocked. Committees would be quick and responsive to changes both recurring (curriculum approval) to the unexpected (COVID). The burden of responsibility would rest with the many, but so would the power to produce valuable improvements.
Imagine where instead of mundane, tedious meetings, committees ended each session with actionable steps moving forward. Instead of added work, committees could empower faculty to bring their unique strengths and insights to the table. Curriculum would be updated much more regularly. Improvements to racial equity could be addressed with the urgency required.
Committees are full of bright educators who are passionate towards providing quality education to their students. By working with Van Allen Strategies, we can unlock the power of committees to empower faculty and serve students.