Why We Work Together

Notes from the shared governance open session, Friday, October 11, 2013, 2:30–4:00 pm.

Overall Topic

Why We Work Together – How shared governance enables us to effectively discharge our shared responsibility to advance the mission and vision of the College.


These notes were taken as a reflection of the ideas shared at the session.  They aren’t meant to be precise, nor to reflect who said what exactly.

50–60 attendees

Introduction by Trustee Dan Currell – the goal is open, transparent discussion and ideas.

How does shared governance help ensure that Gustavus is a wisely managed enterprise?

  • Necessary for academic excellence.  Can’t have an excellent college without shared governance.  We need to talk to each other to think like a college.  Shared governance creates a sense that you are engaged in an institution and what you do matters and move that into how you engage with students.  Think like a college rather than a professional in a particular discipline. 
  • Very innovative and creative ideas in 1980s when people were really engaged; there was a lot of commitment to the institution.  Life with autonomy is better and creates an environment for innovative ideas.
  • Strive for excellence in academic program and shape lives of our students.  Why is faculty governance necessary in that?  Because faculty put the curriculum into effect and have the closest contact with students.  Faculty are here for the longest amount of time.  Faculty are institutional memory and shape learning opportunities for students.  Closest to data and can feed information back up to the administration and board.
  • Shared governance -- how to make decisions and how to bring input and data to make decisions.  Not always crystal clear.  Discussion as to who has responsibilities.  Where can the decision best be made and who has the best expertise to do it?  Expertise about the academic program comes from the faculty. 
  • There is wisdom in running the college efficiently using the shared governance model.  Who has the best knowledge for making a specific decision?  Determine who has the best knowledge, and let them get input from other two groups.  There should be a two-way street for communicating decisions: not just what decision was made but why, as well as gathering input.
  • Everybody feels like we’re moving in the same direction.
  • How do we do this wisely?  Faculty are here to learn and teach with the goal of learning ourselves and teaching the cool things we learn to our students.  What is governance?  What is our principle of faculty governance?  Our authorities are all different.  Can we afford as a college to make a decision based on facts that other groups gave us?  Can we talk about whether it is wise that subsidiarity should be a model here?  Those people who are the smallest group can make the decision for that group – i.e. the principle of subsidiarity.  We are running an institution, but we can’t forget the persons that make up the institution. Personal authority comes from personal knowledge.

In what specific ways does shared governance help advance the mission?

  • Perhaps we can’t isolate decisions in small groups – we should talk more about this idea of subsidiarity.  Different silos may get in the way.
  • Colleges are more democratic than other parts of society – and we should be.  Shared governance is how we express that democratic ethos.  Different societies have different ethos.  Best way to teach civic engagement and governance/ democracy is to act it out.
  • When the college has functioned best is when the faculty has shared their dreams and the administration has helped them to make those dreams a reality.
  • The lines surrounding decision making are blurred.  All are learning from the decision making process.  There aren’t hard-and-fast rules.  We need shared understanding and willingness to move forward in a collegial way.
  • Shared governance is not about the most effective decision.  Collective decisions may not be the best or most ideal but if they are made in a democratic and communicative way, maybe more valuable.  If a decision is made slowly, but made together, that may be better.  Even if a decision is wrong, if it is made in the right way, that may be better.
  • Difficult choices requiring tradeoffs are often the crux of wise management.  Aspect of shared governance that is so important is that voices help discern the wise choices in making hard choices.  The hard choices need the most voices.
  • Need communal discernment and wisdom of coming together as well as vocation. 
  • In many cases in a practical sense it is helpful to have varied experiences in decision making.  Differing perspectives are helpful.
  • Minds are sometimes changed in hard decision making.  Get people involved in a hard process, and they will often change their minds and come to consensus.

We talk about what shared governance is. What is it not?

  • Shared governance is not just vetting, asking others to respond to a decision; others need to participate in shaping the decision at some level, even if not in the final decision.  It doesn’t suffice to hold a community meeting to provide notice without building consensus.
  • Shared governance doesn’t have room for ego.  Have to learn from other voices in the room.
  • In the process every person’s point of view should be considered.  Need shared vision and mission.  
  • Shared governance is not “folks have equal weight at the College.”  Shared governance recognizes that some people will have more influence and authority than others in particular aspects of how the college works.
  • Gustavus would not survive on pure consensus.  Input should be respected and responded to but need an understanding of why a decision was made.  Critical element of shared governance is to share information.
  • Need to be transparent.

Does shared governance look any different in a time of (potentially) dramatic change within the academy?

  • Change isn’t as rapid as it generally seems, but if something really is urgent, we can schedule a meeting sooner.
  • Little difference – sharper focus during dramatic change and less sloppy in process.
  • Some people like to make quick and radical decisions when under fire.  Much more at stake under perception of rapid change.  More important to have shared governance model during dramatic change.
  • Hold up shared vision and mission during time of crisis.
  • Need commitment to shared governance especially during time of crisis.  Capable of making decisions together.  Decide to do shared governance in major landscape changes in higher education at this time.
  • Place where the rub is now is limited funds and the prioritization of financial resources. How can three groups grapple and have conversations/dialogue about this topic?
  • Need trust among and within groups.
  • We do what we practice and if we aren’t in a good practice of having good relationships, then we make decisions based on fear during a crisis.  Most important that we practice shared governance and that is a muscle that is already well exercised in time of dramatic change.
  • Gustavus community cares deeply for one another – this is unusual among colleges/universities, it’s one of the distinctive things about us.  There is a strong sense of community among disparate departments and colleagues.  Difficult conversations can only happen in relationships.  Glue has to be built.  Shared governance is not zero sum.
  • Shared governance is not management by objectives.  Need shared mission.  Mission seems to be more of a marketing tool right now but we need to continue conversations regarding mission.  Hard to articulate overall vision/mission of the college at the current time.  Mission should always be topic of conversation.
  • Very important to realize that part of shared governance is having a common understanding of where the ultimate decisions lie in the differing aspects of the institution.  Need buy-in and all the information on the table.  What does this mean – besides the decisions being made.  When I am involved in all aspects of the College, I   feel I am a co-trustee and am an integral part of the institution, not just an employee.  When you are so invested in an institution, you work harder and are more dedicated to the institution and to the students.
  • Shared governance is seeking out people who have not been heard.  What are we missing?
  • What keeps people here doing what they are doing?  You can have some effect on the institution and students.  There is a very sweet core to Gustavus Adolphus College.  Can’t and didn’t buy it.  Recognizing sweet spot at Gustavus and engendering it and letting it grow through the difficulties of higher education today.
  • Don’t truly understand the sweet spot - want to know more.  Struggle with shared governance because of that gap – we need to get everyone to know what “it” is.
  • All decisions should be made in the spirit of shared governance.
  • There is a strong sense right now of “us” and “them” and “we” and “they.”  Need to lower the walls.

Open Discussion

  • The latent asset of Gustavus is that everyone loves it so intensely; the latent defect is that we can’t explain why.  This process (shared governance) has revealed some glimmers of what “it” is.
  • A lot of this is about resource allocation.  When institutions are growing, life is a lot easier.  When things are stable and don’t grow, pain starts to come out.  If it is reasonable to plan for a future of no (budget, staff) growth, how does an organization practice good governance in that environment?
  • Shared governance pays off by reconciling the two sides of a possible tension: It’s good to have lots of different ideas and people taking initiative so that much more dynamic decision making may take place, but we also  need coherence at the same time we have diversity.
  • Who has voice, and who feels disenfranchised and hasn’t been heard.  When people feel like they haven’t been heard, trust erodes.
  • How do you determine what decisions can move forward and what specific things need consensus and should be developed more?
  • Determine how we work together in our roles.  We don’t have much disagreement on the why.  We all understand the “it,” the sweet spot.  My commitment is to hear about the spirit and the engagement.  There is truly a sense of understanding.  We would all be moving in the same direction no matter what meeting we are in.  Can’t afford to fail and we all have a passion for Gustavus.  Shared governance is very doable because we all share in the “it” and “why.”  How do we smooth out the tensions?  Who ultimately has authority and how can we understand each other’s roles?
  • Knowing each other is valuable to the process. 

More Ideas? Couldn't Attend?