As students, you’ve most likely never thought about shared governance before, but it is an issue that affects the lives of all students, as well as faculty. It also lies at the heart of why the NMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) recently voted down the proposed contract.
Shared governance means that faculty contribute to policies and decisions important to academic affairs of the university. This makes sense since faculty are keenly invested in issues such as class size, educational resources, quality of instruction and instructors. Indeed, faculty and students have many interests in common.
Students want to receive the best education for their hard-earned dollar and NMU faculty want to provide students with the best opportunities with the resources available.
But many faculty feel that it is getting harder and harder to provide a quality education. As perhaps many of you have experienced, large class sizes make it difficult for professors to give students sufficient help. NMU advertises small class sizes and close teacher contact, but how can NMU be a successful teaching institution if students can’t get the help they need because too many other students also seek the professor’s assistance?
Students want to be taught by high-quality professors to ensure not only that they receive the best education possible, but also that their degree is not devalued by employers.
Faculty provide insight for quality of instruction by evaluating fellow members of their department based on their success in the classroom, service to the university through committee work, as well as knowledge of and contribution to their discipline.
Departments, not the university, determine specific standards for promotion and tenure because faculty knows best what appropriate circles of comparison for these assessments are.
To receive promotion, faculty undergo a rigorous vetting by their peers across the university. In the proposed contract, the administration would have been able to disregard arbitrarily the painstaking vetting process and eliminate the significance of faculty participation in governing quality of education.
Moreover, the contract would have created chaos across the campus by prompting a rapid, mandatory, and massive revision of departmental bylaws, which govern the standards of promotion and tenure.
Students should care because the proposed contract threatened to undermine faculty oversight of peer evaluation, create arbitrary promotion and tenure requirements, and severely reduce faculty participation across campus.
In these tough economic times, it is easy for administrators to lose sight of the core mission of NMU, which is to provide high-quality education to students. Tightening budgets and corporate models for governing universities can make bottom lines seem more important than top-notch classroom experiences.
But Northern is not a factory, classrooms are not machines, and students are not widgets.
By voting down the recent contract, the faculty took a stand on shared governance so that their interests, and the interests of students, do not get lost in the din and fear for the future. They took a stand to ensure that shared governance truly will be shared.
Editor’s Note: William Bergmann is an assistant professor of history at NMU. The Professor’s Corner is a biweekly column written by various faculty. Any professors interested in writing should contact the opinion editor at [email protected]