The American Association of University Professors today released the third set of findings from its major survey of faculty governance leaders on shared governance. The new data indicate increased faculty participation in some aspects of governance over time, but also a decline in some areas.
First, the good news, as far as the AAUP is concerned: since the group’s last major survey on shared governance, in 2001, the share of institutions that have a faculty senate or council increased some 15 percentage points, to about 90 percent. The share of institutions limiting participation in governance to tenured or tenure-track faculty members only declined by some 10 percentage points, to about 7 percent of institutions. And two-thirds of institutions now have a formal mechanism for direct faculty communication with the governing board, such as through a faculty senate or a joint committee.
Now the not-so-good news, for the AAUP: the percentage of institutions allowing part-time faculty members full participation in governance has declined by nearly six percentage points since 2001. Faculty participation in presidential searches also declined, from 94 percent to 88 percent, “a finding that underscores ongoing concerns about the conduct of such searches,” according to the AAUP’s survey report. Confidentiality agreements are also required of faculty participants in presidential searches at many institutions.
Hans-Joerg Tiede, director of research for the AAUP and author of the report, said he found the findings on presidential searches to be particularly significant, as well as the data on “how few institutions provide opportunities to part-time faculty to participate” in governance.
Regarding presidential searches, Tiede said the drop from 2001 to 2021 in the share of institutions with faculty members on the presidential search committee isn’t “overly large,” but it’s “just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Not having any faculty on the search committee is sort of the most drastic step, but the other two findings — that only about 55 percent of institutions reported that their most recent presidential search was open, and that about 40 percent of institutions reported that a confidentiality agreement was imposed on members of the search committee — point to broader problems here,” he said. “These are ways in which the faculty has limited opportunity to participate that aren’t as drastic, but they are much more prevalent.” (The AAUP doesn’t have comparable historical data for the latter two findings on presidential searches.)
The AAUP, per its joint statement on governance of colleges and universities, maintains that the faculty should participate meaningfully in the selection of a college or university president. Specifically, a “joint effort of a most critical kind must be taken when an institution chooses a new president. The selection of a chief administrative officer should follow upon a cooperative search by the governing board and the faculty, taking into consideration the opinions of others who are appropriately interested.”
The AAUP recognizes that there are multiple means of faculty participation in these searches. Yet given that 94 percent of institutions had faculty members serving on the most recent search committee by the 2001 governance survey, the new report says, “faculty membership on presidential search committees was clearly the almost universally accepted form of faculty participation.”
By comparison, 88 percent of institutions in the 2021 governance survey reported that faculty members had served on the most recent presidential search committee, over all. This was less common at small colleges and bachelor’s and master’s degree-granting institutions than at doctoral and large universities. Where faculty members were unionized, 95 percent of presidential search committees had sitting faculty members.
“This year’s finding represents the first decline in faculty participation in a century,” the report says, citing survey data from 1920 onward showing a steady increase in faculty participation in presidential searches until the last survey, in 2001.
In a 2013 report on confidentiality and faculty representation in academic governance, the AAUP said that the final phase of a presidential search should be open, meaning that the finalists should be announced before a selection is made. That report also said that confidentiality agreements should not be a precondition for faculty participation in governance, including search committees.
According to the AAUP’s new survey, and to Tiede’s point, some 55 percent institutions over all had open presidential searches recently, with this being much more common at public universities than private ones (75 percent versus 42 percent, respectively), and also where faculty members are unionized. Again, to Tiede’s point, some 40 percent of institutions reported the use of confidentiality agreements for faculty participation in presidential searches.
The 2021 governance survey also asked about faculty participation in evaluations of administrators. Some 43 percent of institutions reported faculty participation in reviewing provosts. Fifty-two percent reported faculty participation in reviewing deans, and 54 percent in the review of department chairs.
Some 7 percent of institutions over all reported that there had been a recent vote on faculty confidence in an administrative officer. Public institutions, large institutions and unionized institutions were much more likely to have had these votes than were private and nonunionized campuses.
Regarding faculty participation in governing boards, the AAUP’s new survey found that 21 percent of institutions have voting faculty representatives. Similar to other findings, this was more common at public institutions than at private ones.
Regarding faculty governance chairs themselves — the 396 professors who responded to the AAUP’s 90-some survey questions on their institutions’ behalf — the overwhelming majority (91 percent) of those at institutions with a tenure system are tenured. Just 5 percent are non-tenure track (the rest are not yet tenured). Some 87 percent of survey respondents reported being white, even though just 76 percent of full-time professors at four-year institutions are white, according to federal data. Some 62 percent of governance chairs said that their institution had a governance body that addresses issues of diversity and inclusion.
The AAUP has long advocated extending faculty governance participation opportunities to all full- and part-time faculty members. The 2021 survey found that at 76 percent of four-year institutions with a senate or council, all full-time faculty members on contingent appointments can vote in elections, and that contingent faculty members can serve on the senate or council at 70 percent of institutions.
At 17 percent of these institutions, only some contingent faculty members can vote, and at 19 percent, only some can serve on governance bodies. Seven percent of institutions do not allow any full-time, non-tenure-track instructors to vote in senate or council elections, and 11 percent of institutions do not allow any of them to serve on those bodies.
Again, the share of institutions where only tenured or tenure-track faculty members may vote in governance bodies fell from 17 percent in 2001 to 7 percent by 2021, suggesting, according to the report, “that policies supporting the participation of contingent faculty members in governance have become more widely adopted.”
Regarding part-timers, some groups of adjuncts can vote at 19 percent of institutions, and some can serve on governance bodies at 17 percent of institutions. All part-time faculty members may vote at 14 percent of institutions and serve at 11 percent of institutions. Compared with 2001, the percentage of institutions allowing all part-time faculty members to vote in elections declined, from about 20 percent.
“This change may be partly explained by the overall growth in the percentage of institutions that have a senate or a council, since some newly created faculty governance bodies may not have provided for full participation of part-time faculty members,” the report says.
Private, small and bachelor’s institutions provide the least opportunity for part-time faculty members.
Merrill Schwartz, a senior vice president at the Association of Governing Boards, said that AGB’s own most recent data show that 88 percent of institutions have faculty participation in presidential searches. Schwartz said that her own experience and AGB standing guidance on search committees suggest that board members make up the majority of the search committee. The committee should also “convey a sense of legitimacy to campus communities and represent their interests,” Schwartz said, “but that doesn’t mean everyone has to have a seat” on the committee.
Faculty members should be involved in the search process in some way, she continued, but “it’s not a right to be a member of a search committee” — except in some states where there is specific guidance on the composition of search committees at public institutions.
On confidentiality agreements, Schwartz said that “all members of a presidential search committee should be required to sign a confidentiality agreement,” not just faculty members, despite the AAUP’s position.
“It’s a very important career decision for someone to throw their hat in the ring as a potential presidential candidate, and it can be career-ending for candidate if it becomes public and they’re not chosen,” Schwartz said. “It’s really important to have a process that is confidential and respects the confidentiality of candidates. It contributes to an excellent search with better results.”
On non-tenure-track participation in governance, Schwartz said that governance policies — which are typically included in faculty handbooks that boards must formally approve — should reflect that non-tenure-track faculty members are now “a significant part of the instructional faculty. They’re important.”