Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Op-ed: Shared governance must be a priority for the Board of Trustees

Illana Feldman, Harald Griesshammer, Benjamin Hopkins, Dina Khoury, Dan Moshenberg, Katrin Schultheiss, Greg Squires, Gayle Wald and Andrew Zimmerman are members of the Faculty Association’s steering committee.

Who’s the bully now?

Last year, Board of Trustees chair Nelson Carbonell called the faculty – particularly its tenured members – bullies. He used the claim to assert the need for the revision of the Faculty Code, the document enshrining shared governance between the faculty and the Board of Trustees.

At the time, Carbonell asserted the code required updating to better align it with the University’s strategic plan. His initial intent was to complete the trustee-driven revisions in time for their annual retreat last June.

Carbonell quickly learned that running an institution of higher education with a tradition of shared governance is considerably different from running a company. In the face of faculty uproar, he backed down and pledged to include faculty in the process.

By tradition, revisions to the Faculty Code – not only the key governing document of GW, but essentially the faculty’s contract with the University – have come from the Faculty Senate, the only elected representative body governing the University. Instead, the Board of Trustees appointed a series of working groups composed of trustees, administrators and faculty to formulate the proposed revisions. The Board of Trustees is now threatening that if it does not get the changes it wants, it will unilaterally enact them, bypassing the senate.

This would be a tragic mistake. It would also clearly demonstrate that the Board of Trustees’ corporate membership has no interest in the shared governance traditions of higher education.

The faculty have been presented with a list of proposed changes from the working groups reflecting limited faculty input. Though the Faculty Senate has offered a number of detailed proposals for, comments about and critiques of the trustees’ changes, they have been largely ignored. The board is currently holding a number of town hall meetings around campus which, instead of listening sessions, seem like lectures on what the trustees want to do.

While students may chuckle at the idea of someone lecturing to their professors, this is no laughing matter. It endangers GW’s very nature as a top educational institution valuing excellence and equity.

The Board of Trustees claims that it has a fiduciary responsibility for the overall health of the University, and that responsibility gives it the power to enact the changes it wants unilaterally.

It is ironic that in the drive to expand shared governance, trustees appear intent on circumventing the central institution of shared governance, the Faculty Senate.

While trustees have been so busy revising the Faculty Code, where have they been in the midst of the University’s current budget crunch? Doesn’t their fiduciary responsibility include the classroom experience, where students are being forced into larger classes and have fewer course options? Has anyone seen a trustee in class lately?

Under the Board of Trustees’ watchful eye, the student learning experience at GW has worsened as the working conditions of faculty have degraded.

If trustees believe it is their responsibility to unilaterally revise the faculty code, perhaps it is time for faculty and students to consider revising the Board of Trustees’ bylaws. Faculty members have an institutional responsibility to ensure the University’s educational excellence and equity. Likewise, students are here to both participate in and advance those values during their time at GW.

Given that, why don’t faculty and students have voting members on the Board of Trustees? That would be true shared governance.

We wonder, given the Board of Trustees’ apparently dismissive attitude toward shared governance and meaningful faculty input, who’s the bully now?

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