Shared Governance Open Forum Prompts Questions of Representation from Faculty

By Kyla Guilfoil, Editor-in-Chief

Manhattan College faculty called for more representation in decision making at an open forum hosted by the MC Shared Governance Working Group on Feb. 2.

Faculty, along with a handful of students and administrators, raised concerns about the lack of communication between high-level administrators and other MC personnel when it comes to decision making. Further, there was an emphasis in their concerns to make the process of implementing change more efficient. 

Ira Gerhardt, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics, approached the microphone at the forum to draw attention to the lack of faculty representation in the final steps of decision making. 

“It seems like there’s some immediate action that could move things forward,” Gerhardt said at the forum. “[President O’Donnell] holds a presidential cabinet that has no faculty representation. Right now, Dr. O’Donnell could invite faculty members to be a representative to the cabinet to be involved in all aspects of college making decisions. We have a college Senate that has five stakeholder groups come together to pass good things, but again, when they hit the President’s desk, the President has the authority to knock them down. We don’t have a veto override in our Senate. There are actions and steps that we could be taking immediately, not with surveys and forums, but tomorrow morning that goes out and it moves forward.” 

O’Donnell neglected to respond directly to the proposition of a faculty member joining his cabinet, but did offer a statement following the open forum. 

“The forum was an opportunity for the working group to listen to as many perspectives as possible as they move forward on their charge,” he wrote to The Quadrangle via email. “They are taking a comprehensive approach,  assessing  our current structures in light of our mission and principles and informed by best practices. All ideas are welcome and I’m sure will be taken seriously as the group works to formulate their recommendations.” 

Jeff Horn, Ph.D., professor of history, emphasized the need for more communication and transparency with his own comment at the forum. 

“I’m glad that [the Shared Governance Working Group] has a broad charge, because I do believe that our structures are broken,” Horn said. “But one of the points that I really want to make is I want to in some ways add to the charge. I would really like to see the working group also document, I think that we need to kind of have a snapshot of where we are. I do believe that the materials need to be put together so that we’ve seen where we are, so that we have a baseline to see where we need to go. So I would just like to add that as part of what I would recommend to your group.”

Steven Schreiner, provost of the college and member of the Share Governance Working Group, did share that there has been a Moodle page established to better distribute information to the community. It can be found at this link: 

Kim Woodruff, director of instructional design, approached the stand to explain that often middle and lower-level administrators are left out of conversations that happen among high-level administrators. 

“I want to speak out for administrators like me,” Woodruff said at the forum. “There’s a large number of us who are not really represented in many of the governance structures, particularly the Senate. The Senate does have high level administrators. But there are no middle level administrators, directors and the people that report to us other than staff.” 

Woodruff pointed out that no administrator below the assistant vice president level is represented on the Shared Governance Working Group. 

“Administrators, like me, also lack a real advocacy group,” Woodruff added. “We really don’t have a way to advocate for ourselves. So that’s one of the things that I think really needs to change and needs to change quickly because there’s a group of us that are just kind of left in the wind without a way to bring about change and speak up for ourselves.” 

Currently, there are four administrators named to the working group, with the remaining seven members including one student representative and six faculty representatives. The administrators include Schreiner; John Bennett, assistant vice president of student life; Steven Goss, dean of the school of continuing and professional studies and Marisa Passafiume, assistant vice president for academic success. 

Margaret Groarke, professor of political science and chair of the Council of Faculty Affairs, pointed out that the survey offered by the working group limited their intake of feedback. In a Jan. 25 email from the group, a survey link was shared in preparation for the forum. The survey asked six questions to guage the understanding of the survey-taker regarding the definition of shared governance and the level of their participation in MC policy and planning discussions. 

“I’m kind of thinking about the next level of things you need to find out, because this survey asks pretty limited questions and I think one of the big things we have to think about and find out about and decide how we feel about it, is what kinds of decisions are made by who in the college,” Groarke said. “I’m aware that there are big decisions made at the college that affect all of us, that are made by one or another small group of people somewhere, and that I don’t feel the rest of us have sufficient input. And so I think we need to think about where we want decisions made.” 

Groarke argued that the college needs to improve the way that they obtain input and information, because that will better their ability to make decisions. She stated that through adding more people to the conversation, there will be a better mix of ideas, and therefore solutions, going forward. 

In conversation with The Quadrangle, Schreiner said that all comments, questions and recommendations from the open forum will be taken into consideration in the group’s future work. He said that while not all comments will receive specific recognition from the working group, what was said in the forum will shape the recommendations that are brought forward to those who make governing decisions at the college, whether that be O’Donnell, the Board of Trustees or himself. 

Schreiner did add that the Shared Governance Working Group is not meant to replace any of the existing forms of governance at the college, but rather better inform those decisions that are made at higher levels. 

The open forum, which Schreiner says will be the first of several, was announced in an email from the Shared Governance Working Group on Jan. 20. The email outlined the group’s charge as well as its goals, which were further explained during the introduction of the open forum. 

At the Feb. 2 forum, the working group members took the podium to outline their existing data as well as their motivations for the day’s meeting. 

Passafiume explained the group’s motivation, citing that information gained from feedback across the college pointed to a consistent call for changes to the college’s governance structure. 

Poonam Arora, professor of management and a faculty representative for the working group, pointed out that there is a varied perception of shared governance and that data demonstrates issues with communication, trust, confidence and transparency regarding the current structure. 

Bennett then discussed the process and plan of the working group going forward. He cited engaging the community in conversation in order to develop a consensus in purpose, principles and structures in shared governance; promoting a better understanding of the roles of representatives and their function in shared governance structures, as well as the working group objectives to review, compare and recommend. Schreiner encourages administrators, faculty, students and staff to complete the surveys shared by the Shared Governance Working Group and to reach out to with any questions, concerns or recommendations.