Dr. Chris W. Bonneau is a professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, co-founder of the Pitt Prison Education Project and served as President of the University Senate from 2018-2021. We asked him about some ways to shift to a more proactive faculty senate, rather than a reactive one. “It is very important for faculty to be proactive in shared governance,” he stressed. “We need to be at the table when proposals are being formulated, not just included as a group to be informed at the end. We are partners, not an afterthought. In my experience, there are two key components to being proactive.”

“The first is relationships with the administration. In order to be effective, there has to be trust. This means candid exchange of ideas. We need to go into every encounter with a list of things we need and a list of things we want. This lays the foundation for a productive dialogue. If you're lucky, you'll inherit a good working relationship that you need to build on; unfortunately, oftentimes you will be stepping into a situation where relations between the faculty and administration are strained. Early on, build trust by working on issues where there is a lot of agreement. This will show the administration you are interested in governing and are willing to be equal partners. Now, it may not be reciprocated, but it is worth the effort before going down a more confrontational road.”

“The second is institutions. Institutions outlive individuals, and it is extremely important to codify processes. An example from my experience is that in my first year as President, the Chancellor expressed a desire to formalize the policy review and adoption process. Prior to this, amazingly, there was no mechanism by which policies were drafted and approved. Shared governance in this process was episodic at best. Working together, we formulated a ‘policy on policies, which included extensive shared governance. Additionally, we were able to bring more transparency into the process, including posting charters on a public website, having a public comment period, etc. Thus, faculty are involved in the policy process from the beginning, including requesting the review of certain policies, and thus are able to be proactive, rather than reactive.”

Learn much more from Chris during our webinar on Faculty Senates: Strategies on Governing in Uncertain Times on April 25th from 2-3:30 pm (ET).