I am writing because I am very concerned about the latest changes proposed to the Boards of Trustees for our two institutions. The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, as schools sharing a Benedictine heritage, have a long tradition of listening to and taking into account the voice and wisdom of all members of the community. It is worrisome to me, that our Boards have decided this year that both the student and faculty representatives should no longer be a part of all the governance committees.
Our representatives can provide valuable insight into viewpoints that the board members may not have much connection to, because they come in twice a year rather than living in and being a constant member of our communities. It concerns me that this step seems to be a move away from the democratic principles of governance, principles which recognize the inherent value in a variety of viewpoints and insights, and that this is apparently a move toward a form of governance in which our guardians feel that they know best what the people beneath them hierarchically need.
It worries me that these decisions are to be made by people who mostly no longer have the day-to-day connection to our educational and community goals and are not there to see what is going on on our campuses. I do not wish it to seem that I am critical of our Boards generally; I very much value their insights in the larger world outside and in their areas of expertise. It is simply that I feel we need all of these perspectives represented within our governing body.
For this reason, I am hoping the students will join with the faculty in vocally opposing these new changes and in letting the Boards know, that shared governance is something we value highly as a part of our Benedictine heritage and that it is something that makes us stronger, more careful and considered as we all seek to create a place for a superior education and for good community together.
We write in response to The Record’s call for faculty responses to the proposed changes in Boards of Trustees’ composition. We are concerned about the impact these changes would have on the institutions and the process by which the proposed changes have been communicated.
A rationale for the proposed changes has been that faculty and student representation on Boards is uncommon in higher education; however, we are unique institutions in many ways. For example, we take pride in our unique coordinate relationship and Benedictine heritage. Therefore, CSB/SJU have demonstrated we do not believe uncommon governing structures are necessarily problematic. Faculty and students bring diverse perspectives to the Boards that contribute to a unique and high quality experience for our students. Removal of faculty and student trustees effectively removes substantive student and faculty voices and weakens the unique strengths of these institutions.
The process by which faculty and students were notified of the proposed bylaw changes appeared hasty and opaque from a faculty perspective and the motive for the proposed changes is unclear. We encourage the presidents and Board members to delay a vote until meaningful and complete discussion on shared governance of these institutions can take place.
Faculty and student input should be solicited prior to making such consequential changes and a free dialogue should take place that allows both tenured and non-tenured faculty to speak freely. While we appreciate that the presidents have recently launched a discussion of alternate strategies for shared governance, alternate plans for faculty and student participation should be in place before removing students and faculty from the Boards.
As faculty and administrators, we should model effective teamwork and communication to our students and our community. The proposed changes and the process by which they have been communicated do not model constructive and substantive dialogue for our students.
Mary Stenson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Exercise Science and Sport Studies
Jennifer Schaefer, Ph.D
.Associate Professor of Biology
By John Hasselberg – [email protected]
Given the recent discussions and the tack that the presidents seem to be pursuing with regards to restructuring shared governance on these campuses, it may be helpful to point out three very simple, yet eternally befuddling and perplexing, axia that are particularly relevant to these circumstances.
First, it’s crucial to distinguish between problems and predicaments. Problems can be solved, predicaments can only be more effectively managed, never truly solved. We can see a seemingly endless series of examples in our national polity and around the world today (strategies to “solve” weather, terrorism, poverty, abortion and racism challenges all come quickly to mind) of the consequences of these two being confused. As with democracy generally, shared governance is not a problem to be solved. It is a predicament to be managed. Unilaterally eliminating voting faculty and student representation on the governance boards is a clear example of confusing these two phenomena.
By confusing these two phenomena, in particular treating predicaments as problems, leads us to a second axiom, “The law of unintended consequences.” This law is already quickly manifesting itself in these communities. Not only are students (whose views have been made clear by their representatives on the Senates and in The Record) and faculty (who, at a recent Joint Faculty Assembley meeting, unanimously requested a rethinking of the move to disenfranchise faculty and students) concerned, but also alumnae/i and other friends of the college & university, and peers at other colleges and universities.
Rather than giving them more effective control over processes, these actions are doing precisely the opposite for the presidents. Continuing to pursue this disenfranchisement process will only further exacerbate the situation.
Given the many other significant strategic and financial challenges facing CSB and SJU, such actions distract all of us from the important work that must be done to advance, not to retrench, these institutions. As chair of a board of directors of an international community foundation, I very much empathize with many of the frustrations they experience in their jobs as presidents when engaging in very uncontrollable fundraising and representation work—and thus with their desire to find something else over which they can have control.
However taking the time and energy to try to control a dynamic, rich and uncontrollable process like shared governance will only further complicate our efforts in these other arenas, not facilitate them. It will have lasting deleterious impacts on the overall strategic directions we need to pursue and actions we need to take to not only keep CSB/SJU as a place about which students can rightly be proud when they become alums, but on our efforts to make it even better.
There has been an ever-changing series of rationales put forth regarding the motivations for this action being contemplated by the boards, each in turn debunked by faculty and students. Yet we must presume that there are good intentions on the part of the presidents and some board members for changing shared governance structure.
However that leads us inexorably to a third axiom, which by now I would hope would be self-evident: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Like so many others, and in support of their well-articulated reasons, I write to ask the presidents and the Boards of Trustees to vote against the removal of faculty and student trustees from the Boards. We are not a vocal minority.
Associate Professor of English
Many faculty and students alike are understandably dismayed by the impending decision to remove faculty and student representation from the CSB and SJU Boards of Trustees. Some reasons have been given for such a move, but they have seemed unconvincing and ill-conceived. If the Boards proceed as expected and make this change, faculty and students will feel like the move has only the authority of power, not good reasons or good will. I urge the CSB and SJU presidents to follow the advice of Abraham Lincoln in his First Inaugural Address.
“My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it.”
If there are sound reasons to make the change, the faculty and students have not heard them. I urge the presidents to delay the vote on this change and to reconsider the reasons in a spirit of good-faith dialogue with faculty and students.
If they do not, a bridge of misunderstanding and rancor will be crossed, and once crossed, passage back may not be easy.
Department of Philosophy