AAUP Statement on Shared Governance and the COVID Pandemic
Principles of Academic Governance during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance today issued the following statement:
In response to growing concern over unilateral actions taken by governing boards and administrations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee on College and University Governance affirms that the fundamental principles and standards of academic governance remain applicable even in the current crisis. These principles are set forth in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, formulated in cooperation with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges and the American Council on Education.
The Statement on Government famously recommends “adequate communication” and “joint planning and effort” (commonly referred to as “shared governance”) among governing board, administration, faculty, and students. A key principle articulated in the Statement on Government is that, within the context of shared governance, the faculty has “primary responsibility” for decisions related to academic matters, including “curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.” Although the statement acknowledges that governing boards have final decision-making authority (and may have delegated this power in certain areas to the president), it asserts that that authority “should be exercised adversely only in exceptional circumstances, and for reasons communicated to the faculty.” Under the Statement on Government, decisions to revise (even if only temporarily) tenure and promotion procedures and standards, to elect a preferred method of delivering courses, or to replace letter grades with pass-fail or incomplete designations fall within the faculty’s area of primary responsibility. Even in areas in which the faculty does not exercise primary authority—such as whether and how to reopen campus, budgetary matters, and long-range planning—the faculty still has the right, under widely observed principles of academic governance, to participate meaningfully. No important institutional decision should be made unilaterally by administrations or governing boards.
Nor should administrations or governing boards suspend provisions of faculty handbooks or collective bargaining agreements in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis by invoking “force majeure,” “act of God,” “extraordinary circumstances,” or the like. The AAUP addressed this issue in its 2006 investigation of five New Orleans institutions that terminated the appointments of faculty members in response to the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina the previous summer. The investigating committee observed that “the relevant AAUP-supported policies—most notably those that recognize the special challenge of ‘financial exigency’—are sufficiently broad and flexible to accommodate even the inconceivable disaster.”
The investigating committee also found that the LSU Health Sciences Center violated the provisions of Regulation 4c, “Financial Exigency,” of the AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure. As its title suggests, the purpose of Regulation 4c is to set forth procedural standards for a financial emergency—standards that safeguard academic freedom and tenure and that ensure meaningful faculty participation in decision-making. Obviously, suspending the faculty handbook or specific articles of the collective bargaining agreement for the ostensible purpose of grappling with a disaster but for the real purpose of circumventing these standards is inimical to principles of shared governance and academic freedom.
As the authors of the Katrina report observed,
However cumbersome faculty consultation may at times be, the importance and value of such participation become even greater in exigent than in more tranquil times. The imperative that affected faculties be consulted and assume a meaningful role in making critical judgments reflects more than the values of collegiality; given the centrality of university faculties in the mission of their institutions, their meaningful involvement in reviewing and approving measures that vitally affect the welfare of the institution (as well as their own) becomes truly essential.
The COVID-19 pandemic must not become the occasion for administrations or governing boards to jettison normative principles of academic governance. The Committee on College and University Governance regards such a course of action as not only unacceptable but detrimental to both the effective operation and the welfare of the institution. During this challenging time, the committee calls upon administrations and governing boards, in demonstrated commitment to principles of shared governance, to maintain transparency, engage in “joint effort,” and honor the faculty’s decision-making responsibility for academic and faculty personnel matters as the most effective means of weathering the current crisis.
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AAUP PRESIDENT RUDY FICHTENBAUM’S STATEMENT ON FACULTY ROLE IN DECISION MAKING DURING COVID
Statement on COVID-19 and the Faculty Role in Decision-Making
AAUP president Rudy Fichtenbaum has issued the following statement on campus responses to the coronavirus:
As we are learning, COVID-19 (the coronavirus) has the potential to present a serious challenge to the health and safety of our campus communities. At this time, campuses in Washington State, New York State, California, Nebraska, and elsewhere have closed or moved to all-online teaching, and a number of study-abroad programs have been cut short or suspended altogether.
Administrations are taking the potential health impact of the virus seriously, and we applaud their efforts to do so. The safety of the students, the staff, and the faculty should be everyone’s primary concern. We are hearing from AAUP members, however, that decisions to close campuses or to move to an all-online model for the short term are being made without adequate faculty involvement in decision-making. The AAUP’s 1966 Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities makes clear that “the faculty has primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, . . . and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.”
In certain situations, it is necessary to close a campus or move to online instruction to safeguard the health of the campus community. Faculty and academic staff—through their shared governance bodies or, when applicable, their unions—should be consulted on how best to implement this decision. In order to ensure full participation, administrations should share information with faculty and seek input from the appropriate faculty bodies. In cases where the institution is moving to an all-online model to avoid virus transmission on campus, it is incumbent on administrations to provide all instructional faculty with the appropriate software and training. Administrations should also consider the needs and limitations of students, who may lack access to the internet or face other obstacles to completing their coursework remotely.
It is hard to know what the ultimate impact of COVID-19 will be on our campuses. The administration should provide the appropriate faculty body—the union or the governance body—with information regarding the impact of COVID-19 on enrollments, revenues, and hiring and renewals. In the spirit of the AAUP’s One Faculty campaign, we encourage our chapters to be especially sensitive to how these closures and any future curtailment of programs could affect our colleagues on full-time non-tenure-track or part-time contingent appointments.
The AAUP has developed a web page with resources on COVID-19. We will continue to update this page as new resources become available. We also ask that chapters share information with us about what is being done on their campus and what the chapter or faculty senate’s role has been in decision-making around campus closures and the implementation of all-online teaching.
Publication Date: Tuesday, March 10, 2020
AAUP STATEMENT ON RE-OPENING CAMPUSES
Guidance for Reopening Campuses
A number of colleges and universities across the country are considering whether to reopen their campuses in the fall. Much of the discussion about reopening has focused on the financial challenges and on the potential impact on enrollments of continuing to offer instruction remotely. The decision to reopen a campus raises not only logistical and health and safety concerns but also concerns about how best to achieve the academic mission both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in its aftermath. The AAUP offers the following guidance on reopening campuses to our chapters, faculty governing bodies, and administrations. As with all the AAUP’s resources related to COVID-19, we will continue to update this guidance as new information becomes available.
- The health and safety of students, faculty, and staff should be the primary consideration in decision-making about when to reopen a campus. Institutions should provide reasonable accommodations for members of the campus community who have underlying health conditions. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance on COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and other antidiscrimination laws.
- Decisions on how to reopen campuses safely should be driven by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state departments of health.
- The AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities notes that “the variety and complexity of the tasks performed by institutions of higher education produce an inescapable interdependence among governing board, administration, faculty, students, and others. The relationship calls for adequate communication among these components, and full opportunity for appropriate joint planning and effort.” Decisions related to “such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, . . . and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process,” the Statement also points out, are matters in which “the faculty has primary responsibility.” The faculty and academic staff—through their shared governance bodies or, when applicable, their unions—should accordingly participate in decisions related to how best to implement a return to on-campus instruction. In order to ensure full participation, administrations should be transparent, should keep the faculty fully informed, and should consult meaningfully with existing faculty governance bodies.
- Some institutions are considering moving to a blended instructional model for the 2020–21 academic year. The appropriate faculty governance body and, when applicable, the faculty union should have primary responsibility for determining institutional policies and practices around this form of instruction (for more information, see the AAUP’s Statement on Online and Distance Education).
AAUP SUMMER INSTITUTE WEBINAR MATERIALS
A treasure trove of useful information and PowerPoint slides can be found at
Please note: you must be an AAUP member to access this information