By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A newly formed permanent committee of administrators, faculty, staff and students is taking a hard look at how shared governance works — or doesn’t work — at Missouri Southern State University.
The 13 committee members representing all facets of the university met in an organizational session Friday for their first discussion of shared governance, which was established on the principles of transparent communication, accountability, and informed and engaged decision-making.
The committee will be responsible for reviewing the philosophy, goals, principles and framework of shared governance; reviewing and analyzing shared governance surveys, and reporting results to the campus; ensuring that all committee reports are posted; and making recommendations to maintain open channels of communication, according to a statement from Sherry Buchanan, chairwoman of the Board of Governors.
Some members of the committee told the board earlier this month that they still see communication issues on campus, but that they sought to change that.
Molly Shumaker, a student representative, said many MSSU students don’t feel as though they have a voice on campus.
“This committee, I see it as a way to show the other students that we are interested in what they have to say, and I hope to bring the general consensus (of students) so maybe you know where we’re coming from,” she said.
Aaron Lewis, a representative of the faculty senate, said he hopes the committee will help keep open communication between the campus and its administration.
“It’s pretty clear that sometimes the lines of communication get mixed up,” he said. “People want to know what’s going on, and when they feel like maybe they’re being neglected, they start wondering what’s going on with their job situation or with their campus family.”
Olive Talley, representing secretarial staff, said the committee would have to “foster some kind of trust” with other campus organizations to ensure a fluid flow of information. She said it would also have to enforce policies already in place, such as posting information to the campus Intranet system and ensuring that it’s up to date.
Steve Jordan, who represents the physical plant staff, said he thinks part of the committee’s goal should be to clearly define shared governance.
“I think one of our biggest problems is getting people to actually understand what shared governance is and what is everyone’s role,” he said.
That was a comment echoed by Pat Lipira, vice president for academic affairs, who asked for clarity on individual roles in the university’s decision-making steps.
“Truly, I don’t know sometimes when does a decision go through the board and when does it not go through the board,” she said. “Honestly I’m not clear sometimes on what is the protocol and who is involved.”
MSSU President Bruce Speck said the committee will meet at least three times per semester, and members will serve four-year terms. He said shared governance would be successful if those who sit on the committee report back to and engage the campus communities that they represent.
“It’s really going to be incumbent upon you to make sure you’re going back to the people you’re representing and sharing those issues,” he told members of the committee earlier this month.
The directive for implementing shared governance at MSSU came from the Higher Learning Commission, an organization that oversees the accreditation of degree-granting colleges and universities.
A task force formed in 2008 was charged with strengthening the university’s framework, policies and procedures for shared governance. But issues with its implementation appeared to remain, and were sometimes linked to some of the controversies that have plagued the university.
Faculty complaints leveled against Speck in fall 2009 included assertions of breaches of shared governance, and the faculty later delivered a no-confidence vote against the president that was driven, in part, by accusations of poor communication and the withholding of information.
Surveys that were administered on campus reported that 68 percent of responding faculty members in 2009 and 70 percent of responding faculty members in 2010 were either “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the level of shared governance for the faculty and staff.
A 2011 follow-up visit by representatives of the Higher Learning Commission noted progress in shared governance, and MSSU officials credited that to listening sessions, economic summits and increased meetings between faculty senators and administrators. Yet the results of another survey of faculty last year found that an overwhelming majority of respondents disagreed that the president and the board communicate effectively, and suggested that neither seeks faculty input on decisions.
Brian Fronzaglia, an assistant professor in the music department and a representative of the faculty senate, was elected chairman of the new permanent shared governance committee at Missouri Southern State University.