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  • Editors’ IntroductionShared Governance and the “Wisconsin” Moment
  • Jennifer L. Holberg and Marcy Taylor

We need to understand that a history of faculty governance includes this history of contention, that a history of civic institutions is incomplete without this history of immoderate struggle. We’re in a rhetorically topsy-turvy moment in which public programs and jobs are cut in the name of egalitarianism, in which universities defund undergraduate and especially liberal arts education in the name of academic excellence, and in which we are enjoined for the sake of civility to hold our tongues while actual space for civil discourse and civic decision-making contracts.

— Nancy Welch, “La Langue de Coton: How Neoliberal Rhetoric Pulls the Wool over Faculty Governance”

As this issue goes to press, the news is pretty bleak for public employees in the Midwest. All one has to say is “Wisconsin” and most readers will see images of hundreds of thousands of protestors unsuccessfully demonstrating to keep Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature from passing the Budget Repair Bill that strips most public employee unions of the right to collective bargaining (and doesn’t appear to have much to do with repairing the budget). Its ultimate fate remains to be seen as constitutional questions and litigation remain before it can be legitimately enforced. Iowa’s House of Representatives passed a very similar bill in March 2011; Republican governor Terry Branstad would likely have signed the bill had it not died in the Iowa Senate. Ohio’s leadership was more successful; on 31 March 2011, Governor John Kasich signed Amended Substitute Senate Bill 5, [End Page 443] the Public Employees’ Collective Bargaining Law. As of this writing, opponents of the law are gathering signatures for a referendum to be put on the ballot in November 2011. And in Michigan, where we both happen to work and live, Republican governor Rick Snyder signed into law the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act, a bill that gives the state’s treasurer the ability to appoint emergency financial managers (EFMs) to take over the operation of financially troubled cities and school districts. The powers of these EFMs include

the ability to nullify collective bargained agreements, imposition of new agreements for those bargaining units which will have effect for as much as five years after the EFM leaves office and the ability for the manager to dissolve local governing bodies of schools and cities. The EFM would also have the power to eliminate any local ordinance or law he or she decides to eliminate.

(Heywood 2011).

Such measures are making their way to other states as well: Idaho, Tennessee, and Alaska have already introduced or passed bills to diminish or eliminate altogether collective bargaining rights for public school teachers. Kroll (2011) estimates that twenty state legislatures are considering bills to limit collective bargaining for unions.

It is against this backdrop that we feature a cluster in this issue on the topic of shared governance in higher education, a concept whose relationship to the restriction of union rights and, ultimately, the restriction of academic freedom is made clear in this discussion. The cluster originated as a panel at the Modern Language Association annual convention in January 2011 in Los Angeles, organized by Vincent B. Leitch, a member of the Executive Committee of the MLA Division on Teaching as a Profession. In his contribution to this issue, Leitch notes that three premises and two critical documents warranted the questions the panelists considered:

(1) there is a growing list of vocal stakeholders in U.S. higher education, (2) the concept of shared governance is worth defending, and (3) there has been a recent crisis or set of shifts in academic governance. In the back of my mind were two key documents on governance, the [AAUP’s] “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities” (1966), the landmark text defining and promoting shared governance, and the “Report of the ADE Ad Hoc Committee on Governance” ([ADE] 2001), defending the ideal of shared governance against contemporary threats to it, in light of problems with it, and offering possible solutions in the form of final recommendations.


[End Page 444]

The panelists — Vincent...


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