What is Participatory Governance?

Participatory governance is the set of practices under which college faculty, staff, and students participate in significant decisions concerning the operation of their institutions. Colleges and universities are very special types of institutions with a unique mission—the creation and dissemination of ideas. For that reason, they have created particular arrangements to serve that mission best. For example, academic tenure protects the status, academic freedom and independent voice of scholars and teachers. Participatory governance, in turn, arose out of a recognition that:

  • Academic decision-making should be largely independent of short-term managerial and political considerations;
  • Faculty and professional staff are in the best position to shape and implement curriculum and research policy, to select academic colleagues and judge their work; and
  • The perspective of all front-line personnel is invaluable in making sound decisions about allocating resources, setting goals, choosing top officers, and guiding student life.

It is widely understood that broad participation in decision-making increases the level of employee investment in the institution’s success. As a result, organizational theorists for many years have recommended shared decision-making as a key strategy to improve productivity in all kinds of organizations. In higher education, due to the high turnover rate of top administrators, the faculty and staff are often in the best position to provide the institutional history so valuable to institutional planning. Without that institutional history, institutions are apt to repeat past failures.