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Technology and the Taskforce: Room for Improvement in Academic Governance

With the recent resignation and reinstatement of the University of Virginia’s president, the higher education community was reminded of the trials and tribulations associated with academic governance.  Specifically, the aftermath of decisions related to modern challenges, as discussed in Kevin Kiley’s article on Inside Higher Ed.

There are great examples where technology has begun to address some of these challenges. Online classes serve distance learners, such as ifs School of Finance in the UK, to increase access.  Centralized social media hubs, like Hopkins Interactive at Johns Hopkins University, help students navigate campus resources to encourage success and build community.   Similar tools can be leveraged to address the challenges in academic governance, too.

When I hear academic governance, I think: committee, sub-committee, task force, working group, faculty senate, professional assembly, etc.  Do you have them on your campus? I sure do.  Each group serves a key function to institutional management.  They meet, discuss and implement changes.  Above all else, they generate buy-in among faculty and staff. This mechanism is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. However, they take up a lot of time. Faculty and staff do not have much of that anymore on the modern campus.  Clearly, as Kiley’s article indicates, governing boards feel the same way.

What can be done? For starters, create a centralized hub of existing committees and all their breakout groups.  If there are groups with overlapping missions, perhaps they can be merged.  Online chats, with or without video (e.g. Google+ Hangout), can cut down on in-person meetings.  These meetings should not be totally replaced, but think of how difficult it is to schedule around other meetings and the travel across campus (which is no fun when its 20 or 100 degrees).  Those are two fairly easy solutions that would reduce inefficiencies right away.

Institutions have created and implemented tools for their students, they can do it for faculty and staff.   This is the most critical population on campus, and they need to be better connected.  The innovative tools available can help an institution save time, money and, perhaps, their image in the eyes of their governing board, too.

by Shannon

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