At many universities, the term “shared governance” refers to the role faculty play in shaping the academic environment.
Since the 1970s, “shared governance” at Cornell has had a much broader meaning. Here, faculty, undergraduate students, graduate and professional students, and staff members are all represented and have a voice in university concerns through two formal channels: the assemblies, including the faculty Senate; and the campus representatives elected to serve as full voting members of the Cornell Board of Trustees.
Current elected trustees are Yamini Bhandari ’17, undergraduate trustee; Dara Brown ’13, now a first-year Cornell Law student; Chad Coates, advising dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, elected by employees; and faculty trustees Mariana Wolfner, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, and Bruce Lewenstein, chair of the Department of Science and Technology Studies and professor of science communication.
Members of the Student Assembly (SA), Employee Assembly (EA), Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) and faculty Senate are elected by their constituencies; members of the University Assembly (UA) are selected by the members of the other assemblies.
“The administration takes seriously the advice and recommendations brought by shared governance groups regarding university policies and other matters,” said Joel Malina, vice president for university relations. “The president and senior staff regularly attend assembly meetings and communicate with them on matters of concern to the Cornell community. We also benefit greatly from the expertise and diverse perspectives that Cornell community members bring to the many standing and ad hoc committees – both within the assemblies and across campus – in which they are involved.”
The UA, in which all constituencies are represented, has responsibility for the Campus Code of Conduct and focuses on issues affecting a substantial segment of the Cornell community, such as campus traffic and parking, diversity and inclusion, and the environment and sustainability. The UA is chaired by Gabriel Kaufman ’19.
The 19-member SA deals with quality of life issues for undergraduate students and allocates the annual $3.5 million student activity fee. “This year, we will be re-evaluating our structure to make sure that we are representing students in the most effective way possible,” said Jordan Berger ’17, president of the SA. “We will also be working with various student organizations to advocate for affordability on campus.”
The GPSA includes representatives from each graduate field and the professional schools. According to current GPSA President Nate Rogers, a graduate student in the field of mechanical engineering, one of the GPSA’s most important initiatives has been the Graduate and Professional Community Initiative (GPCI), a needs assessment and strategic plan written in collaboration with the Graduate School. The GPCI takes a holistic approach to improving the graduate and professional student experience, Rogers said.
Rogers continued, “The GPSA is a great way to have your voice heard by administrators and other decision-makers.” This year, the GPSA plans to focus on discussions about graduate student unionization, updating and revising the GPCI, procedures for student complainants, and overhauling communications to students.
According to Barbara A. Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of the Graduate School, the shared governance partnership with the GPSA is highly valued and effective. “Together, we’ve made significant progress on the GPCI, including improving support for students with families; greatly clarifying workers compensation eligibility and other support for students with injuries; planning for expanded graduate/professional student housing; improving on-campus parking options; increasing coordination and impact for our diversity and inclusion programs; and increasing graduate student stipends.”
Graduate students also are part of the shared governance of the Graduate School, with two voting members on the General Committee of the Graduate School, the administrative, legislative and judicial body of the Graduate School.
The EA recently reorganized to better represent the more than 8,000 staff members on campus. It makes recommendations concerning the university’s human resource policies and issues affecting employees, recently working on eliminating the box on Cornell’s job application form indicating past criminal convictions and advocating for a name change to Cornell Plantations.
According to Ulysses Smith ’14, chair of the EA and lead diversity and inclusion strategist in the Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity, the EA hopes to create a staff engagement plan similar to the GPCI based on the results of an upcoming employee survey. “The engagement plan will provide a long-term framework for addressing the needs of our diverse staff community and ensure that there is a mechanism for institutional accountability for the items outlined in the plan,” he said.
The Senate, comprising about 100 members, is the governing body of the university faculty. Senators are elected by faculty in Cornell’s schools and academic departments in Ithaca and Geneva. Also serving as voting members are the university president, dean of the faculty, associate dean and secretary of the faculty, and the two faculty trustees.
According to Charles Van Loan, dean of the university faculty, the collective wisdom of the faculty is expressed through the Senate, its committees , and the faculty forums that it sponsors. “For the Senate to be successful, it must be proactive, thoughtful, democratic and responsive in its dealings with the administration,” he said. “The Senate must be an interesting colloquium that anticipates issues and then sets the stage for their solution.”
This year, he said, the Senate will spend time on matters that relate to the College of Business, Cornell Tech, the academic calendar, the criteria for promotion to the emeritus rank, the program review process, the preservation of academic freedom and curriculum issues that relate to liberal education. In addition, the Senate will work with the GPSA and the SA on various climate issues that affect both students and faculty.
“In its essence, shared governance provides processes to elect representation, to voice dissent and approval, to hear and be heard, and to foster change,” said Gina Giambattista, director of the Office of the Assemblies. “Through the assemblies and faculty Senate, everyone in Cornell’s Ithaca and Geneva communities has the opportunity to participate in campus governance.”