Reflections of a
15 lessons learned from serving in college governance
BY JONATHAN GRIMES
Anumber of colleges practice shared governance, a democratic- style system that allows for representation of college em- ployees in the development and review of college policy. Similar to American government, there are usually three branches: the board of trustees, the president, and the college senate. When I first became a member of the college
senate at the Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland,
where I work as an associate professor of psychology, this was the model
we used. Other colleges might well have a different structure.
As I think back on my first year, I realize how little I really knew about my
college. As an academic, I spent a lot of my time focusing on my field of study,
my students, and my courses. There were expectations of committee participation,
but the weighted majority of my time was spent working for the students. When
I was elected to the college senate, it was an eye-opening experience. As I moved
up through the chain of officer positions, much of my knowledge was still
I want to help prepare future leaders
by sharing some of the lessons that I
have learned about participating in
1.NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE SENATE CHAIR,
PRESIDENT, AND BOARD OF TRUSTEES.
Researchers note how important the
relationship among the three entities
is in getting the work of the college
done. Look for opportunities to create
stronger bonds between groups.
2.DO YOUR BEST TO BECOME AN EXPERT IN EXISTING POLICIES.
Don’t be surprised when you start
receiving calls and e-mails from people
who want your interpretation of a
policy. Secondary to your expertise is
an ability to locate the most current
versions of any policy.
3.PROVIDE ORIENTATION FOR NEW PEOPLE. The senators in
our governance structure serve two-year terms. Therefore, we get a group
of new people every year. Instead
of hoping that the new people get
interested and involved, help them
along with an orientation meeting.
Provide them with access to a current
4.DEVELOP A PLATFORM FOR YOUR LEADERSHIP. On what
issues do you stand firm? What is
most important to you in your term?
I used three words: effective, efficient,
and transparent. Whatever I do as
chair is an attempt to stay true to
5.ACCEPT THAT YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO CARRY EVERY
PERSON’S AGENDA. People may want
you to initiate all sorts of changes at
your college. It is prudent to differentiate between an issue needing changes
and a person who needs to vent.