Separating Powers at the University: Applying Constitutional Law to Internal Academic Governance

Education and Law Journal, Vol. 20, No. 243, 2011

22 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2011

See all articles by Bruce Pardy

Bruce Pardy

Queen's University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 1, 2011


Governance of the modern university should be based upon a single principle: the separation of powers amongst its faculty, administrators, and legislative bodies. The university’s historical origins, theoretical purposes, and modern mythology are consistent with the pivotal role of separating powers in its government. Yet this principle is not generally recognized or applied, perhaps because it is so basic as to be overlooked, or because it has heretofore been expressed in terms that obscure its true nature. Authority should be divided in the following manner: University legislative bodies should have authority over operational and program matters. Administrative officers should have jurisdiction over administrative matters. Individual professors should have authority over academic matters in their courses and in their own scholarship. Such a central organizing idea would enable the parties within the institution to play complementary rather than conflicting roles. Without it, university government is liable to be arbitrary and confused, and in conflict with the institution’s conceptual foundations, resulting in problematic administration, contentious politics, and excessive bureaucracy. Separating powers within the university is important not merely because it allows the university to achieve its goals and to be consistent with its mission. Rather, it is itself the mission of the university: to provide unobstructed time and space for the free inquiry of new and controversial ideas.

Keywords: Universities, higher education, academic freedom, tenure, education law, administrative law

JEL Classification: I21, K23, K39

Suggested Citation

Pardy, Bruce, Separating Powers at the University: Applying Constitutional Law to Internal Academic Governance (October 1, 2011). Education and Law Journal, Vol. 20, No. 243, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Bruce Pardy (Contact Author)

Queen's University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Macdonald Hall
Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6
613-533-6000 Ext. 77570 (Phone)
613-533-6509 (Fax)


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