Between Faculty, Administration, Board, State, and Students: On the Relevance of a Faculty Senate in the Modern U.S. University

28 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2012 Last revised: 13 Feb 2013

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law

Date Written: February 10, 2013


This essay is an edited text of a presentation made by the incoming chair of the University Faculty Senate of Pennsylvania State University to a conference co-sponsored by the American Association of University Professors and faculty at the Pennsylvania State University. The topic of these remarks is shared governance. I will consider shared governance within the increasingly contested governance space of the U.S. public research university. My contextual focus will be on its most fragile element, a faculty senate. I will start with a very brief review of the foundations. The conceptual structures of shared governance are fairly well known but it is always useful to nod in the direction of sources. I then consider the realities of shared governance, considering the law relating to shared governance and its functional challenges. I will suggest the context and the difficulties of shared governance within the a-symmetric power arrangements that are the hallmark of public universities. What I hope to flesh out is an outline of the context in which shared governance might be measured by its form with little attention paid to the effectiveness of its function. I will then consider where a faculty senate can fit into this governance enterprise. I will consider whether shared governance has come to mean more a sharing of the burdens of administration than a sharing of governance. I will end with a consideration of how I see the Penn State Faculty Senate playing a more engaged role within the constraints of shared governance, and the way in which, in the absence of legal protection, the university itself must provide a contractually based protection for the shared governance obligations of faculty.

Keywords: university, shared governance, faculty, academic freedom, faculty senate, faculty governance, board of trustees

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá, Between Faculty, Administration, Board, State, and Students: On the Relevance of a Faculty Senate in the Modern U.S. University (February 10, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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