The Academic Theories of Shared Governance: Chapter 9 of Tierney

The topic of shared governance has been discussed by a number of researchers who have develop many concepts to explain the nature and culture of higher education institutions. Shared governance has been described as both the central framework of academia, which the modern universities cannot thrive without it, or “the root cause of many of academe’s problems” (Tierney, 2008, p. 133). To understand shared governance, and issues that it tends to affect in higher education, one must understand the theories that support and structures this academic concept. Tierney notes, however, that despite the vast amount of concepts available, there are only small amounts of theoretical and methodological studies that revolve around shared governance. Tierny mentions that there are fewer theories that have been used to describe the influencers of cultural development in higher education institutions, and how shared governance has affected organizational development: the collegial model, the bureaucratic model, the political model, and the cybernetic model (Tierney, 2008, p. 151).

Collegial Model

In 1962, John Millett developed the theory of the collegial model, noting that it is “a view of academic life that assumes that a community of scholars operates around notions of respect and consensus” (Tierney, 2008, p. 152). Being a popular theory amongst researchers, it is “seen as an attack on the collegial model” when academia goes through structural changes (Tierney, 2008, p.152). Supporters of the collegial model believe that academia should return to the time of “collegiality, community, and, hence, shared governance” (Tierny, 2008, p. 153).

Bureaucratic Model

Max Weber (1864-1920) coined the theory of the bureaucratic model, which “assumed that decisions and planning take place by way of a coordinated division of labor, a standardization of rules and regulations, and a hierarchical chain of command” (Tierney, 2008, p. 151). Academic bureaucracy differed from the traditional bureaucratic agencies in that in higher education institutions, the power is “decentralized” and divided between departments (Tierney, 2008, p. 151). Although there have been arguments that the decentralized manner of power diminishes the quality of the organization and the ability to be more formalized in governance within an organization, scholars are quick to support the more decentralized process and avoid a process where all of the power is centralized and trickles down to the departments (Tierney, 2008, p. 152).

Political Model

Victor Baldridge proposed a theory where organizations could utilize the concepts of “[c]onflict, give-and-take, and bargaining, rather than routinized processes and consensus”, which was what was seen at the time in academia (Tierney, 2008, p. 153). The political model was favored over the bureaucratic and collegial models because it was considered to be a better tool to analyze the academic process (Tierney, 008, p. 153). Scholars, such as Cynthia Hardy, however, argued that the political model political model actually incorporates other models into its process. As Tierney notes, the political model failed to be useful in the study of “the more ordinary, mundane process that tend to dominate academic life” (Tierney, 2008, p. 153). The political theory was designed to be useful during a time of crisis, or civil unrest in an academic setting (Tierney, 2008, p. 153). Although its usefulness was not as great as the bureaucratic or collegial model, it was found “to be underused, rather than discarded” (Tierney, 2008, p. 153).

Cybernetic Model

The cybernetic model, a more recently developed theory designed by Robert Birnbaum, integrates of the prevailing models so that they can “function simultaneously in colleges and universities of all kinds to create self-correcting institutions” (Tierney, 2008, p 154). Birnbaum notes that in the cybernetic models, organizations has a system of control that “can be described in terms of sensing mechanisms and negative feedback loops that collectively monitor changes from acceptable levels of functioning and that activate forces that return institutions to their previous stable state” (Tierney, 2008, p. 154). The model provides academic leaders with a means to organize the institution “in a more organic and flexible manner” (Tierney, 2008, p. 154). Being a relatively newer model than its predecessors, there has not be as many critiques or analysis conducted on the cybernetic model. It survives mostly in organizations that are considered to be stable or are working in an organized manner (Tierney, 2008, p. 154).

Further Reading:

Clifton, R.A., Rubenstein, Hymie (2002). Collegial Models for Enhancing the Performance of University Professors. Fraser Institute Digital Publication


Tierney, W. G., (2008). The Impact of Culture on Organizational Decision Making: Theory and Practice in Higher Education. Stylus Publishing, LLC. Sterling, VA. 

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