Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Letter to the Editor: Shared governance

Letter to the Editor: Shared governance
Courtesy Gian Lombardo

May Day marks the last day I will enter the classroom as a full-time teacher at Emerson. The part of teaching I will miss most is standing in front of students, gesticulating madly, and scribbling concepts onto the whiteboard. I tried my best to engage my students and to get them to think beyond themselves, beyond wanting to acquire certain skill sets that will earn them a career, but rather be able to think creatively, independently, and critically—that they take every opportunity to grow and learn, and to understand the importance in sharing with others worthwhile content that will enable people to make informed and compassionate decisions.

I am infinitely proud of those students who are out there and will be out there in the world. I am also extremely proud of the advocacy I have done for my peers. I was one of the founders of the Emerson College Term Faculty Advisory Chapter (ECTAC), and later its president, and helped negotiate with a wonderful cohort of colleagues greater salary parity with our tenured faculty. I also helped facilitate bringing ECTAC into the tenured faculty union, ECCAAUP, and served as its president for nearly two years. In terms of faculty advocacy and union activism, I hope that I have done Bob Colby proud and maintained his tradition of service.

While serving as president of ECCAAUP, I took up the mantle of advocating for shared governance on campus. Shared governance is not a system where power emanates from one source, but all members of the campus community have a stake in shaping the policies they work, teach, and study under. Several years ago, in a tumultuous Faculty Assembly meeting, I managed to form a committee to examine shared governance on campus, despite the significant pushback by the chair of the assembly and a dean.

One of the things I have learned in my experience at Emerson is that there are significant structural, systemic, and cultural barriers to genuine shared governance on campus. Shared governance is not built into how the college normally does business. It’s not the underlying ethos of our system. Having such a large (proportionately) administrative body further engrains this status quo. That body will first promote its own goals—and often confuse them and smokescreen them—over the college’s goals.

One person, no matter how deeply their good intentions run, will not make shared governance a reality on campus. The problems—the obstacles—are structural, systemic, and cultural. Fundamental changes need to occur across the board. Leadership on campus should emanate from those who grasp the concept of shared governance and know how to bring disparate communities on campus together to truly listen to and respect one another. We need to make Emerson an attractive and welcoming place to teach, study, and work. Because then students will want to come here and faculty to teach here. Innovation and advancement do not come from people who are constantly told what to do, who are laden with more and more tasks and are given narrow parameters within which to work and live, but rather from people who are given the opportunity to speculate and play, and, above all, feel that they have some true agency over what they do.

I leave Emerson with some of my work undone, and that fills me with regret. Two items the shared governance committee discussed were still not ready to be formulated as recommendations. I hope that they will be brought forward this coming academic year. 

One item was for greater engagement by faculty, staff, and students with the Board of Trustees. Changes need to be made to the overall governing body of the college. Since the board oversees the strategic positioning and mission of the college, they must not do so in a vacuum. Engaging with campus constituencies at that level also sets an important example for all members of our community. Yes, there’s an argument that boards should not interfere with an organization’s operation and start meddling in individual affairs, but to have a realistic comprehension of Emerson College and to be able to chart the college’s path into the future, the board should have the benefit of more than admin’s, and their own, perspectives. There is a need for the board to share their perspectives with faculty, students, and staff, and for faculty, students, and staff to share their perspectives with the board. This type of participation would signal a change in the culture of the college.

Another key area of systemic and structural change would be to regularly hold a representative town meeting. Emerson absorbed (or merged or acquired—use whatever verb you want) Marlboro College. Marlboro had its own traditions of pedagogy and governance. While Emerson did make some accommodations for Marlboro’s student-centered learning within the Institute, the college largely ignored borrowing any features of Marlboro’s governance model, which, for all intents and purposes, relies much more heavily on the principle of shared governance than Emerson.

A representative town meeting could be the starting point for effective shared governance on campus. Elected representatives from all campus constituencies—admin, faculty (both full-time and part-time), staff, and students (both grad and undergrad)—could meet on a regular basis to formulate campus policies, discuss campus wide issues, and share perspectives on what’s happening on campus. It’s not just important to share perspectives, but also to allow representatives (members) to become stakeholders in the college and have some degree of agency, like formulating and revising college policies. Currently, the president proposes that students and staff have their own advisory council like faculty (with the President’s and Provost’s Advisory Council), but such a proposal only perpetuates the siloing of constituencies, which is not conducive to shared governance.

For the good of the college, I do hope that these two initiatives receive serious consideration next academic year. Right now, I am profoundly angered and saddened by what has happened on campus. These recent events have indelibly changed Emerson. Yet they are not accidents, but rather they are the culmination of a systemic and cultural program that is at odds with the college’s rhetoric. It’s up to us all to make sure that these events have changed us, and the school, for the better.


Gian Lombardo

Senior Publisher-in-Residence, WLP

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Comments (1)

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  • J

    Jacob Abraham / May 3, 2024 at 3:52 pm

    Gian, thank you so much for this. And thank you for all that you have contributed towards trying to shift the culture of Emerson.

    I really hope the shared governance initiatives that you mention take root. Shared governance is the only way to actually fulfill the vision and mission, and to embody the values of Emerson College.

    As to what I think you are implying, I agree that the recent disastrous events on campus are a result of a specific kind of governance and distribution of power that enabled and produced a really bad outcome for every party involved. And if we were to shift and implement more shared governance systems — that we could prevent such terrible outcomes in the future and create a more equitable, humane, and welcoming space for education that would be aligned with our rhetoric. It’s an opportunity for Emerson to be socially innovative, and a leader.

    More than problematic individuals with problematic values and ideologies, we have problematic governance. I think people get shaped by the systems they live in. I think that the fact that the Chair of the Board of Trustees felt entitled to tell a Black student: “Back the fuck up” at the April 25th Town Hall is primarily the system talking through him, and being truthful to what it is designed to do. From the perspective of the leadership, the only offense committed was that the Chair temporarily lost executive control of his emotions which degrades the leadership’s credibility and gives them even more image problems.

    [link to ‘History will remember where you stand’: Students, faculty, staff testify at town hall regarding April 25 arrests