S.B. 5 is a direct attack on the fundamental values of shared governance and transparency in public universities.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) holds that college and university faculties are not mere employees or second-tier “managers” subservient to boards of trustees or administrators. Rather, they are professionals who possess authority and expertise in their areas of academic competence. They exercise this authority first and foremost on behalf of the broader public and their profession. Many faculties have organized behind collective representation to protect the unique identity of their profession.
The capacity of a university to fulfill its core mission depends on whether faculty are free to determine the shape and direction of teaching and research within their institutions. This freedom–known as “academic freedom”–extends well beyond individual First Amendment rights. Crucially, it entails the right and responsibility to shape the direction of the institution itself–what is known as “shared governance.” This right and responsibility is different from managerial priorities and political interests, which often focus on achieving short-term results unrelated to teaching and learning. College and university faculty have a responsibility to ensure the core academic mission not only for today’s students but for the generations to come.
But OU faculty are increasingly marginalized in decisions that directly affect the core mission of the university, and SB 5 threatens to deepen this isolation. The days when faculty could vote an incompetent or presumptuous dean or provost out of office ended in the 1970s. Now we lack even the means of meaningfully evaluating our top administrators, and we can’t hold accountable the many lesser administrators whose decisions affect everything from how much money is available for libraries–a basic resource for effective teaching and research–to how many faculty hours are devoted to clerical and administrative tasks rather than preparing for classes, meeting with students, and conducting research or engaging in creative activity.
Worse, the OU Faculty Handbook no longer guarantees an authoritative role for faculty in university decision-making. The handbook has no legal standing. The administration and board of trustees are free to ignore the Handbook’s requirements and frequently do so. This is no trivial matter. Academic freedom at OU and OU’s academic mission are at stake.
A collective bargaining agreement can make shared governance procedures and the Faculty Handbook legally binding on the administration and establish Faculty Senate and its committees as partners with administrators in university decision-making.
SB 5 will deprive public university faculty of the right to bargain collectively and in doing so will further weaken shared governance procedures. President McDavis says he wants greater “flexibility” to manage OU. This is corporate speak for the desire to concentrate power within the managerial structure and transform universities into firms whose workers serve at the whim of administrators. If we allow this to happen, faculty will have no authority whatsoever to shape the terms of their employment in any meaningful way. “Shared governance” will finally have become nothing more than an Orwellianism masking the basic fact of faculty irrelevance.