As faculty governance leaders during Joan Gabel's term as University of Minnesota president, we offer this open letter as the Board of Regents moves to select an interim president. We write to elevate a key strength exhibited by Gabel that has been missing from public discourse to date and that we view as of critical importance for future University of Minnesota presidents.
Like many Minnesotans, employees at the U have high expectations for the university. These expectations extend into the classroom, our research spaces and how we engage with the community. It also applies to how we govern at the U, including our expectations for the president, the Board of Regents and the university's senate system, known internally as academic "shared governance."
This shared governance system includes faculty, staff and students across all five campuses (unless they are covered by collective bargaining agreements). We have a national reputation as having a robust and functional system of shared governance, due to the broad constituent base, high-caliber senate staff and dedicated faculty, staff and students who serve. University leaders who seriously engage with shared governance leaders, proactively discuss issues in committees and listen to points raised by senators are more likely to be successful at the U.
Gabel is a leader who did this. During Gabel's tenure, we observed firsthand her respect for academic shared governance. She understood its value as a consultative body that voices a variety of concerns that need to be factored into decisionmaking. During the early days of the pandemic, Gabel actively consulted on critical decisions almost daily. The University of Minnesota has proved to be a resilient institution. Leveraging our history of shared governance, we were at the table when important decisions were being made throughout Gabel's presidency, and it was especially important during the pandemic. Unlike many of our peer institutions, we found a way to collaboratively make urgent and consequential decisions.
Importantly, the need for university leaders and the Board to Regents to engage with shared governance is ongoing, and arguably increasing. With the challenges facing higher education, shared governance provides the ready structure for making timely, informed and robust decisions. As an example, in response to declines in employee engagement — a pain point felt nationally — last week the University Senate passed a resolution with unanimous support that elevates the central role the U's workforce plays in its ability to maintain and enhance its top-notch mission delivery. Shared governance delivered an investment road map grounded in the workforce's needs and its understanding of mission support and delivery to the University's current leadership, who alongside were looking to shared governance to provide this direction. The value of this functional relationship between university leadership and shared governance cannot be understated.
The next president of the University of Minnesota will have the opportunity to build on and learn from Gabel's tenure. The Board of Regents has established that the interim president needs to value shared governance. How will the board weigh this criterion against the others it has listed for the position? We urge the board to make valuing shared governance a high priority in its review of candidates. Shared governance isn't always easy and it doesn't mean everyone agrees with every decision made, but ultimately better decisions are made when all voices contribute to the discussion.
Overall, we see Gabel as leaving the university in a healthy place. The University of Minnesota is a world-class institution with a bright future; a future that will continue to improve the lives of Minnesotans as well as the world through education, research, health care, job creation and community partnership. Our culture of shared governance has fostered a university with many leaders, because our input has been expected and valued. We all feel a responsibility to shape the future of the university. We need an interim president — and a future new president — who continue to view shared governance as a critical asset to the university, and in turn, the state.
Colleen Flaherty Manchester (2022-23), Ned Patterson, (2021-22), Phil Buhlmann (2020-21) and Amy Pittenger (2019-20) are past and present chairs of the Faculty Consultative Committee at the University of Minnesota.