When you first joined UW-Madison as an academic staff member, you may have heard the term “shared governance” mentioned as a benefit of working here. Maybe you were curious and delved further into what this means. Or maybe, like many of us juggling busy work and home lives, you accepted it as a good thing but remained vague on the details.
Shared governance deserves a closer look, though, because it’s essentially the collective voice we raise on our own behalf. Shared governance is how we listen and understand the challenges our colleagues are facing in the workplace. It’s how academic staff, along with faculty, university staff, and students, engage the attention of administration on those issues, and it’s how we work for change.
“Our governance rights are enshrined in state statute,” says Jake Smith, Secretary of the Academic Staff. “That’s what makes us unique among our peers. Most other universities have a governance structure that’s put in place by their campus.”
In a nutshell, here’s how it works: since 1987, our academic staff governance structure has been organized by districts. Each academic staff member is part of a district (find your district). The logic around districting is based on two considerations: your title, and your school/college/division (and sometimes your department). For example, scientists on campus will be part of a district that generally includes other scientists.
“The thinking is that someone who is a scientist knows how to best represent the needs of scientists on campus,” Smith says. “Same for a marketing or communications professional, or an instructor, or an administrator.”
Each district has a representative that attends monthly meetings of the Academic Staff Assembly. This is where issues of particular importance to academic staff are raised. Examples would be the Title and Total Compensation (TTC) project, implementation of remote work policies, progression and promotion, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, and more.
Senior campus leaders often attend these Assembly meetings, where recommendations are made and resolutions are passed. Leaders offer updates, and they’re looking for input, as well.
“The provost presides over Assembly meetings. The chancellor attends twice a year. The chief diversity officer attends annually. Leaders are coming to governance for direct feedback on initiatives,” says Smith.
The Academic Staff Executive Committee meets weekly to keep issues on the front burner and deal with day-to-day business of the Assembly. Then there are various standing and ad-hoc committees—such as the Communications Committee responsible for putting out this e-newsletter, or the Mentoring Committee that pairs long-time employees with newer hires. In addition to the campus-wide committees, there are also service opportunities in your college, school, or division, through the Committee on Academic Staff Issues (CASI), which advises the dean or director on issues pertaining to, or affecting, academic staff members.
“One of the great things about shared governance is that in addition to getting to know campus and advocating for change, participation on committees gives academic staff the opportunity to interact with people they wouldn’t ordinarily interact with,” says Smith. “It gives everyone a chance for personal and professional growth.”
Participating in shared governance is a protected right and is allowed to occur on work time and without loss of pay. There are many opportunities to get involved!
In March 2023, the Academic Staff Assembly passed Resolution #806 on Improving Academic Staff Workplace Conditions and Morale. This resolution addressed the challenges that Academic Staff continue to face related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, climate issues, and more. Specific recommendations were made to improve conditions for Academic Staff. A complete list of resolutions and recommendations from the Academic Staff Assembly shows the impact of shared governance on our workplace at UW–Madison.
This article was written by Mary Ellen Gabriel for the Cornerstone newsletter