In an effort towards consolidation and improvement, Bowdoin's Committee on Governance (COG) recently presented a draft proposal to restructure committees at Bowdoin. The proposal, which has raised a few concerns among students and faculty, would reorganize most committees, cut others, and emphasize ad hoc working committees to more efficiently target specific issues.
"The goal of this is to address structural issues and reduce the aggregate amount of time spent on committees, but at the same time to get the work done more efficiently," said Associate Professor of Economics Guillermo Herrera, a COG member. "Also, we want to make the process more transparent?to identify who is doing what work, to achieve equity, and to identify which committees are in charge of which tasks, to create a central entry point to the governance process."
The Committee Restructuring Proposal was created in response to faculty concerns and the Reaccredidation Report conducted by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which said "the system of faculty governance needs attention."
From an extensive list of ideas, the Committee Restructuring Proposal recommends a few key changes. First, the number of committee slots would be reduced from the current 142 members to around 80, and the total number of committees would scale back from 30 to about 20. The new central body would become the Committee on Governance and Faculty Affairs (COGFA), allowing for targeted ad hoc working groups consisting of students, staff, and faculty not serving on other committees, and a clearer mechanism to address issues left unattended by current committees.
In an effort to consolidate, the COG proposes cutting at least eight committees from the roster: Admissions, Academic Computing, Financial Priorities, First Year Seminar, Library, Student Affairs, Student Awards, and Museum of Art Executive Advisory Council. To do so, the COG recommends merging some work with that of other committees, creating targeted working groups when needed, and establishing faculty or administration liaisons.
Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd, an ex officio member of the COG, said that too many faculty members and different committees discussing the same issues can dilute the effectiveness of the governance process. She said the model of shared governance between faculty and administration is important for making crucial decisions, and that revisions will improve the procedure.
"Right now, faculty members are unable to focus their energies on the areas of Bowdoin life that they really want to work on," she said. "I'm excited about the working groups to get faculty and student engagement on issues and having a mechanism to get those working groups to bring something to policy."
Furthermore, to clarify roles of the governance system, committees would be grouped into topic-related categories: Faculty Governance, Curricular, Resources, Appeals, Grievances and Misconduct, College Life, and Research and Safety. According to Judd, committee groups would connect more closely with deans and members of the administration.
Overall, the restructuring aims to reduce the redundancy of the system, equalize faculty workload, and increase efficiency. Members of the COG noted that a similar revision occurred in the early 1990s, suggesting that cycles of restructuring help maintain the governance structure.
However, among all the proposed changes, faculty and students have raised concerns about the plausibility of working groups, how certain mechanisms of different groups would function, and whether things would be lost in the transition.
Bowdoin Student Government President Dustin Brooks '08 said he is concerned about committee student representation, suggesting that the committee restructuring should add, not remove, student voice.
"My initial concern is that many committees dealing with student life are slated for elimination," Brooks remarked. "There are very few places where these groups come together, and with a working group structure, that conversation won't be as vibrant or constant."
Brooks said he is concerned about the removal of the Student Affairs Committee and whether or not working groups will be effectively utilized. All told, he said he hopes the restructuring proposal is "the beginning of a conversation rather than an attempt at finality."
Brooks Winner '10, a student representative on the committee, said that the group is important not just for addressing pressing issues, but also for discussing everyday concerns that might not be addressed by targeted working groups. Winner said that while the committee could be improved, the forum for students and faculty is important.
"We're certainly in no way at all trying to make students smaller participants in the governance system," said Professor of Music Mary Hunter, a COG member. "We've cut a lot of faculty slots, so the corresponding student slots are lost. We haven't taken any students off of committees that will remain."
Judd said that working groups would ensure that "student involvement is there at the right time and the right place."
She argued that such groups have the potential to be more effective than standing committees in that students would focus their time and energy on a specific problem, produce a recommendation, and see their work "come to fruition."
The draft proposal, presented at the last faculty meeting, is now being revised in response to the aforementioned concerns from the campus community. The revised proposal will be presented formally at November's faculty meeting and most likely voted on in December. If passed, the committee restructuring would take effect on July 1, 2008, with ongoing review and an overall evaluation of the changes three years later.
Herrera said that while some logistical concerns still need to be worked out, the proposal makes the committee structure more worthwhile.
"I think there's a lot of excitement for the proposal," he said. "It's rare that you have a chance to make a big, meaningful change to get things done. We think there are some win-wins here, we'll get more work done with less effort."