Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Allocative and Distributive Effects of Shared Governance

Just had to leave a faculty meeting on shared governance of which, according to some, we have too little. I, as usual, disagree and think we have too much. In the shared governance peak of my law school we  had all kinds of odd programs that seem more designed to please individual faculty than to actually advance the interests of shareholders -- students, taxpayers, the public. Makes you think twice about shared governance and it makes me think about copyright law.

As most people know, the Copyright Act is long. The goal of copyright is to encourage creative efforts. If you took the Act, about 1/20 of it, at most, has anything to do with encouraging people to be creative. The other 19/20 of it are about who gets the dough when they are. The difference in economic circles is between allocative outcomes and distributive ones. Allocative means increasing general welfare (or the size of the pie) and distributive means cutting up the pie even if it means a smaller pie.

What does this have to do with discussions of shared governance -- everything. A faculty may meet to decide whether to hire someone. Mr. Allocative might think "will this person make the school better for the students and others." Mr. Distributive might think "Does that candidate agree with me politically and will she want to teach something I teach." Or suppose it is a new foreign program in the South of France. Mr. Allocative would think, "is this the best learning experience we can offer for the money." Mr. Distributive, on the other hand, could think, "I'd really like to teach in France in the summer" or "If I vote no on this, Phil (sponsor of the France program) will never vote to approve my spring break program in London."

Now suppose you have a faculty of 60. Some are Allocative -- they want to increase the quality of the School in the best possible sense -- and some are Distributive -- constantly making sure they get as much of the pie as possible. If the are all Allocative, shared governance make sense. If the are all Distributive, shared governance means reliving (or living for the first time) something out of the Lord of the Flies.

Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Suppose the split is 80% allocative and 20% distributive. This may sound like a good place for shared governance but like I said it's not that easy. If it is a tough issue and splits the allocatives close to evenly, the distributives will determine the outcome. Luckily, many decisions are not that close and with only 20% distributive things may work out. This just begs the issue, though. Where is the tipping point? What proportion of a faculty can be distributive minded and still be entrusted with the obligations of shared governance?

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