On June 6, 2012, Rodney A. Smolla, president of Furman University, began his service as RU's special consultant on shared governance by leading a series of day-long focus groups and community town hall meetings.
"President Smolla has extensive experience facilitating the process through which higher education communities examine governance on their campuses," said Erin Webster Garrett, RU associate professor of English and director of the university's Quality Enhancement Plan, who set up the proceedings in consultation with presidents of the faculty, administrative and staff senates.
"He is a recognized First Amendment scholar and has a wealth of experience related to First Amendment issues and higher education," Webster Garrett said, noting that Smolla has held a variety of faculty and administrative posts at higher education institutions and has played a significant role in shared governance discussions at the University of Richmond, Washington and Lee, William & Mary and, most recently, at Furman.
As any university embarks on an internal governance self-study, Smolla said, he thinks a new set of eyes can provide new insight. "What I can offer as an outsider is the advantage of being an outsider," he said.
Maintaining a healthy and efficient internal governance structure is the foundation of shared governance, according to Smolla, who said the key to a university's ongoing dialogue is to find the right balance between administrative accountability and faculty and staff participation in the university's planning and decision-making processes.
"I feel a lot of optimism for Radford's future and for its ability to make some good improvements to the governing structure and processes," he said. "Part of that comes from a lot of goodwill and good civility and collegiality that I have heard."
Encouraged by his recent campus visit, Smolla said he sees a university community of passionate individuals who can participate in a healthy, respectful debate for the betterment of their university.
"Even though there are a lot of folks who are going to find some things they might like to see done differently, there were very few people who were angry—there wasn't a lot of mean-spiritedness," he said. "There are a lot of people who really love being here and want it to be a better place."
Concluding his visit at a town hall-style meeting, Smolla said the first day was merely the first step in the process. He will visit the campus at least twice more this fall before crafting a report and offering suggestions.
"I have no preconceptions about anything," Smolla said. "But one of the interesting questions I think Radford will have to wrestle with is, are there aspects to the governance process, to the procedures and so on, that it will be simpler and cleaner to just scrap and start over?"
Smolla said starting the dialogue is a positive step.
"I have a lot to be thankful for as far as the educational process that this institute is offering me," he said. "I've learned a lot here, not just about Radford but also about higher education. Much of what I learned I'm going to take back to Furman and use to be a better university president and a better participant in higher education."
June 19, 2012