Shared governance – the voice of campus

Jan. 21, 2014

by Käri Knutson

Classified staff meeting

Bruce Petters (left), an electrician, speaks during a Classified Staff Executive Committee meeting in Bascom Hall in November.

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The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a massive, complex place. With more than 20,000 employees and 40,000 students, it’s important for people to have a voice in issues related to campus.

Enter shared governance. It gives representation to academic staff, classified staff, faculty and students – all taking part in making significant decisions concerning the operation of the university.

There are numerous opportunities to participate, either by serving on one of the shared governance bodies, committees or by offering input to representatives.

People participate for a variety of reasons -- some serve for many years while others choose to serve for shorter periods of time.

Regardless, shared governance is one of the most unique and important aspects of the University of Wisconsin System. Wisconsin has some of the strongest legislation in the country that specifically protects shared governance as an institution in education.

New to the process, but not new to campus, is Bruce Petters, an electrician since 1996 with Facilities Planning and Management who was recently was elected in to the first-ever Classified Staff Executive Committee.

He had thought about running, but decided to throw his hat into the ring after fellow employees said he would be a good representative.

“I’m an information person,” Petters says. “I like to know what’s going on.”

During the HR design process, Petters considered himself an unofficial liaison to fellow employees and would go to numerous meetings and report back what he had learned.

“I’m not afraid to speak my mind and ask questions,” Petters says.

Not only does he hope to provide input on issues affecting campus, Petters wants to raise the profile of the approximately 5,000 classified employees.

“Folks look for opportunities for professional development all the time. Getting involved in shared governance provides people an opportunity to network, develop new skills and understand different perspectives.”

Alice Pulvermacher

“Research is huge,” Petters says. “But classified staff play an important role. Without us, we wouldn’t have a functioning university.”

Kyle Schroeckenthaler, a student getting his master’s degree at the La Follette School of Public Affairs, was interested in transportation issues so he became part of the Campus Transportation Committee last year representing the Associated Students of Madison. The committee provides advice and recommendations on many budgetary and operational decisions made by UW Transportation Services. Previously, he had no experience in student government.

“It wasn’t my thing,” Schroeckenthaler says. “But this has been a great learning experience.”

Schroeckenthaler received an undergraduate degree in economics last year from UW-Madison. He says his experience in shared government has enhanced his education and given him skills he’ll use beyond his time as a student.

“There are a lot of opportunities that students aren’t aware of,” Schroeckenthaler says. “You get to meet people and make connections.”

He encourages other students to get involved.

“A lot of students would be more interested in shared governance if they understood the direct impact you can have,” Schroeckenthaler says. “Shared governance gives us a voice. It’s being in the room when decisions are made.”

For Alice Pulvermacher, being a part of shared governance has helped her gain a broader understanding of campus. Pulvermacher, a researcher with the college of engineering, first got involved with an ad hoc committee that was evaluating the graduate and research enterprise on campus.

“I had been traveling extensively for work but wanted to get more connected on campus and see what other sort of great work was happening here,” Pulvermacher says.

That segued into her current involvement as a member of the Academic Staff Communications Committee. Pulvermacher has served for four years, two of those as co-chair. The committee supports and works with the Academic Staff Executive Committee (ASEC). Academic staff interested in getting involved with the group can click here.

Pulvermacher has been at UW-Madison for 10 years and went to school here as a graduate student.

Before her involvement, she wasn’t very familiar with shared governance.

“It gives everyone an opportunity to branch out and develop other skills,” Pulvermacher says. “Folks look for opportunities for professional development all the time. Getting involved in shared governance provides people an opportunity to network, develop new skills and understand different perspectives.”

Gail Geiger, a professor in the department of art history, has been at UW-Madison since 1978 and has participated in a variety of shared government roles, most recently as part of the University Committee, the executive committee of the Faculty Senate, since 2009.

“The University Committee's leadership helps ensure our academic freedom and diversity in the pursuit of excellence in research, creative expression, teaching and service to the community and state,” Geiger says.

Those interested in participating need to really care about what’s going on at UW-Madison, Geiger says. While it does require a time commitment, it’s been worth it for her.

“With an institution this big, there are few places you meet and work with people from other divisions but you get to do that on some of these committees,” Geiger says.

She appreciates the uniqueness of shared governance and helping provide a voice for faculty members.

“I believe in shared governance,” Geiger says. “Collaboration and consensus are the only way to make things work.”