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Geneseo's administrative structure and governance processes are marked by a deep commitment to integrity and transparency, and they support the college's goal of transformational learning. Through leadership development activities, the college could help faculty develop a clearer understanding of their own role in governance.


Standards addressed in this chapter
4 — Leadership and Governance
5 — Administration
6 — Integrity (also addressed in Chapter 3)


Geneseo's system of governance and administrative structure provide the context for decision-making, policy development, and achievement of the college mission. This chapter will investigate the extent to which these campus structures and procedures support and guide students' transformational learning and the degree to which institutional leadership has established sound ethical practices and promoted a climate that fosters respect for academic freedom as well as the rights of individuals from a range of backgrounds, ideas, and perspectives.

As part of this investigation, interviews were conducted with three key campus leaders: President of the College Christopher Dahl, Chair of College Senate Dennis Showers, and 2010-2011 President of the Student Association Douglas Sinski. The interviews were conducted between February 24 and 28, 2011.

Leadership and governance

Leadership and governance structure

Geneseo has a well developed and clearly defined system of campus governance. The college is part of a larger public university governed by a Board of Trustees. The SUNY board appoints the campus president, and through its written policies, which are set forth in The SUNY Policies of the Board of Trustees, provide a broad definition of the roles of various campus governance constituents, including the faculty. Among the governance structures called for in the Board of Trustees policies is a College Council at Geneseo. The College Council consists of nine representatives appointed by the Governor from the wider community and one representative elected by the students. The council's duties are advisory and include reviewing all major plans of the campus presidents and making recommendations, before these are submitted for trustee approval, regarding appraisal or improvement of faculty, appraisal or changes to academic policies and to standards for earning degrees, and oversight of student activities/housing.

An additional governance structure called for in the Board of Trustees policy is the College Administrative Conference (known locally as "the cabinet"). The President's cabinet serves as an advisory board and includes the vice presidents of the various divisions of the college including Academic Affairs, Student and Campus Life, Administration and Finance, and Enrollment Services. The vice president for academic affairs also carries the title of Provost, and the administrator in charge of Enrollment Services carries the title of Associate Vice President rather than Vice President.

The president receives recommendations from other bodies within the college governance structure. Two of these bodies are the College Senate and the Student Association. Both organizations operate under established constitutions and by-laws. The College Senate, organized according to the Constitution of the Faculty, is composed of elected representatives from three different constituencies: academic faculty, administrative staff, and students. In addition, senior administrators serve on the Senate by reason of office. The Student Association, organized according to the Constitution of the Student Association, consists of an Executive Committee elected by the student body.

The Constitution of the Faculty provides for a committee structure with three main categories. First, the standing committees of the senate include the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, the Graduate Curriculum Committee, the Policy Committee, the Faculty Affairs Committee, and the Student Affairs Committee. Second, there is a set of standing committees of the faculty, which include the Committee on Faculty Personnel, Committee on Professional Leave Review, Committee on Undergraduate Academic Standards, and Committee on Nominations and Elections. Third, the standing committees of the college provide another mechanism for faculty input into campus administration. These committees include the Strategic Planning Group, the College Assessment Council, the Research Council, and the General Education Committee. In addition, the president has periodically appointed special study groups. The most significant of these were the Six Big Ideas task forces that operated during 2009-10.

The students have their own governance structure through an Executive Committee that serves as both a legislative and executive body for the Student Association. Students elected to the Executive Committee represent constituency groups including Inter-Residence Council, Academic Affairs, Student Programming, and Student Affairs. Students are also elected or appointed to numerous policy and decision-making college-wide boards and committees, such as Campus Auxiliary Services, College Senate, College Council, and the Geneseo Foundation.

The college's governance structure encourages a high level of collaboration among the administration, faculty, and students by including representatives of all three groups in the College Senate and by including both the senate chair and the Student Association president as ex officio members of the college's Strategic Planning Group. The President of Student Association represents students on most of the major governance bodies such as the College Senate, College Council, and the Geneseo Foundation; and students serve on most of the major committees on campus.

Leadership and governance process

All three campus leaders, the President, Chair of College Senate, and President of the Student Association, report that the governance process at Geneseo faithfully adheres to the written rules and the concept of shared governance. At a college-wide level, the committees that are established by the Constitution exist and do the work that they are designed to do. At all levels, college wide and departmental, committees generally abide by the operating principles under which they have been established.


President Christopher Dahl believes that the existing governance structure results in a highly participative and collegial environment. Policy proposals can originate from any number of different governance sources, both formal and informal. The existing system allows for consultation, deliberation, and review by many constituencies before a proposal reaches his desk for a decision. One example of the flexibility of the system was the formation of the Six Big Ideas task forces. These task forces were defined by the president's cabinet and were an extension of the mission and values review process conducted a decade ago by the Strategic Planning Group. The recommendations that emerged from these task forces are now driving several key campus initiatives. In particular, the work of the Bringing Theory to Practice Task Force has contributed to establishing transformational learning as an overarching concept for institutional renwal and the theme of this self-study.

College Senate

The Board of Trustees' policies for SUNY define "the faculty" and gives that faculty the power to deliberate and make recommendations to the administration. At Geneseo and some other SUNY institutions, the faculty have set up college senates and have given representation to students and administrators. The faculty has the power to set up subcommittees and make recommendations to the administration and could, if it wanted, take back the power it has delegated to the senate.

Senate Chair Dennis Showers reports that from the perspective of the senate, the governance process plays an important role in campus policy development, and he makes the following three observations:

  • The senate operates on an annual basis, and this schedule can affect the timeliness of recommendations to the administration.
  • The senate's Executive Committee is one of the places where the administration is directly available to senate leadership.
  • The president has consistently accepted the recommendations presented to him.

Professor Showers also notes that the current senate structure operates well. The people involved take their responsibilities seriously, fully engaging in the work of the senate and its committees. On the other hand, Professor Showers believes that the individuals whom the senate represents have a poor understanding of the role of governance and their role in it, and that this lack of understanding leads to a lack of interest in or engagement with the process. In recent years, very few faculty have put themselves forward as candidates for senate chair.

Professor Showers maintains that when an institution is running smoothly, the role of governance is taken for granted. He also believes the current governance system is underutilized by the senate's constituency as a forum for advancing institutional goals. He acknowledges that not everyone needs to be equally involved in the governance process, but he believes that more must be done to encourage involvement and to prepare individuals to contribute when needed. He has taken a series of steps to address these issues:

  • Professor Showers led a re-structuring of the senate chair's term. When he was first elected, the chairs moved through a three-year sequence of three positions: one year each as vice chair, chair, and past chair. Near the end of his first term, Professor Showers said that he was just learning the position and recognizing some of the changes in governance that should be made. He organized a meeting of several past chairs, and they reported having the same experience. There was lack of institutional memory and little long-range planning. As a result, the constitution of the senate was amended to make Vice Chair and Chair stand-alone, one-year positions with one-year terms and no term limits. Under this new process, Professor Showers has been re-elected three times. Since there is no immediate past chair, he is allowed to appoint a person to this position.
  • Professor Showers is overseeing the evolution of the senate into a group that manages deliberations and serves as a conduit of information and ombudsman, rather than the college's deliberative body itself. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the senate was the center and driver of campus changes and central to governance. More recently, however, task forces and ad hoc groups have been formed whenever specific issues have arisen requiring individuals with special expertise, such as the Task Force on Sustainability. Under these circumstances, the best role for the senate may be to facilitate campus communication and make deliberative processes open and fully informed; certainly the senate is the body best positioned to do this. To enable this facilitation, the senate has revised its agenda process, paring down procedural and reporting elements and using a timed agenda to assure that it holds open space for important discussions. The faculty will maintain control of the curriculum through senate processes and may elect to send an issue to one of its standing committees if appropriate. Otherwise, it will suffice to have task forces deal with particular issues and bring their findings back to the senate to share with members and the college community. In the past, follow-through on task force recommendations has been inconsistent; the senate may be able to help here as well, reinforcing institutional effectiveness by working to close this loop.
  • Professor Showers has initiated general meetings of the faculty and is using these meetings to explore mechanisms whereby faculty might offer more input into governance within the existing senate structure. The meetings were organized around a couple of topics last year; more meetings are planned for this year.

With respect to the the role of the senate in promoting transformational learning, Chair Showers believes that it is not proactive in promoting an particular structure for courses or programs, in spite of its role in reviewing academic policy and curriculum. As indicated by the inventory of transformational activities compiled as part of the Six Big Ideas initiative, a variety of alternatives to traditional classroom instruction are emerging at the college; these will ultimately be reviewed through the normal senate process.

Student government

Student Association President Doug Sinski reports that the Student Association has clear vision, mission, and values statements and that these are widely circulated among those involved in student organizations. He believes that the association has done a good job of articulating the governance process. He also believes that the association has developed a very positive relationship with academic departments, especially through its Academic Affairs Committee. The Student Association funds many departmental development activities, such as speakers and trips. (See association minutes here and here.) Chair Sinski also reports that communication with the college administration is open.

One problem facing the Student Association is students' limited involvement and their limited understanding of the association's mission, values, and vision. In this respect, the association's predicament is rather like that of the College Senate. A large percentage of students is not involved in governance. Chair Sinski believes that students do not adequately use the association's structure to advocate for their interests in the campus community.

Student government is a transformational experience for those involved in it, and it is also a means of pursuing transformation: it has a direct impact not only on student life but more broadly on campus-wide policy, decision-making, and deliberative processes.

Overall, the three key campus leaders agree that Geneseo has a well-articulated and flexible governance system. All three believe that Geneseo has a very effective system of communication among the various constituents and between levels of organization. As reported in Chapter 1, most faculty feel sufficiently involved in campus decision-making. Over half of Geneseo faculty agree they are sufficiently involved in campus decision-making, comparable to the 56 percent of faculty across all four-year institutions holding the same attitude. (Source: HERI Faculty Survey


The president and cabinet

Geneseo's chief executive, President Christopher Dahl, has the key combination of academic background, professional training, and administrative experience appropriate to administer an institution of higher education and lead it towards the achievement of its goals. He holds a Ph.D. in English from Yale University and served many years in academic administration prior to his appointment as president in 1996. His previous administrative positions include interim president, provost, dean of humanities and social sciences, chair of a humanities department, and professor of English.

The executive or president's administrative role is formally defined in the job description of President, the Goals of Geneseo, and the Strategic Plan. Additionally, the President's role is outlined in the Master Plan for Four Year Colleges, and the SUNY Policies of the Board of Trustees.

As discussed in the previous section, Geneseo's administration interacts effectively with governing bodies. President Dahl communicates regularly. He speaks at monthly College Senate meetings, at convocation speeches, Student Association meetings, meetings of the College Council and the President's Commission on Diversity and Community, and at special sessions and speeches that he schedules himself. In his speeches, the president consistently identifies the college as a public liberal arts college. He is a past president COPLAC, the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. The college continues to supply leadership to COPLAC. Associate Provost David Gordon currently serves as chair of the COPLAC Membership Committee. The college's commitment to the liberal arts is also reflected in the fact that both the current and past vice presidents for administration and finance held Ph.D. degrees in the liberal arts. Members of the cabinet, including the president, occasionally teach classes in their disciplines.

The requirements and qualifications of the senior administrative officers, such as the provost and vice presidents, are clearly formulated and defined. President Dahl is evaluated by the Chancellor of SUNY; senior administrators are evaluated by President Dahl. Several members of the cabinet have served as chairs and members of visiting teams for re-accreditation for Middle States and other regional accrediting bodies.

Organization and training

Each administrative division of the college has well-defined lines of organization and authority that are illustrated on the college organizational chart.

Geneseo values administrative leaders with appropriate skills and training to carry out their responsibilities and offers both internal and external professional development opportunities to administrators and staff. Examples of these include campus orientation programs, campus workshops, workshops sponsored by SUNY, workshops and institutes sponsored by regional and national professional organizations, and attendance at regional and national conferences.

Information and support for administrative decision-making

The offices of SUNY System Administration and the campus Office of Institutional Research provide much of the information used for administrative decision-making. The campus institutional research office has a full-time director who holds a doctorate in psychology and who has previous experience in institutional research. The immediate past director of this office had the same background and experience. The director is aided by part-time help from a data analyst and student workers. A search is currently underway to fill a new position, Accreditation Coordinator, that will support accreditation processes and campus-wide assessment.

Through Geneseo's well-functioning information technology infrastructure, the Office of Computing and Information Technology provides information for decision-making both for college administration and the campus in general. This support is governed by Computing and Information and Technology Policies and Procedures, which include policies that enhance data security and prevent the inappropriate use of information — for example, the college's Social Security Number Policy.

Administrative role in transformational learning and sustainability

College administration and leadership have played an important role in initiating and supporting transformational learning. The college's current focus on transformational learning developed in large part from participation in the Leadership Coalition of the national Bringing Theory to Practice project. President Dahl initiated this participation in January 2009; the president's cabinet then made Bringing Theory to Practice one of the Six Big Ideas in spring 2009. The president has consistently referred to Bringing Theory to Practice in his public addresses; he made transformational learning a focal point of his 2011 convocation address to the college. Currently, the provost's office is supplying approximately $,6000 in stipends to faculty developing courses that incorporate the principles of transformational learning.

The provost and the vice president for student and campus life have supported collaborations between Academic Affair and Student and Campus Life intended to advance Bringing Theory to Practice and to provide a supportive and consistent campus climate for students. A campus Bringing Theory to Practice Working Group was formed, co-led by the associate provost, the senate chair, and the Dean of Residential Living. The working group membership includes approximately equal numbers from Academic Affairs and Student and Campus Life. The provost and the vice president have funded teams of faculty, student affairs staff, and students to participate in national Bringing Theory to Practice meetings and conferences.

In summer, 2011, the two vice presidents organized a joint meeting of student and campus life and academic affairs staff to explore ways in which the two divisions can work more cooperatively. Joint staff committees were formed to develop improvements for 1) summer session, 2) academic support, and 3) all-college programming.

Sustainability is an issue that has had both student support and strong administrative backing. Under President Dahl's leadership, the sustainability task force was established in 2006. The president signed the American College and University President's Climate Commitment in 2007 and signed Geneseo's Climate Action Plan in 2010.


The faculty and administration at Geneseo have excellent relations. On the 2007-08 HERI survey, 63 percent of Geneseo faculty "agreed strongly" or "agreed somewhat" that they are "sufficiently involved in campus decision making" (compare: 52 percent at public four-year colleges and at all four-year colleges). Given academics' traditional suspicion of administration, it is noteworthy that the statement, "Administrators consider faculty concerns when making policy" was considered very descriptive by 21 percent of Geneseo faculty (compare: 12 percent of faculty at public four-year colleges and all four-year colleges). On the 2010-11 HERI survey, nearly 24 percent of Geneseo respondents found the statement, "Administrators consider faculty concerns when making policy" very descriptive (compare: 16 percent at public four-year colleges and 15 percent at all four-year groups). Approximately 60 percent of Geneseo respondents "agreed strongly" or "agreed somewhat" with the statement, "Faculty are sufficiently involved in campus decision making" (compare: approximately 60 percent at public four-year college and 55 percent at Public all four-year colleges).


Integrity, leadership and governance

In the face of changing and challenging circumstances, Geneseo faculty, students, staff, and administration have consistently applied the principles of ethical practice. The college ha demonstrated institutional integrity in internal reviews of processes, such as that used by faculty for tenure and promotion decisions and the long-standing Internal Controls Program for evaluating procedures. The Office of Human Resources conducts workshops on sexual harassment and violence prevention as well as other college policies.

Diversity among the faculty and staff is encouraged and supported by the Office of Human Resources and the vice presidents. As described in Chapter 1, the President's Commission on Diversity and Community has promoted both diversity and community since its creation in 1998. The commission includes faculty, professional and classified staff, and students. Recently the commission drafted a campus-wide SUNY Geneseo Diversity Plan. All segments of the institution have actively supported respect for individuals of diverse backgrounds, with activities ranging from intensive deliberative dialogues — co-organized by faculty members, administrators, and students — to timely and appropriate responses from the administration to alleged acts of sexual, racist, or homophobic character, to ongoing efforts by the dean of residential living's office to inculcate a climate of respect and civility in the Geneseo community.

Administration and faculty

Geneseo's administration has consistently supported students and faculty who engage in transformational learning outside the classroom. Examples include Service learning, the American Democracy Project, the Teaching and Learning Center, the GOLD Program, and co-curricular involvement transcripts The message to students and the wider community is clear: the college believes that these activities are important and uses its resources to encourage student growth and learning.

Faculty themselves consistently support transformational learning, and the institution is fair and responsible in the way it evaluates faculty who devote time and effort to this kind of learning. Faculty service activities tied to transformational learning are noted and valued. The administration credits faculty members who participate in non-classroom transformational learning activities such as GOLD classes, Livingston CARES trips to disaster-devastated areas of Mississippi, and teach-ins. When faculty involve students in their research and creative activity, the extra time spent mentoring students limits their productivity. This cost to the faculty member is offset during evaluation by an institution-wide acknowledgment of the extra value of research and creative endeavors co-authored by students. From the departments to the faculty personnel committee to the provost and the president, student involvement in faculty research is highly valued and commensurately credited.

The classroom

The college reviews potentially transformative classroom activities in a highly ethical manner. Faculty members who choose to engage in non-traditional teaching take a significant risk on student evaluations, since many students are more comfortable with the traditional lecture format. (Students evaluate non-traditional teaching methods more harshly on the Student Opinion of Faculty Instruction (SOFI).) However, candidates for promotion and tenure are encouraged to explain and justify student evaluation numbers in the Reflective Self-Evaluation Statement that they are required to submit with their paperwork. In annual meetings led by the president and the provost, with the support of the faculty personnel committee, candidates are reminded of the value that the institution places on student research, the scholarship of teaching, and deep, critical student learning in all of its forms. During this meeting the administration emphasizes the opportunity afforded by the Reflective Self-Evaluation Statement to explain the rationale behind pedagogical decisions made by the faculty member and to discuss the effects that those decisions may have on the faculty member's SOFI scores. The departments, the faculty personnel committee, the provost and the president are all keenly aware of the importance of this statement and take the faculty member's comments seriously when making personnel decisions. In the words of President Dahl, "The Reflective Self-Evaluation Statement gives the candidate the opportunity to explain what they do and to put everything into context." The policies and practices of Geneseo clearly and consistently support faculty members who engage students in transformative activities.

External issues: The test of integrity

Institutional integrity is tested when a school finds itself in difficult times. Geneseo has shown admirable integrity in the face of recent budgetary stress. The lack of resources and limited flexibility from the State of New York have led Geneseo to deactivate three programs: Studio Art, Communicative Disorders and Sciences, and Computer Science. This difficult decision was the result of a long process that was as transparent as possible and included members from all sectors of the college in the spg. The decision to deactivate, rather than discontinue, the programs has meant that the college has three years in which to work with the individuals most affected by the change and to assist them with the necessary transition.

The teach-out plan that Geneseo submitted to SUNY guarantees that all students who were enrolled in the three programs at the time of deactivation will be able to graduate with degrees in their majors, and, in the case of Communicative Disorders, still receive their degrees from a professionally accredited program. Also, the three-year window gives Geneseo a chance to find reassignments for the tenured staff in the affected departments. The process of deactivation is ongoing, but the administration has dealt with the difficult situation in a manner that is generally agreed to be fair and impartial, showing concern for both the future of the institution and the individuals most affected by the decision. A more detailed account of this process can be found in the College Senate Bulletin.

President Dahl has characterized the decision to deactivate the three programs as the most difficult and distasteful decisions in his professional career. However, the administration is dealing with the consequences of those decisions in an upright manner, ensuring that students will have the opportunity to finish their degrees in the programs that attracted them to Geneseo in the first place, and working with faculty and staff to mitigate the effects of this painful transition.

Academic freedom

As stated in Chapter 4, SUNY Geneseo adheres to The State University of New York Policies of the Board of Trustees, which guarantee the faculty of the university the right to exercise academic freedom.

Hiring and evaluation procedures

A well-established set of procedures ensures that searches are performed fairly and equitably. Geneseo adopted the PeopleAdmin online employment system in 2004. Each step in the search and hiring process is recorded within this system and is reviewed by the appropriate vice president and the affirmative action officer for approval before the search proceeds. Before a search ad is posted, the hiring manager describes steps that will be taken to create the most diverse pool of candidates possible. The system also contains information regarding the availability of minority candidates and aggregate data on the racial, ethnic, gender, and veteran and disability status of the applicant pool to ensure that applicants who fall within these categories are considered equitably. The college's affirmative action officer meets with each search committee before the committee reviews applications. These meetings include training on equal opportunity and affirmative action rules and procedures to ensure that all candidates are treated equally and are judged by the criteria set forth for the position.

The rules for evaluating employees are those that apply system-wide and state-wide. These are set forth in the Policies of the Board of Trustees of SUNY and in the agreements negotiated between New York State and the unions representing SUNY Geneseo employees.

Conclusions and recommendations

Strengths and challenges

The roles of the College Council and the college's administrative offices are well defined and effectively support the mission of the college. In addition, the strategies developed within the college administrative leadership are shared with the college constituents and support campus-wide transformational learning.

Participants in college governance are satisfied with their own experience. However, with broader campus awareness and involvement, both the College Senate and student government can be more effective agents for advancing the college mission.


  1. Provide more explicit development activities designed to foster leadership skills. Currently the college offers limited professional development of leadership skills for faculty, administration, and staff.
  2. Re-evaluate the current tenure and promotion system to include more explicit valuation of participation in service and governance to the college. A more explicit and delineated faculty rewards system could encourage faculty to pursue governance positions and participation.
  3. Continue to conduct administration transparently, clearly defining the lines of succession, and reinforcing and redefining the roles appropriate to each level as the culture and constituents of the college change.
  4. Maintain the open level of communication from administration to faculty, staff, and students with regard to tenure procedures, fiscal conditions, personnel, and social, political, and cultural matters on campus.

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