Policymaking and governance in a multi -campus state university system: The case of general education reform at the State University of New York

Dorcas L Colvin, University of Pennsylvania


This case study analyzes the policymaking process at the State University of New York (SUNY) and the role that faculty and campus leaders played in reforming general education policy through the governance process. The dynamics of curriculum reform at SUNY revealed the convergence of two sets of dialectic tensions—the tension between external pressure for accountability and internal values of professional and institutional autonomy; and the tension between the research culture and undergraduate education. The evidence is mounting that institutional autonomy is being challenged as external forces seek to drive internal change-especially within public colleges and universities. Policymakers are demonstrating increased unwillingness to defer to faculty on individual campuses to set standards and to be the primary decision-makers about the quality and content of the curriculum. This dissertation argues that contemporary public institutions, especially those that exist as part of large multi-campus systems, must devise both new structures and norms of behavior for policymaking and governance as a way to protect institutional autonomy. In much the same way that curriculum reform is helping to reshape the culture of the university and to bridge the gap between research and teaching, governance reform can foster collaboration in the policymaking process. Existing governance models provide a mechanism for parties to negotiate power as a way of influencing the policy outcome. What is needed however is a mechanism for bringing the right people together in an environment that fosters collaboration and problem-solving. Just as the movement toward approaching teaching and learning as a form of scholarship has helped to reframe the importance and prestige of teaching in the research culture of the academy, governance can similarly be reframed as action research in the policymaking arena. In so doing, academic governance will not only become more efficient, it will also be more effective and help to ensure that important academic values are not undermined in response to market forces and external demands for accountability.

Subject Area

Higher education|School administration|Curricula|Teaching

Recommended Citation

Colvin, Dorcas L, "Policymaking and governance in a multi -campus state university system: The case of general education reform at the State University of New York" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3168016.