The concept of shared governance is a unifying principle for many academic institutions that promotes transparency, accessibility, timeliness, collaboration, and consistency in university operations. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, faculty are encouraged to participate in institutional governance in a variety of ways. Two of the most visible means are through either the Faculty Senate or established faculty-led committees.
For areas of compliance and safety alone there are nine such committees:
- Institutional Compliance – Perform compliance risk assessment every five years; identify areas of risk and develop action plan to address issues; determine compliance priorities and submit recommendations to chancellor, provost and vice chancellors.
- Institutional Review Board – Ensure rights safety and welfare of human rights subjects; establish compliance with federal and state laws/regulations; resolves unanticipated problems and noncompliance.
- Laser Safety – Responsible for the review and approval of applications and amendments for use of class 3B or 4 lasers where beam access is required.
- Institutional Biosafety – Establishes, recommends and approves policies on the proper use of biohazardous agents including recombinant DNA molecules, infectious agents, acute biological toxins and venomous animals/poisonous plants.
- Radiation Safety – Responsible for the review and approval of applications and amendments for use of radioactive materials and sources by university personnel in university facilities.
- Research Conflicts of Interest – Determine if investigators have significant financial interests that could directly and significantly affect the design, conduct or reporting of research and work with the primary investigator to manage potential or actual conflicts of interest.
- Institutional Animal Care and Use – Oversees the institution’s animal program, facilities, and procedures; provides a framework for compliance with federal policies, guidelines and principles related to the use of animals in research, teaching and testing; reviews all requests for approval to use vertebrate animals; conducts inspections of all areas where animals are housed and used; and reviews the institutional program for animal use.
- Campus Safety – Responsible for advising the Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration on matters affecting the safety of employees, students, and visitors on UT, Knoxville campuses.
- Lab and Workplace Safety – Responsible for addressing safety concerns in labs, shops and other locations on campus. Ultimately the most important task will be improving the campus’ safety culture.
“Shared governance involves a key portion of the campus community in decision making,” said Mark Smith, director of environmental health and safety. “Peer oversight may allow for a better understanding of the challenges.”
Who better to understand and oversee safety and compliance issues than those intimately involved in the processes every day?
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires that broad scope licenses have a radiation safety committee composed of the radiation safety officers, executive management, and persons trained and experienced in the safe use of radioactive materials,” said Marsha Smith, radiation safety officer and compliance officer for both the radiation safety and laser safety committees. “The sentiment is you essentially can’t have an effective safety oversight committee unless you involve the people the committee directly effects.”
But the practice of shared governance is more involved than faculty members having input in university policy.
It is a complex and continued dialogue between faculty representatives and academic administrators, a balance between collaboration within the committee and administrative oversight. In many instances the faculty chairs and their committees are responsible for recommending, establishing, approving, and disseminating policies and guidance related to their respective committees.
“I believe that shared governance and faculty leadership are the greatest infrastructural components of our compliance and safety cultures on campus,” said Robert Nobles, assistant vice chancellor for research, responsible conduct of research, and research compliance. “Without the expertise and insight from faculty who perform these activities and lead the oversight for our university, not only will we be out of compliance, I believe the pendulum would become imbalanced.
“I am appreciative, humbled, and entrusting of the faculty who dedicate themselves selflessly to this vital role in protecting our university.”