Book Reviews

Book by: William G. Bowen and Eugene M. Tobin
Review By: Jennifer Steele
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
West Virgina University


While challenges facing higher education have been widely documented—including the need to expand student access, increase completion rates, and lower costs—Bowen and Tobin apply a unique lens to these challenges by identifying ways that university governance structures facilitate and impede needed innovation. Focusing on the roles of faculty in relation to administrators and trustees/regents, they devote a large portion of the book to analyzing how faculty roles have changed over time in response to market shifts impacting higher education and unique institutional circumstances. They draw from a variety of scholarly analyses as well as four case studies included at the end of the book, which reflect different institutional types—The University of California, Princeton University, Macalester College, and The City University of New York (CUNY). Following the historical overview, they address key substantive issues in faculty governance today and outline overarching challenges in re-aligning faculty roles to facilitate innovation. 

The book is clearly written and intended to stir needed debate. It is not for readers desiring an analysis of solutions to particular challenges in higher education. Bowen and Tobin instead focus on governance problems that must be addressed if solutions are to be found, with an emphasis on the need for shared governance that provides for meaningful faculty consultation without impeding timely decision-making.  For example, they did not articulate strategies to increase completion rates, but they analyzed a controversy at CUNY regarding the transferability of courses among its branch campuses, which can affect completion rates and time to degree, to suggest that faculty claims of sole authority over curricular standards must be tempered by the need to re-align the larger system to reduce inefficiencies and facilitate student success. As another example, they did not identify specific strategies to reduce costs, but they argued that effective dialogue about teaching with online technologies, which can reduce costs, is impeded by a reluctance among some faculty to validate the legitimacy of cost considerations and by efforts on the part of some administrators to pursue cost savings without sufficient concern for academic rigor. 

Although the book does not directly address academic advising, it is relevant to readers of the NACADA Journal insofar as it focuses on re-aligning governance structures to address challenges about which they care deeply. Further, it stimulates thinking about faculty advising within a governance framework. Under what conditions do non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty carry heavier or qualitatively different advising responsibilities than tenure-stream faculty? What are the relative merits of different models? To what extent is student success linked to the outcomes of efforts to foster the professional development of NTT faculty and engage them appropriately in faculty governance? More broadly, how could both professional and faculty advisors—with their insights on student goals, challenges, and concerns—play meaningful roles in the system of shared governance that Bowen and Tobin advocate?

In focusing on underlying organizational barriers to meeting the challenges facing higher education, Locus of Authority makes a valuable contribution. While it could be argued that Bowen and Tobin were short on discussion about how to build the trust necessary for shared governance and otherwise overcome the governance challenges they identified, their historical detail offers rich insights for understanding where institutions are today and a foundation from which to assert that future change is indeed possible. 

Locus of Authority: The Evolution of Faculty Roles in the Governance of Higher Education.  (2015). Book by William G. Bowen and Eugene M. Tobin. Review by Jennifer Steele. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.  380 pp., $29.95 (Hardback), ISBN 978-0691-16642-1 

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