University of Southern California
Rossier School of Education Excellence in Higher Education
Bruce Johnstone
University Professor of Higher & Comparative Education,

Mary Burgan
Former General Secretary
American Association of University Professors

Ellen Chaffee  
Valley City State University

Tom Ingram
Association of Governing Boards

David Ward 
American Council on Education




Governance Roundtable

Jan Currie
Associate Professor
Murdoch University School of Education

Shared Academic Governance in an Australian Experimental University

Universities, especially in Anglo-American countries, are becoming more “managed” institutions and consequently this affects the notion of the effectiveness of democratic decision making. This paper argues for the importance of democratic decision making for universities. It seems that shared academic governance in a university depends upon at least two preliminary factors: setting up a democratic structure and having a President or Vice-Chancellor who believes in shared governance. Then it also needs active and respected academics to participate in governance. At Murdoch University its Foundation Vice-Chancellor believed in shared governance and helped to create an elected council that was fairly representative of the Murdoch community. From its origins, there were significant changes to Academic Council’s structure and its composition and there was one critical period in which its legitimacy was threatened. Nevertheless, over the years, it developed into a respected policy-making body of the university. Currently, Murdoch’s Academic Council is described as a robust and active decision-making body and this paper seeks to explain the attributes that have made it an effective forum. This paper describes the development of the council from its creation in 1973 to its current working in 2003, based on document analysis, participant observation, and interviews with twelve Murdoch academics and administrators. Then it examines the council’s strengths and weaknesses. Lastly, the paper discusses Academic Council’s future by describing how those interviewed thought it could be improved.




© 2002 Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis • all rights reserved
Location: Waite Phillips Hall, Room 701 • Phone: (213) 740-7218 • Fax: (213) 740-3889 • Email: