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Shared governance and the sustainable college

Nancy B. Kurland (Department of Business, Organizations, and Society Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 1 January 2014




This project aims to examine interpersonal interactions at the committee level that lead to shared governance of a college's environmental responsibilities. It demonstrates the important role shared governance plays in integrating sustainability into a liberal arts college.


This paper combines participant observation and case study techniques. From September 2010 to October 2012, the author participated in 46 meetings and conducted 14 interviews with key informants.


Key challenges to efficiency and effectiveness of the shared governance process differ depending on whether the committee was involved in visioning or validation work. Key drivers included mid-level leadership, a commitment to the mandate, and a willingness to engage in an ongoing process of shared understanding.

Research limitations/implications

This study's findings are limited insofar as inaccuracies may arise due to respondents' poor recall, the interviewer's questions, if the interviewee gives the interviewer what she wants to hear, and if events observed may have proceeded differently because it was being observed.

Practical implications

This study provides insight into the process of change leading up to implementation of sustainability practices. It highlights strategic and value convergence, provides a clear example of mid-level leadership driving change through an emergent process, and which required commitment to the original mandate, the ongoing ability to create shared understanding, and the ability of faculty and administrators to move from independent to consultative action.


Sustainability in higher education often begins with shared governance in a committee. However, little research on shared governance exists at the committee level, and none focuses on the unique challenge of systemic change for sustainability. This project begins to fill that gap.



Thank you to Linda Aleci, Bryan Stinchfield, and Sara Jane McCaffrey for comments on previous drafts. Thank you to Deb Miller for helping the author with transcriptions. And the author gives particular thanks to the study participants for their support and openness while the author observed and participated in the shared governance process.


B. Kurland, N. (2014), "Shared governance and the sustainable college", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 63-83.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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