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Pursuing Excellence in Higher Education Contributors
Eight Fundamental Challenges
Higher education is a vital and indispensable sector within society, and those of us who work in colleges and universities have some of the most important jobs anywhere. The academy contributes in fundamental, pervasive, and lasting ways to the personal and professional lives of the more than thirteen million students enrolled annually in degree-granting programs, and more generally to the cultural, intellectual, and economic vitality of our communities and our society (NASULGC, 2001; NCES, 2002a).
As eloquently described by Frank Rhodes, president emeritus of Cornell, higher education "informs public understanding, cultivates public taste, and contributes to the nation's well-being as it nurtures and trains each new generation of architects, artists, authors, business leaders, engineers, farmers, lawyers, physicians, poets, scientists, social workers, and teachers as well as a steady succession of advocates, dreamers, doers, dropouts, parents, politicians, preachers, prophets, social reformers, visionaries, and volunteers who leaven, nudge, and shape the course of public life" (Rhodes, 2001, p. xi).
Our colleges and universities have always taken their academic role very seriously, and higher education institutions go to great lengths todocument and evaluate their accomplishments. This is done in various ways, including accreditation reviews; disciplinary self-studies; and periodic peer evaluations of individuals, programs, and institutions. Assessments focus on student qualifications, faculty teaching and scholarship, research-funding levels, instructional programs, library holdings, computing facilities, and many other dimensions of quality. With regard to scholarship and academics, higher education institutions are the gold standard, the model to which other organizations throughout the world compare themselves and the ideal to which they aspire.
Why Isn't Higher Education More Fully Appreciated?
With all that higher education does-and does so well-why isn't support from the beneficiaries of our work much stronger? Why has public funding for higher education been relatively flat in recent years? Why is there perpetual critique by students, parents, alumni, employers, mass media, taxpayers, public officials, and other constituencies?
Complaints abound-about perceived problems of rising tuition costs, accountability, classroom crowding, difficult-to-understand teachers, outdated facilities, getting the courses needed to graduate in four years, faculty tenure, graduates unprepared for the workplace, inadequate advising, inaccessible faculty, inappropriate courses, unconcerned staff, cumbersome bureaucratic procedures ... the list goes on. The perceived deficiencies are recurring themes in social conversation, and favorite topics of news and feature stories in the popular press.
It would seem that the scholarly tradition has served society well in a great many ways. Yet for all that higher education contributes, its institutions, administrators, faculty, and staff often do not receive the level of recognition, support, and appreciation one would expect and hope for. There is, as Donald Kennedy (1997, p. 2) has observed, "a kind of dissonance between the purposes our society foresees for the university and the way the university sees itself." Increasingly, the image of the ivory tower-the protected sanctuary, disengaged from contemporary societal concerns, which has been the embodiment of the scholarly tradition-is increasingly under siege in many quarters. Also being challenged is the autonomy that has been a defining characteristic of the academy.
The Academy's Response
One response for some in the academy has been to ignore or dismiss the mounting criticism, and to point out that critique of higher education is to be expected. The academy, it is argued, has always been the subject of controversy, and it always will be. Colleges and universities are, after all, institutions whose mission it is to hold up a mirror to society and to challenge conventional ways of thinking. Such purposes are seldom achieved without arousing some discomfort and discontent. From this perspective, it follows that the task facing those of us in higher education today is to insulate ourselves from the influence of outside voices. They threaten our intellectual detachment and institutional self-determination, long regarded as essential to academic excellence. Reflecting this point of view are comments by James Carey, in The Engaged Discipline: "Contemporary academics are often embarrassed and defensive about the invidious contrast between the academy and the 'real world'.... I take that distinction as a tribute, for the relevant contrast is not between the real and the imitation but between the sacred and the profane. The gates of the university mark a passage not only from the city to the campus but from the vulgar and ordinary to the hallowed and unique" (Carey, 2000, p. 6).
Indeed, a dismissal of outside perspectives may be justified by asserting the academy's superior insight about such things, or by suggesting that detractors are uninformed, unsophisticated, or poorly educated. The critics, it is often alleged, focus on the wrong things and ask the wrong questions. They don't understand higher education's mission, and they don't have all the facts. Thus time spent listening to critics-or pondering the details of their messages-is wasteful activity that simply distracts from the important work of the academy. These arguments are persuasive for some, but many in the academy find it difficult to disregard the rising chorus of discontent. Having one's institution criticized, one's work misunderstood, and one's contributions undervalued is not only disheartening and demoralizing but also difficult to ignore.
Mounting economic pressures are also hard to overlook. There is nothing particularly new about the notion of competition between institutions for students, faculty, research support, funding, prestige, and athletic prominence. Nor is there anything novel about the need for change in higher education. Indeed, the academy has been evolving in a variety of ways since colleges and universities first opened their doors to students, and the literature reminds us that each era brings its own calls for innovation and change (Koepplin and Wilson, 1985). Increasingly, however, colleges and universities are competing for scarce resources not only with one another but also with P-12 systems, for-profit educational and research providers, and even state prisons, transportation, and other publicly funded agencies. Many observers contend that the forces of change, the level of competition, and the economic pressures fueling the competitiveness are intensifying more rapidly than ever before. Newman and Couturier (2001) have offered a list of some of the developments that help to explain the present circumstance:
New educational options for students, including more than 650 for-profit degree-granting universities and colleges
Courses and programs targeted for older, working students
Student aid programs used to attract and recruit students
An increased number of researchers applying for federally funded research grants
Growing online courses and distance education opportunities
Developing global higher education institutions such as the British Open University, Monash University of Australia, New York University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Phoenix
Emerging corporate universities, of which there are now more than two thousand
New collaborative arrangements between community colleges and four-year institutions
Intercollegiate athletics (Newman and Couturier, 2001, pp. 12-13)
Confronted with daily reminders of the external critique, complexity, and growing competition for resources, many inside and outside higher education have concluded that colleges and universities have no choice but to acknowledge and adapt to the changing environment in which the academy finds itself. As Barry Munitz, former chancellor of the California State University System, comments: "Higher education (continues) ... to manage itself as if today's colleges and universities were still snug, little, collegial communities of 2,000 or so souls as they were in the 1920s. Colleges and universities have become huge, fragmented and very expansive enterprises" (Munitz, 1995, p. 4).
To be successful in the increasingly complex, demanding, and competitive setting, it is argued, the academy must recognize the leadership challenges it faces and devote increasing attention to expectations and concerns articulated by the external constituencies that provide the moral and financial support necessary to our functioning. The list of such groups is a long one: present and potential students, parents, alumni, members of advisory and oversight groups, employers, public officials, community groups, taxpayers, funding agencies, donors, and the general public. From this perspective, colleges and universities are viewed as providers of educational services. As with other service providers, changes in marketplace needs and expectations create intensifying demands and emerging opportunities. Organizations must adapt or risk obsolescence and atrophy.
Academic Excellence Versus Marketplace Expectations
For many in the academy-particularly some members of the faculty -discourse that positions higher education institutions in a marketplace or service context is not likely to be enthusiastically received. In essence, the concern is that these images and metaphors lead inevitably to corporate models for the academy. They are seen as promoting an inappropriate emphasis on marketing, consumerism, and corporate management approaches, all of which are regarded as fundamental threats to the traditions of academic excellence. Trout (1997a), for example, writes: "In the marketplace, consumerism implies that the desires of the customer reign supreme ... and that the customer should be easily satisfied.... When this ... model is applied to higher education, however, it not only distorts the teacher/student mentoring relationship but renders meaningless such traditional notions as hard work, responsibility, and standards of excellence" (Trout, 1997a, p. 50).
Noble (2001) discusses specific issues related to the commercialization of intellectual property but does so in the context of much broader concerns. He argues passionately of the need to reaffirm "the traditional ideals of academic purpose and promise ... and to recapture the ideological, rhetorical, and political initiative and the moral high ground in the debates about higher education in order to reinvigorate a noncommercial conception of higher education and to reconsecrate the intrinsic rather than the mere utility value of universities" (Noble, 2001, p. 32). From this perspective, the "faculty represent the last line of defense against the wholesale commercialization of academia, of which the commodification of instruction is just the latest manifestation" (Noble, 2001, p. 32).
The conflict of perspective and priority is a very real one, and the stakes are high if we are to become what the Kellogg Commission describes as the architects of change rather than its victims (Kellogg Commission, 1997). Is the academy best served today by redoubling its commitment to the traditional academic model in spite of the growing critique and the competitive realities of the marketplace? Or must colleges and universities focus their attention on identifying and responding to the needs and expectations of the contemporary marketplace? Should the academy reaffirm its commitment to academic quality, or realign priorities to more effectively meet changing marketplace demands and expectations?
Customary and appealing though it may be to pose such options as mutually exclusive alternatives, they need not be. A first step in reconciling what are often presented as irreconcilable differences is achieved by the simple act of replacing or with and, and asserting the necessity, if not the virtue, of simultaneously pursuing the goals of academic quality and the expectations of the marketplace. A further step is to reconceptualize the conflict between the academic quality model and the marketplace capacity model not so much as a problem to be solved or eliminated but as a potentially creative and productive tension to be better understood, valued, and perhaps even nurtured in order to propel the academy to a new and higher standard of excellence.
That said, how does one proceed with reconciliation, and how can we more effectively make use of the tension between the two models? For most of us in the academy, the benefits and values of the traditional perspectives on higher education purpose are clear, and always have been. What may be less apparent are the reasons some of our constituencies do not fully embrace this model as we do, and what might be done to constructively resolve differences that often seem to be irreconcilable. As Kennedy (1997, p. 14) has noted, "it seems strange and unfair to those who live and work in [colleges and universities] that the public view is so negative when the record of accomplishment seems so strong."
Listening methodically to the voices of one's critics is seldom a joyous endeavor, for many of the reasons alluded to previously. In this case, however, it is the place the analysis must begin. Indeed, it seems quite likely that the future of the academy could depend on how we as a community are able to understand our critics and respond to the challenges they pose. This does not necessarily imply that the academy should set its course on the basis of external points of view. With a more informed understanding of contrasting views come various options for addressing gaps. Institutional change is one such option. The development of more effective communication strategies to enhance stakeholder commitment to the academy's traditional values is another, and the negotiation of more appropriate and aligned expectations by all involved is a third. In each case, the gap between what is anticipated and what is actually encountered is diminished, and dissatisfaction is reduced or eliminated. It seems clear that unless we begin to devote greater attention to our critics and their criticisms, the full measure of support and appreciation the academy desires will drift increasingly out of reach.
It is not a difficult matter to construct a lengthy list of the specific concerns that are voiced by external constituents, many of which have been noted previously in this chapter.
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Foreword (David Ward, President, American Council on Education).
About the Authors.
1. Excellence in Higher Education: Eight Fundamental Challenges.
2. Broadening Public Appreciation for the Work of the Academy: Committing Ourselves to Dialogue.
The Road Scholars Program (Graham B. Spanier).
Responding to Wants: Innovating to Address Needs (David Ward and Maury Cotter).
3. Better Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Workplaces: Bridging the Gap Between the World of the Academy and the World of Work.
Preparing High-Performing Teachers (Ruth C. Ash and Jean Ann Box).
Learning Leadership Competencies as Campus Consultants (Stacey L. Connaughton and Michael C. Quinlan).
Formalizing Corporate Engagement (John Dew).
4. Becoming More Effective Learning Organizations: Clarifying Goals and Evaluating Outcomes.
Implementing a Strategic Plan Using Indicators and Targets (Mary Sue Coleman).
Measuring Excellence from a Stakeholder Perspective (Susan G. Williams).
A Balanced Scorecard for Business and Administrative Services at the University of California, Berkeley (Ron Coley and Paul K. Dimond).
Comparing Solutions to Campus Parking Problems (Mo Qayoumi).
5. Integrating Organizational Assessment, Planning, and Improvement: Making Organizational Self-Study and Change Everyday Activities.
The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools Academic Quality Improvement Project (AQIP) (Stephen D. Spangehl).
Applying Excellence in Higher Education in Finance and Administrative Services (Richard M. Norman, W. James Haley, and Adolph Haislar).
Winning the Baldrige National Quality Award (Charles W. Sorensen and Diane Moen).
6. Enhancing Collaboration and Community: Aligning the Rhetoric and Reality of Campus Culture.
Advancing Academic Excellence and Collaboration Through Strategic Planning (Francis L. Lawrence and Christine Haska Cermak).
The Committee on Institutional Cooperation’s Academic Leadership Program (Robert Secor).
7. Recognizing That Everyone in the Institution Is a Teacher: Focusing on the Student Experience.
Enhancing the Quality of Graduate Student Instruction: The Teaching Assistant Project (TAP) (Barbara E. Bender).
The University of Cincinnati Is Listening: The Quality Service Initiative (James R. Tucker and Marie L. Sutthoff).
Community and Service Learning: The Rutgers CASE Program (D. Michael Shafer).
8. Devoting More Attention and Resources to Leadership: Attracting, Developing, and Retaining Outstanding Leaders.
Recruiting and Supporting Academic Leaders at the University of Delaware (Conrado M. (Bobby) Gempesaw II).
Leadership Development at Cornell University (Chester C. Warzynski and Brian F. Chabot).
Penn State’s Excellence in Leadership and Management Program (Billie S. Willits and Leonard E. Pollack).
The Business of Higher Education (James E. Morley, Jr.).
9. More Broadly Framing Our Vision of Excellence: Pursuing Excellence in All That We Do.
Taking Charge of Change: The Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities (John V. Byrne).
Building Community and Shared Vision Through “The Quality Expo” (Louise Sandmeyer and Carol Lindborg Everett).
Organizational Change at Berkeley: A Work in Progress (Robert M. Berdahl and Phyllis Hoffman).
10. Excellence in Practice: Asking More of Ourselves and Our Institutions.