[EAS]Management Fads in Higher E

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Fri Apr 12 01:36:13 EDT 2002

Mail*Link¨ SMTP               Management Fads in Higher Education

Dear Colleagues -

I wasn't sure whether to forward this to the list, but decided to do
so. There are good common sense reminders here, with echoes of my
recent mailing on teams. In some places they work, in others they
don't. Read on.

All best,  --PJK

Date: 4/12/02 12:44 AM
From: Rick Reis
"Thinking that what is good for one kind of organization is good for 
another is like thinking what is good for dogs is also good for cats. 
Universities and businesses are different kinds of organizations."
		"desk-top faculty development, one hundred times a year"

		   Note: Previous Listserv postings can be found at:


The excerpt looks at some of the differences between higher education 
and what is found in the corporate world.  It is from Chapter 9, 
Managing Fads, pp 215-218, in Management Fads in Higher Education - 
Where They Come From, What They Do, Why They Fail, by Robert 
Birnbaum.  Copyright © 2000 by Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 350 
Sansome Street, San Francisco, California 94104, 
<http://www.josseybass.com/> Jossey-Bass is a registered trademark of 
Jossey-Bass Inc., A Wiley Company. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Student Learning and Intellectual Development

			   Tomorrow's Academia

	       -------------------------- 1,013 words -------------------------


Managing Fads

I have two dogs and three cats.  The all have fur, four legs, and 
tails.  The physiology and biochemistry of both species are quite 
similar, and they share much of their genetic structure.  But they 
behave differently.  The dogs come when they are called, seek 
affection and attention, and warn when strangers approach.  The cats 
come when they feel like it and hide under the bed when strangers 
lurk.  Why can't a cat be more like a dog?

On the other hand, I have to walk the dogs even in freezing rain, 
while the cats use their sandbox in the warm, dry basement.  And the 
dogs need to be washed, brushed, and clipped, while the cats groom 
themselves fastidiously.  So why can't a dog be more like a cat?

I think about dogs and cats whenever someone says, "Why can't a 
university be more like a business?"  Most business leaders think 
that colleges and universities would become more efficient and 
productive by adopting business practices.  Most faculty members 
believe on the contrary that their missions are so different that 
higher education has little to learn from business (Immerwahr, 1999). 
It is not a new debate: "We have heard it all before: if we could 
just run our universities as General Motors is managed, most of our 
educational programs would vanish" (Bailey, 1973, p. 8).  Thinking 
that what is good for one kind of organization is good for another is 
like thinking what is good for dogs is also good for cats. 
Universities and businesses are different kinds of organizations.

Certainly institutions of higher education resemble businesses in 
some ways.  They both sell goods and services, higher personnel and 
secure other resources, compete for customers, and depend on external 
support.  "So if it walks like a firm and it talks like a firm, isn't 
it a firm? The answer, pretty clearly, is No" (Winston, 1997, p. 33). 
Institutions of higher education (except in the proprietary sector) 
have no owners and cannot distribute profits, so there is less 
pressure to operate efficiently.  They function in a "trust market," 
in which people do not know exactly what they are buying and may not 
discover its value for years.  Their participants and managers tend 
to be motivated by idealism rather than profits.  All "customers" are 
subsidized, the product is sold at less than the cost to produce it, 
and the value of the product is enhanced by the quality of the people 
who purchase it.  Compared to business firms, colleges and 
universities have multiple and conflicting goals and intangible 
outcomes.  "Employees" may be more committed to professional groups 
outside the corporation than to their own managers, may think of 
themselves more as principals than agents, and may themselves have 
roles in management (including selection of the chief executive), as 
well as permanent appointments over which managers have no discretion 
(Winston, 1997; Brock and Harvey, 1993; Marks, 1998).  One former 
college president, who subsequently served as a corporate CEO, 
characterized some of the differences between the reactive world of 
business and the reflective world of the university in this way: 
"Business leaders do not speak of constituencies to be wooed, 
appeased or won over, as do college presidents; higher education 
leaders do not issue directives, orders, or edicts as do business 
CEOs.  In all my years in higher education, I never once heard a 
dean, faculty member, or anyone else respond, 'Whatever you say, 
Chief'; in business it's common to hear it" (Iosue, 1997, p.10).

The differences between cats and dogs can be explained by genetic 
structures developed over eons of time and modifies by the 
intentional breeding practices of humans.  Organizations, unlike 
animals, do not have genes; they have memes.  The differences between 
universities and businesses can be explained by the cultural 
replication of successful social forms over time.  Businesses look 
the way they do because firms with this form have proven to be more 
successful than firms with alternative forms.  Universities look the 
way they do for the same reason: their form has proven to be superbly 
suited to what they do.  The differences between firms and 
universities reflect the requirements of their different 
technologies, as well as the need to conform to the expectations of 
the social groups to which they are responsive.

But although the similarities between businesses and universities are 
superficial, the more we appear to be business enterprises, the more 
that business solutions are likely to be prescribed for our problems. 
Are weak leaders and intransigent faculty inhibiting change?  The 
answer is restructuring and reinvention.  Abolish tenure, higher 
outside contractors at lower cost, and get rid of unproductive 
programs.  Establish an "Endowed Chair of the Junkyard Dog" to set 
concrete efficiency goals, reduce costs, and eliminate the 
unnecessary (Mahoney, 1997, p. B5).  Never mind that "some of the 
redundancies and inefficiencies of universities are part of that 
ultimate product of human activity which is the reason for living at 
all. These redundancies are also an extremely important reserve of 
high-quality ability in time of crisis.  To make universities 
narrowly efficient might well be the greatest disservice we offer 
society" (Boulding, 1978, p. 45).

Calls for business-related reform ignore a significant body of theory 
and research showing that management theories, control systems, 
strategies, and structures that are sensible for some kinds of 
organizations may be unthinkable and destructive in others 
(Sergiovanni, 1995; Scott, 1995).  The strength of higher education 
comes precisely because of its perceived contrasts with the world of 
commerce, and treating academic institutions as if they were 
businesses would destroy their autonomy and their cultural 
cohesiveness (Bowen, 1993; Kennedy, 1996).  If we model ourselves 
increasingly on business and are seen by society as using business 
techniques and exploiting business opportunities, we become just 
another voice among many in the marketplace.  As we respond to 
diminished funding by seeking new sources of financial support, 
academic altruism gives way to academic capitalism (Slaughter and 
Leslie, 1997).  "The more we're like other enterprises, the more 
easily trust is displaced by a familiar sense of 'caveat emptor'- let 
the buyer beware" (Winston, 1993, p. 407).


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