Leading Change in the Research University
Dr. Don Haviland,  Program Coordinator
Center for Excellence in Teaching, University of Southern California.
o understand today's state of affairs,
it is important to have a basic idea of the history of the research
university. The modern American research university harbors a tension
between undergraduate education and graduate research/education (Cuban,
1999). As these institutions emerged in the late nineteenth century,
they wove together the German research model of graduate education with
the undergraduate function of the colonial and early American college.
Professors were expected to produce knowledge, educate scholars in
specific disciplines, and provide undergraduates with a broad education
as a foundation for future learning.
The tensions evident in these missions became most evident following
World War II, when the research university rose to prominence. Public
perception that a bachelor's degree was important to future success,
university contributions to the war effort and the threats of the
Cold War joined to produce a massive infusion of government dollars
into higher education - particularly research universities. The
result was an expanded infrastructure and greater access (via the
GI Bill and student loan programs). By 1994, according to a Boyer
Commission report (1998), research universities composed only six
percent of bachelors degree-granting institutions but conferred 32
percent of these degrees.
Yet concerns have grown about the universities' practices and the
privileges they are given. Since the 1990s, calls have come for
the greater accountability of these institutions. One part of these
calls deals with what many say is the inefficient and ineffective
use of financial resources. Vast sums of money - from tuition and
from the federal government - pour in to research universities.
Professors are seen (accurately or not) as using this money to study
esoteric questions of little use to societal needs, and as focusing
on their own scholarship to the exclusion of the millions of
undergraduates who pass before them. The second part of these
charges is related to the first: research universities are seen
as neglecting their undergraduate education mission, both in the
quality of the instruction and in the utility of the actual outcomes
produced. What, people ask, in terms of both new knowledge and
education, are we actually getting for our money and for the status
we grant these institutions?
The recent frustrations that have arisen with research universities
probably have done so in part because the American society in which
they exist began to change dramatically in the 1990s. The arrival
of the information age has provided easier access to greater amounts
of information about, among other things, the options available for
students entering higher education. Students now can compare
universities across the nation via web sites or the latest edition
of U.S. News' college rankings. The growing pressure for institutions
to identify learning outcomes ("value-added" in a business sense) will
provide yet another metric for use in comparing schools and increase
competition among them.
Yet the information age may well be adding an even greater challenge
to the traditional status and practices of research universities.
Already, the high price of these elite institutions (and growing
questions about the value for the price) have prompted some students
to transfer in after two years in a community college - costing the
universities valuable tuition income. Today, as the information age
redefines the skills required for success, there are other questions
about attending a research university. For instance, if one can
receive a two- or four-year technical degree and obtain a lucrative
professional certification as a Microsoft Systems Engineer, why
attend a high-priced university with a questionable commitment to
undergraduate education (Adelman, 1999)? When one can receive an
education via the Internet or television, in less than four years,
why pay the high costs of living on a residential campus for that
length of time?
As James Dunderstadt (2000) has suggested, the coming century will
see a re-evaluation of the nature of today's research university.
Those that are forward-thinking will come to redefine themselves,
probably focusing their missions to carve out a specific niche in
an increasingly competitive and fast-changing environment.
The pressures for change that will confront research universities
now and in the future suggest the need for a different kind of
leadership and governance than higher education is used to. A new
type of leader will have to emerge. This leader will be skilled at
obtaining and interpreting an array of data about institutional
practices, resources and outcomes, and then engaging the campus
community in refocusing the institutional mission and making
difficult choices about priorities. In addition, to make difficult
choices in a quickly changing environment, colleges and universities
will need to develop new governance systems that allow for quicker
decision-making than most collegial models typically permit.
Where will this "new leadership" come from? Professional managers
trained in higher education administration can bring career experience
in making difficult decisions. Munitz (1995) has argued that complex
multiversities in particular must abandon the idea that leaders should
be amateurs who serve only briefly. In fact it is even conceivable
that some university leaders will come from outside of academe, though
this would be the exception rather than the rule, and the individuals
would need to have more than a passing familiarity with the values and
goals of higher education.
Wherever they come from, these leaders must combine a commitment to
the basic principles of higher education - promoting learning and
building new knowledge for future generations - with a willingness
to rethink how these principles are put into practice and a skill at
managing complex organizations with multiple goals and competing
demands. It is this new kind of leadership, and these new leaders,
who will be able to work with faculty and staff of today's research
universities to reshape and redefine these institutions in a competitive,
Adelman, Cliff. 16 November 1999. Talk given at Rossier School of
Education, University of Southern California.
Cuban, Larry. 1999. How Scholars Trumped Teachers: Change Without
Reform in University Curriculum, Teaching and Research,
1890-1990. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dunderstadt, James. 2000. "A Choice of Transformations for the
21st-Century University." The Chronicle of Higher Education
February 4, 2000, B6-7.
Munitz, Barry. 1995. "Wanted: New Leadership for Higher Education."
Planning for Higher Education 24 (Fall 1995): 9-16.