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, 
fast-changing environment.

References

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.