Education 715

Case Studies in Higher Education Administration


Revised Version, 2-Feb-01

Spring, 2001

Wednesdays @ 430-630 p.m.

J. Douglas Toma

Graduate School of Education

Higher Education Division

I.                 Introduction and Overview

The course centers on the need to assess various (and often conflicting) options and make hard decisions to resolve difficult situations at a variety of higher education institution types. We explore several different areas of administration:

        student affairs


        external relations



        labor relations and personnel

        academic affairs

Each week, we begin with an introduction to key concepts related to the topic of the case or set of related cases for the week. In our discussion of these case or cases, we focus on making the best decisions possible upon understanding applicable contexts and sorting through available options, always appreciating the usual need to reconcile often incompatible agendas and competing constituencies. Our consideration of each case or cases always concludes with the development and implementation of strategy, including consideration of what evidence or data is necessary to make good decisions and make them work in the given settings.

As the course project, each student, working in a small team, develops a case centering on organizational change at a virtual college or university that the team constructs using the case using the Virtual U. software package.

II.               General Information

A.              Date, Time, and Place

We will meet at 4200 Pine Street, Fourth Floor, from 4;30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday from January 17 through May 2, with the exception of March 14 and April 11, when we are not scheduled to meet.

B. Office and Office Hours


You may reach me outside of class by visiting my office, via telephone, or through electronic mail. My preference is that you contact me by e-mail, whenever possible. I check e-mail messages at least daily. My e-mail address is: You may reach me by telephone via the Institute for Research on Higher Education at 215-898-4585. The fax number at IRHE is 215-898-9876. My office is located on the fourth floor of 4200 Pine Street.

C. Office Hours

I hold office hours by appointment. Please contact me directly, via electronic mail, to schedule an appointment.

D. Instructor

J. Douglas Toma (Ph.D., J.D. University of Michigan) is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Research on Higher Education and holds a visiting faculty appointment in the Higher Education Management program. Doug explores organizational and legal issues in higher education and has been a frequent contributor to the top scholarly journals in higher education, including the Journal of Higher Education, the Review of Higher Education, and Research in Higher Education. Before coming to Penn, Doug was assistant professor of higher education and coordinator of the doctoral program in the Urban Leadership and Policy Studies Division at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.


III.              Texts

Cases and other readings for each week will be posted to the course website no later than Friday @ 5 p.m. before each Wednesday class. In addition, you should purchase:

Robert A. Rhoads, Freedom's Web : Student Activism in an Age of Cultural Diversity, Johns Hopkins University Press (June 2000), ISBN: 0801864119

The book is available either through Alyse Edwards or during the first class session for $16.95.

The course project centers on Virtual U., a software package that simulates the operation of a college or university. Copies are available for purchase through Alyse after the second class meeting for $90 each.

IV.             Assignments

A.              500 Word Papers

Over the course of the semester, there are four of these papers assigned. They are due at the beginning of class. The idea of the paper is for you to make a sophisticated argument clearly and concisely while providing evidence for and illustrations of your major points. One suggestion is to write a slightly longer paper as a first draft and to tighten it as you revise. I will return these papers, with comments, at the next class session.

B. Virtual U. Case and Commentary

Working in teams of two or three, your assignment is to use Virtual U. to simulate a case centering on organizational change at the virtual college or university you construct, which you will then write up as both case and commentary (with technical appendices) and present to the class.

The institutional setting that you choose, conditions that you inherit, and initiative or initiatives that you undertake are wholly up to you. What matters is how realistically you define the goals that you set and approach the problems you encounter - and then how skillfully you report these in your case, discuss them in your accompanying commentary, and provide evidence to support your decisions via the technical appendices.

A challenge in writing the case is to relate relevant facts in a format that the reader is likely to find interesting. You should use the cases that we study in the course as a model. Upon reading the case, the reader should have a clear sense of what you encountered and how you proceeded, including:

        the setting and key facts of the situation at hand

        what precipitated the need for a decision or set of decisions

        the options available to you as decision maker

        what you decided to do

        the immediate and lasting impact of these decisions

Complexity here is important. You will want to introduce as many variables into your simulated case as is reasonable in order to have it approximate real life as closely as possible.

Your commentary focuses on why you did what you did. Here is where your report will go beyond the cases assigned in class as reading. The commentary is essentially a written version of what we do during our class discussions. It draws on your overall understanding of higher education management to analyze your simulated case. The reader should have a clear sense from the commentary of tradeoffs associated with the approaches you adopted and decisions you made. As we underscore in our class discussions, it is often essential that a decision maker pick a side and go with it - your commentary should address this, if appropriate.

You should include a series of technical appendices with your case and commentary. These can be data presented in whatever formats make sense - tables, graphs, charts, etc. - but you need to take special care to present only the most relevant information and to synthesize wherever possible. In fact, the evaluation of your work will depend on the skill with which you select and present the data that can provide needed evidence and context most economically.

On the appropriate due date, either April 18 or 25 @ 5 p.m., you should post your work to the course web site so that everyone can read it in preparation for your presentation.

Each presentation will last 40 minutes, so we will do three each class session for two class sessions. In preparing your presentation, remember that the class will have read your case and commentary, so you should present only the briefest overview and focus on your outcomes and analysis. You should leave at least 15 minutes for discussion.

You case should not exceed 2000 words. Your commentary should be between 3000-4000 words. If you are including more than seven different data reports, you should strongly consider whether you can more fully synthesize or if the data you are sharing is truly relevant.

Finally, a formal work plan for your Virtual U. case is due on February 21.


V.              Expectations

A. Electronic Mail

Sometime before the second class meeting on January 24, everyone must send me an electronic mail message at the address listed above. I will post any messages related to the class meeting scheduled before a given week before midnight on the Tuesday before the class, so be sure to check your messages accordingly.

B. Attendance, Class Participation, and Behavior

I expect that you will contact me, preferably by electronic mail, if you will not be able to attend any class meeting. I will not tolerate repeated absences and will take appropriate action if they occur. Your attendance is obviously essential to your class participation, which is an important element of your final grade. I define participation broadly to include your careful attention to discussions, as well as your direct contributions to our discussions. Finally, I expect your adherence to University of Pennsylvania policies on plagiarism and student academic conduct.

C. Group Work

If you encounter a problem working within a group that you are unable to resolve in a satisfactory manner on your own, it is your responsibility to notify me of the concern in sufficient time for us to attempt to work through the problem. In other words, I need to hear of a problem far enough before the time at which something is due in order to take steps toward resolving it.

VI. Evaluation

I will use two primary criteria in determining your course grade. The first is the quality of your contributions in class and your regular class attendance. The second is the level of sophistication that you display in your written work, both papers you complete as an individual and those you do as part of a group. Both are products of your attention to the assigned readings and your class attendance. I encourage you to read carefully and bring any questions that you might have to the attention of the class. I also encourage you to plan ahead to avoid conflicts with our scheduled class meetings.

In evaluating group work, all members of the group receive the same grade.

Finally, I do not assign a relative value or weight to any assignment in determining overall grades, instead viewing all work in total.

VII.           Topics and Meetings

Please read the material listed under each topic for the class meeting indicated.

A. Introduction, Overview, and Virtual U. Tutorial

Wednesday, January 17 @ 430 - 630 p.m.

B.              Student Uprising at Wesleyan and African American Resistance at Rutgers:

The Student Protest Cases


Wednesday, January 24 @ 430 - 630 p.m.


The Student Protest Case (Wesleyan) (distributed at previous class meeting)

Rhoads, Chapters 1 and 2, pages 1-60

Rhoads, Chapter 7, pages 189-218

Assignment Due:

Send me an electronic mail message at


C. Affirmative Action at Michigan: The Admissions Case

Wednesday, January 31 @ 430 - 630 p.m.


The Admissions Case and background materials (distributed at previous class meeting)

D. Image at Buffalo: The Division I Case

Wednesday, February 7 @ 430 - 630 p.m.

Guest: Michael Cross, Assistant Director of Athletics, Princeton University


The Division I Case and background materials (distributed at previous class meeting)

Assignment Due:

500 Word Paper: Is enough ever enough in attempting to build an inclusive and diverse environment on campus? Put yourself in the shoes of the chief executive of an institution facing a challenge such as at Wesleyan, Rutgers, or Michigan.

E. Student Life at Texas A&M: The Bonfire Case

Wednesday, February 14 @ 430 - 630 p.m.


The Bonfire Case and background materials (distributed at previous class meeting)

Guest: Patricia Louison, Research Fellow, Virtual U. Project, IRHE (last 30 minutes)

F. New President at Trinity: The Search Case

Wednesday, February 21 @ 430 - 630 p.m.


The Search Case and background materials (distributed at previous class meeting)

Assignment Due:

Work Plan for Virtual U. Case


G. Financial Crisis at Missouri: The Retrenchment Case

Wednesday, February 28 @ 430 - 630 p.m.


The Retrenchment Case and background materials (distributed at previous class meeting)

Assignment Due:

500 Word Paper: What is the appropriate level of involvement for external constituents, if any, in decisions relating to campus affairs? Are their different places for alumni, legislators and state-level bureaucrats, major donors and other "friends" of the institution, or taxpayers? Remember that these constituents are the primary sources of operating revenue at universities and colleges.

H. Endowment at Yale: The Investment Office Case

Wednesday, March 7 @ 430-630 p.m.

Guest: Craig Carnaroli, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer, U-Penn


The Investment Office Case and background materials(distributed at previous meeting)

NO CLASS, Spring Break

I.                 Scuffle at "Huron State": The Union Case

Wednesday, March 21 @ 430 - 630 p.m.

Guest: Lee Nunery, Vice President for Business Services, U-Penn


The Union Case and background materials (distributed at previous class meeting)

Assignment Due:

500 Word Paper: Are there any very general rules or even formulas for decision makers - both those "on the ground" and those with ultimate authority - to apply when matters unravel, as at Missouri or Yale? Consider not only what should be done in these types of situations, but when, at what level, and how it should be done. Consider also issues of proportionality - particularly the perils of doing nothing or overreacting.

J. Curricular Reform at RPI: The Negotiation Case

Wednesday, March 28 @ 430 - 630 p.m.


The Negotiation Case and background material (distributed at previous class meeting)


K. Discrimination at "Cortenlet College" and Gay Liberation at Penn State:

The Coming Out Cases

Wednesday, April 4 @ 430 - 630 p.m.


Guests: Sharon Entenberg and Emilie Coulet, Former Students


The Coming Out Case (distributed at previous class meeting)

Rhoads, Chapter 6, pages 159-188

NO CLASS, AERA Annual Meeting

Assignment Due (Wednesday, April 11 @ 430 p.m.):

Virtual U. Cases for April 25 (posted to web; information supplied at previous class)

L. Eligibility at Penn: The Athletic Department Case

Wednesday, April 18 @ 430 - 630 p.m.

Guest: Steve Bilsky, Director of Athletics, U-Penn


The Athletic Department Case and background material (distributed at previous meeting)

Assignment Due:

Virtual U. Cases for May 2 (posted to web)

Assignment Due:

500 Word Paper: Assume dismissal or resignation, or even demotion, is not an option. How might you address the situation at Penn given what we learned from the "Huron State" case?

M.              Institutional Change at "Virtual U.:" Presenting Your Results

Wednesday, April 25 @ 430 - 630 p.m.


First Set of Virtual U. Cases (distributed at previous class meeting)

N.              Institutional Change at "Virtual U.:" Presenting Your Results

Wednesday, May 2 @ 430 - 630 p.m.


Second Set of Virtual U. Cases (distributed at previous class meeting)

O.              Review and Synthesis

Wednesday, May 9 @ 430 - 630 p.m. @ 200 Baird, The Quad

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