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The College Magazine - Spring 2000 : The Corporate University
The Corporate University:
Marriage of true minds...or mismatch?

This winter, a local controversy over a proposed new golf course on IU-owned land near Griffy Lake brought to the fore some long-standing concerns among both gown and town populations about where the fine line falls between public and private aims. The golf course plan—which was eventually abandoned—and the resistance to it alike provoked criticism, the nature of which reflects the uncertain status of the modern public university. Are we an ivory tower, or an educational-service-provider? How much allegiance do we owe to the bottom line? Are the management reforms that are sauce for the private-sector goose as good for the state-school gander? Below, two writers with very different answers to such questions consider tenure and, perhaps surprisingly, find common ground.

"Good enough for government work" isn’t good enough for political science graduate John Blackman, BA’70, who has devoted much of his career to public service and the business of making government work better. He currently directs the Enterprise Solutions Group for Informax Data Systems, Los Angeles. Here, Blackman and Linda J. Blessing, executive director of the Arizona Board of Regents and one of Blackman’s co-authors for the multimedia manual Positive Outcomes: Raising the Bar on Government Reinvention, argue that the same methods they advocate for making governmental institutions more responsive and effective can—and should—be applied to educational institutions as well.

The first step toward reinvention is to identify all the people and organizations, both customers and suppliers, who hold a stake in the services performed and the products produced. At a public university such as IU, this category comprises first and foremost students and faculty, as those who are involved in the day-to-day task of providing and acquiring an education, but it also includes the tax-paying public and potential employers. Accountability is assured when, first, public managers engage stakeholders in setting goals and objectives; second, activities and costs associated with producing desired outcomes are communicated to stakeholders; and third, criteria understood by both managers and stakeholders are established to measure performance.

State-supported and privately endowed institutions of higher education are not exempt from the growing trend in the public sector to become more competitive and accountable. Fiscal constraints and competition from industry are economic factors that have clearly driven this case. But closer examination reveals other tangible benefits from the academic community’s involvement in change, such as increased stakeholder involvement, greater linkage of strategic planning and budget execution to program goals, and establishment of performance-based measurement criteria for evaluation of outcomes.

It is often thought that some of the strengths of higher education, such as its long-term history, culture of collegial decision-making and grounding in tradition, may also pose profound barriers to change. Yet these very strengths can be marshaled to serve the cause of reinvention. A case in point is that of tenure reform and the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing board for that state’s three public universities. Several years ago, some regents expressed concern that tenure inhibited flexibility for organizational improvement and circumvented efforts to ensure greater accountability. At least one regent suggested that the university system eliminate tenure. Yet tenure is one of higher education’s most carefully guarded traditions, viewed as critically important to faculty autonomy, individualism and academic freedom. It is also crucial to attracting qualified faculty in a very competitive market.

Instead of eliminating tenure, the Arizona Board of Regents began a collaborative process actively involving faculty leaders from the three universities. Eventually, a middle ground emerged; namely, the creation of a post-tenure review process, emphasizing evaluation of faculty based on measurable goals and including steps for addressing unsatisfactory performance. It particularly emphasizes good teaching. The stated goal of the post-tenure review process is "to create an institutional climate that motivates faculty to continuously improve and maintain high levels of performance, and provides a timely mechanism with which to deal with those faculty whose performance continues to fall below institutional expectations." Annual evaluations of all tenured faculty members are conducted by unit heads and must incorporate input from students, administrators, community representatives, and recent alumni. Faculty members performing at unsatisfactory levels are required to participate in developing a plan to improve performance. Failure to achieve the goals prescribed in the plan will result in a recommendation for dismissal.

Leadership commitment, stakeholder involvement, performance measurement, and ensuring accountability were key to this successful reform of tenure in Arizona. The Board of Regents as well as the faculty and administrators of the three universities demonstrated leadership commitment throughout the nearly two-year process. Many stakeholders were involved in forging the compromise between doing away with tenure and doing nothing. A clear commitment to measurement of faculty performance helps to ensure greater public accountability, as does the periodic reporting of results to the Board of Regents. While it is still early in its implementation, this significant step toward organizational improvement in Arizona’s university system is certainly off to a promising start. It is also responsive to the growing trend among lawmakers and taxpayers to demand more effective and efficient use of public resources.

-John Blackman & Linda Blessing

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Last Updated: December 15, 2000
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