ERIC Identifier: ED446725
Publication Date: 2000-00-00
Author: Walvoord, Barbara E. - Carey, Anna K. - Smith, Hoke L. -
Soled, Suzanne Wegener - Way, Philip K. - Zorn, Debbie
Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.| BBB32577 _ George Washington
Univ. Washington DC. Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
Academic Departments: How They Work, How They Change. ERIC
In the current environment of economic, political, ideological, and
technological pressures on higher education, departments must attend carefully
to stakeholders' demands to (a) improve undergraduate student learning,
especially in general education; (b) collaborate across disciplines; (c) apply
knowledge to community and workplace needs; (d) be more cost-efficient or
"productive"; and (e) provide education by alternative means, using technology
to transcend boundaries of time and space (Kennedy, 1997, p. 277; Layzell,
1999). But departments must not only respond to the latest societal pressures
but also, in a free society, defend values, question societal norms, and freely
pursue knowledge. In fulfilling their complex missions, departments must focus
not only on what to do but also on what to be. Though not all departments need
to change in the same ways, departments across the nation must reinvent new
forms of collegiality and become more outward-oriented, more focused on results,
and more entrepreneurial. They must develop new systems to reward their members,
enhance productivity, and assure the quality of their work.
HOW CAN DEPARTMENTS CHANGE?
The foundation for departmental
reform is Zemsky's concept that "the way to reform is not to circumvent the
departmental structure that is endemic to most academic institutions but to
enlist that structure in the reform itself." (1991, p. 5) Those who would change
the department must deeply understand it. From that understanding emerge
strategies for change. Characteristics of departments emerge from the national
literature; each practitioner must use them as a heuristic to question the
cultures and structures of his or her own department.
Appendix A summarizes the specific traits of departments we discuss and the
avenues for changes suggested by those traits. Unlike normal businesses, which
organize subunits of people around functions aligned for administrative
convenience, academic departments organize people of similar disciplinary
interests to serve multiple constituencies in ways that allow both innovation
and predictability. At its best, the department is the flexible belt, not the
fixed cog, that channels intellectual energy into administrative work.
In the department, the core academic values among them academic freedom,
autonomy, collegiality, specialization, and reason are strong but often in
conflict and under attack; change strategies must build upon and redefine these
values. The department within its institution is uniquely autonomous yet
uniquely interdependent. Change must build on departmental autonomy, but it also
requires complex roles from central administrators provision of shared mission,
rich information, fiscal incentives, crises and deadlines, support for chairs,
alternative structures that enhance or replace traditional departmental tasks,
and university governance systems that encourage interdisciplinary collaboration
for the common good. If the role of departments is to channel intellectual
energy to serve multiple constituencies, then the role of the administration is
not to fight the department or master it, but to help it do its proper work.
Departments' internal organization combines elements of the collegium and the
bureaucracy as well as oligarchic, political, feudal, and caste-based systems.
The collegial model, in which a closely knit group of peers under a consultative
leader share work and decision making in collaborative ways, is treasured as an
ideal by faculty. Some literature suggests the collegial model is the most
successful form of governance in higher education. But traditional collegial
forms are stressed as departments take on new roles and new types of
non-tenure-track faculty or support staff, and as they conduct education in
geographically dispersed or virtual spaces, collaborating in new ways with
businesses and with alternative providers. Much of departmental leadership,
work, roles, and rewards can be understood as a mixed, transitional response to
these new challenges.
Departmental leaders, largely untrained for administration, are torn among
multiple allegiances and multiple tasks, and they wield ambiguous power. They
must somehow balance bureaucratic work with strategic and visionary functions to
lead change. Departmental work is determined by multiple influences and by the
considerable autonomy of faculty to allocate their time. As increasing numbers
of non-tenure-track or geographically dispersed faculty fall outside the
traditional modes of collegial interaction and shared norms, departments may
lose control of quality, or they may implement more bureaucratic modes of
control, such as job distinction by rank and title, assessment of outcomes, and
extrinsic rewards. Change must build on the best of departmental experiments
with new modes of ensuring quality.
Departments have traditionally enhanced productivity by hiring new (sometimes
low-cost) teaching staff, by increasing class size, and by using technology for
research and writing. Still largely wedded to the traditional classroom lecture
and testing paradigms, faculty are faced with new paradigms of learning, new
demands for education that transcends boundaries of time and space, students
with new expectations, and the need for new forms of productivity--which have
given rise to pedagogical movements and experiments that are still largely
outside the traditional departmental systems of work and rewards. Change must
build upon best practice as departments struggle toward new modes.
In short, the department still exhibits the collegial modes and academic
values of its original form as a guild of scholars who banded together to sell
their services. But it is exhibiting on all fronts the mixed, transitional, and
experimental modes that mark its transition to a much more complex world in
which it must not only keep up with rapidly changing disciplinary knowledge but
also offer increasingly diversified services to an increasingly complex world.
Academic departments are not dinosaurs, but evolving organisms that are
experimenting with new forms and that need help and support to realize the
potential for change that their structures imply.
WHAT TYPES OF STRATEGIES CAN DEPARTMENTS USE FOR
Change strategies in the literature fall into six categories: (a)
change the environment; (b) change the type of person in the department; (c)
address values by building on them, changing them, or resolving conflicts among
them; (d) change or build upon the way the department is structured in terms of
its organization, its leadership positions, its reward systems, its dispersion
of power, or its forums for conversation and decision making; (e) affect the
decision-making process in which the department is engaged; or (f) create
alternative structures such as institutes or offices of first-year studies to
take over some of the department's functions. Because departments differ,
strategies from these various categories must be shaped to the department's own
characteristics. They must be combined and integrated; no strategy by itself is
likely to be sufficient.
WHAT SHOULD DEPARTMENTS BE?
The most important goal is to
change not only what a department does but also what it becomes. The visionary
strand of the literature suggests that departments need "collegial
entrepreneurialism" or "authentic collegiality" enhanced with "quality"
principles. It suggests that departments try to become "learning" departments or
"teams." The primary features of the new visions are (a) a department's capacity
for self-knowledge, including understanding its culture, environments,
assumptions, values, and mental models; (b) systems thinking, which views all
elements of an organization as interacting parts; (c) open and productive
interaction that encourages closeness, collaboration, minimal defensiveness, and
the ability to handle conflict; (d) high freedom for individuals combined with
encouragement for individuals to commit to the good of the department; (e)
outward focus on interpreting the environment, meeting the needs of
stakeholders, and producing results; (f) emphasis on learning from experience;
and (g) support for leaders who are collaborative yet who also initiate and
guide the group.
A nationwide initiative to assist departments might offer consulting to
departments and institutions, helping them to initiate change and become more
effective. The national initiative would also disseminate models of best
practice, train department leaders, and conduct research on departmental work
and departmental change.
Kennedy, D. 1997. Academic Duty. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press. ED 413 805.
Layzell, Daniel T. 1999. "Linking Performance to Funding Outcomes at the
State Level for Public Institutions of Higher Education: Past, Present, and
Future." Research in Higher Education 40(2): 233-246. EJ 584 036.
Zemsky, Robert, ed. November 1991. Policy Perspectives. The PEW Higher
Education Research Project. 4(1).