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Michael Maccoby
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Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

A faculty of radical anarchists

Q: How would you assess the leadership of college presidents in embracing new technology and innovative teaching techniques aimed at reducing costs, improving quality and reengineering higher education? What leadership steps would you recommend for them?

University presidents face a tenured faculty of radical anarchists who view the university as a service organization to support their research and careers. For many professors, teaching is the tax they pay to be free to do their real work. Even the most visionary presidents are blocked by their faculty who expect them to focus their energy on raising money.

Universities can be divided into two types. Prestige universities have a great brand name, a celebrity faculty, far more applicants than they need, and lots of money. Reputation universities have a tougher time. They may have a respected but not famous brand name, a competent faculty with a few famous names, bolstered by contract teachers paid commodity rates, and the need to advertise for good applicants. They are always short of money. These are the universities in dire need of leadership to control costs and improve education so they strengthen their reputation for providing value and preparing students for careers.

I have been hired as a consultant by presidents of reputation universities attempting to enhance that reputation. In one case, an elite faculty group tried to transform the curriculum to combine fields and focus on real-world problems like the environment or the media. I was called in to help pick up the pieces after the innovators crashed into the wall of departmental conservatism.

However, at George Washington University, then president Stephen J. Trachtenberg hired me to work with him and his academic and financial vice presidents, Don Lehman and Lou Katz to engage all of GW's stakeholders---faculty, students, staff, parents, alumni---in a process of change.

Each group had priorities for improved education and service. These were addressed. GW built on its strengths including partnering with Washington resources for internships and focusing on preparing undergraduate students for the global economy with "an education that has its foundations in substantial writing linked to the development of oral communication and advocacy, critical thinking, analytic problem solving, computational literacy, and depth of study in their chosen academic major."

Independent assessments seven years later showed significant improvement in student skills. And GW had succeeded in burnishing its reputation.

Prestige universities can get by selling their brand, even when some of the teaching is mediocre. Reputation universities will improve their market position by improving their value for students, such as shortening the time it takes to gain undergraduate and professional degrees while enhancing the educational experience. But to lead change, university presidents must partner with an executive team that can engage all stakeholders in the change process.

By Michael Maccoby

 |  May 25, 2010; 6:46 AM ET
Category:  Education leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Why is shortening the time seen as a good thing from any perspective besides financial? How about doing a better job of explaining why an education takes time. Someone who takes a three-year program will not come out with the same education as someone who studies for four years.

An education takes time. Learning to think and analyze and interpret and develop ideas in writing and in speech takes time. Learning another language takes time.

Instead of presenting a degree as something to be obtained "efficiently" - which means in less time, let's talk more about what it means to _acquire_ an education, through sustained study, regular practice of intellectual skills, independent pursuit of questions, etc. Then people will understand why some things take time.

Instead, let's focus on other ways to cut costs: less country-club living at the campus, fewer glossy admissions brochures, limiting the salaries of upper administration and business school faculty, wasteful spending in technology, more efficient heating/cooling systems, for example.

Let's stop acting like less instruction is more. An education is not just diploma to be purchased for a specific purpose. Our country depends on educated people, not on a bunch of diplomas. Let's not lose sight of what an education really is.

Frankly, the push to address college expenses by pushing to shorten the time to obtain a diploma shows a sad lack of imagination.

Posted by: lxp19 | May 29, 2010 2:32 AM
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