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Management Mission and Operation page 2

 
 

Education as a Business
Whenever the economy is weak, business values begin to compromise educational values as administrative powers increase. During recent years there has been an inclination among regents, legislators and administrators that universities should operate like businesses, selling education as a service to the public.

Application of business values generally is destructive to educational objectives. In 1968, the Cox Commission on the Columbia University Student Riots concluded, Any tendency to treat a university as a business enterprise with faculty as employees and students as customers, diminishes its vitality and communal cohesion.

The academic system defines teachers as professionals working under contract with educational institutions. Teachers as professionals are responsible for curriculum, student evaluation, educational requirements and academic planning. They are separate from management. They have their own governance system and responsibility for retention, promotion and tenure of faculty. When educational institutions operate as businesses, teachers become employees and administrators become bosses. It is doubtful that educational integrity can exist when teachers are treated as employees. This practice equates public universities with proprietary schools where teachers are employees. While some vestiges of the academic system remain, such as contracts, rank and tenure; they have become perfunctory gestures at most state universities. For example, not long ago teacher contracts were issued no later than March 30th of each year. Today, in state universities, contracts often are distributed well into the academic year. In hiring Deans and Department Heads, upper administrators sometimes offer academic rank, teaching status and tenure as benefits. This is usually done without faculty participation in the academic process. Legislators and regents consistently identify teachers in state universities as employees, which is demeaning to the professional status of faculty.

A major contrast between corporate and educational values is an appropriate distinction between efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is measured in time, cost, manpower, space and productivity. It is viewed as desirable in the management of university operations, while effectiveness is more important to educational goals. Efficiency in operations that fail to meet institutional objectives is false efficiency. There are numerous facets of instruction which to be effective are not especially efficient, dedicated space, duplicate facilities, small classes, more teachers, and greater decentralization of responsibility within departments and colleges.

Centralization is a management maneuver directed toward efficiency, but it has limited value in terms of meeting educational objectives. Duplication of facilities and services become cost-effective when measured against achievement of institutional goals, presumably a higher quality of educational experience for students.

Some centralized facilities are necessary. What would be advantageous is greater latitude for individuals and departments to incorporate technical or other facilities tailored to the needs and objectives within their own disciplines. In the instance of expensive equipment, that has only occasional use, centralization is the logical choice. Central labs at the college and university level are useful to handle overflow requirements from the university at large during peak use periods.

Multi-use space is another example of institutional efficiency. Multi-use space is appropriate for lecture classes, and it is necessary for some studio courses. However, in professional programs, it is essential to have a combination of multi-use space and dedicated studios, such as assigned workspace for upper level students. There needs to be a better understanding by administrators of how the student's educational experience is benefited from having dedicated facilities and studios.

Administrators continue to seek efficient ways to educate students with fewer teachers and less resources. Over a period of time, this inevitably leads to deterioration of educational quality. State legislators and university administrators in a number of states are currently studying teacher performance. The apparent aim of these studies is to determine the feasibility of faculty assuming larger teaching loads as a means for reducing educational cost. The irony of this concern is that it has not been that long ago that the same people pressured faculty for research, professional development and national or international recognition. These demands led to reduction of faculty instructional time, participation in academic matters and working with students outside of class. The new demands for more teaching hours might well prove to be as counterproductive to educational quality as undue pressure for research and professional development.

The size of state universities and the present degree of centralization are discouraging to many students. Students have difficulty identifying a homebase. Student activities are scattered over large campuses, and they are pulled between department, college and central administrative offices. Many European universities recognize these problems and organize colleges within the university as self-sustaining units down to, and including, dining halls and dormitories. More decentralization of academic matters, facilities, and some university services would greatly improve the quality of student life.

It is readily apparent that state universities still put more emphasis on size than on quality. It is easier to justify budget increases to the state legislature with large enrollment figures. Even though administrators deny it, internally, the "numbers game" is still over-emphasized in establishing faculty lines, budgets and in decision-making. It is better for students and the educational process to establish semi-autonomous branch campuses than to continue expanding a single university beyond a reasonable size. In comparison to most private schools, state universities are large–a state university of 20,000 students is considered relatively small. Size in itself impacts on educational quality. Universities with large enrollments and excessive centralization depersonalize students' experiences and reduce educational quality. Periods of financial pressure are a good time to reexamine the institution's operation, goals, and organization. If the institution continues to operate the same as in the past, it is improbable that cost containment can be achieved by efficiency alone. The existing problems demand either change or more money and, under present conditions, change appears to be a more reasonable approach.


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