An Educational Conundrum


The conundrum might be stated follows: An institution must first survive in order to educate; however, its only justification for survival is determined by the quality of education it provides.

I am not using survival in the literal sense, but rather as the most extreme result of inadequate institutional finance or other resources. The conundrum perhaps more accurately describes a division which often is an oppositional relationship between operation and mission of an educational institution. Operation as it refers to management is the responsibility of administrators. Mission is the educational programs and faculty are accountable for them. Although operation and mission might be intertwined, they are distinctly different in terms of objectives, means and values.

For the purpose of my remarks, I am defining educational effectiveness as processes, procedures or conditions producing a desired end. Educational effectiveness is judged by student motivation, commitment, productivity and proficiency in their field of study. This is instructional efficiency and it is quite different from operational efficiency which is measured by a comparison of production with cost in terms of energy, time and money. Among other responsibilities, administration manages academic records and services, institutional finances, public relations, building maintenance and grounds, student housing, food services and so forth.

Administration can be divided into two areas of operational and educational management. Educational management is represented by Provost, Deans and Department Heads. There are several factors that affect faculty and educational quality. One being that academic administrators tend to identify with, and serve institutional administrators more so than they do faculty and educational programs. Secondly, while most academic administrators come from the teaching ranks, they often are ambitious individuals who see greater prestige and higher salaries in administration, and actively seek administrative positions. Authority or power of office are attractive for some. Individuals with these motivations seldom become administrators respected by faculty members. Effective teachers usually enjoy the interaction with students and find teaching rewarding. Consequently, most have little inclination toward seeking administrative jobs.

Roles of Administrators
The role for academic administrators change at each level, and often there is not a clearly understood charge at the various levels. The one that I believe to be most important is also the one that is most controversial. This position is that of Department Head. The Department Head has direct contact with students, faculty and program. It is rare to find an educational institution that defines the Department Head role. Is the position the last outpost of an administration? Or is it the first line of representation for students, faculty and departmental program? I strongly support the position that the Department Head is one who speaks for departmental affairs, and is an aggressive advocate for students, faculty and program.

I have always viewed Deans as being managers, but in those areas of the university heavily involved with research, administration today is looking for leadership. I am skeptical of present use of the Provost's office and believe it has moved too far into institutional operations. At one time, there was a Dean of Faculty office that represented faculty at upper levels of administration. The position was either phased out or combined with the Provost's responsibilities. Faculty require representation at the highest levels of decision-making to speak on their behalf which is unencumbered by administrative or operational responsibilities.

Balance between operational and educational matters begins with recognition of efficiency as being essential to operation of the institution and its many services, and effectiveness as being the top priority for the instructional mission of the institution. I think to achieve balance and both objectives, there has to be some new definition for roles and responsibilities. At present, many problems are the result of the mix of operational and academic responsibilities combined within single offices. This creates a situation best described by the old axiom about the impossibility of serving two masters at one time.

Operational vs. Educational Values
The foremost mission of the university is education of youth. Regents, Trustees or Legislators make the final decisions and establish key policies; administrators manage institutional operations and teachers conduct instruction of students. Successful operation of the institution requires sound management. Effective educational programs require strong leadership. The values and objectives of those who manage are not the same as those who teach. For the purpose of making more clear the distinctions, I have put the separation into black and white terms when in reality it is many shades of gray depending on individuals, conditions and situations.

However, it is extremely important to recognize that there is an underlying and fundamental split between operation and mission as it pertains to values and objectives. The separation does exist, and that to some extent or another, it impacts on the quality of educational programs.

There is no question, but what we would do better if educational institutions providing inferior instruction did not survive. However, in public education, schools at all levels are maintained regardless of educational quality. There are institutions more successful at marketing than instructional quality, and they too manage to survive.

The implications of dichotomy dictate the necessity for balance between operation of the institution and academic instruction as the most logical and reasonable course to follow. Whenever either one is pursued at the expense of the other, the institution invariably is in trouble either financially or academically.

Factors establishing balance are multiple and seldom identified. Perhaps the greatest difficulty in understanding falls on the side of educational performance. It does not require any special genius to recognize financial problems, either money is there or it is not or it is a fixed amount limiting what can and cannot be accomplished. It is educational quality where identifying goals, knowing what is required and how to achieve them that is most perplexing. Operational matters are generally pragmatic and readily identifiable. Dealing with instructional areas tend to be idealistic, less precise, and the means are often heretical or speculative with the outcome being uncertain.

Because of financial problems beginning during the 1970s, institutional survival became a principal concern for governing bodies. The response was emphasis on management. Since then, the growth of administration in education has been phenomenal. Now, institutional management is out of balance with mission. It is not only that administrators are the most powerful force in education, but it is that management values dominate.


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