Building the Responsive Campus: Creating High Performance Colleges and Universities


William G. Tierney

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
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  • Dedication

    To Gib Hentschke, Dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, for his energy, enthusiasm, and desire for bringing about constructive educational reform.


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    I am a lucky fellow. I sent this text out for commentary to individuals whom I was certain would take me to task for loose writing or flabby thinking. They did. Their comments forced me to spend a good deal longer on this book than I had originally envisioned, but the book (and I) are better for it. Thanks to Judy Glazer, Michael Jackson, Gail Lin Joe, Kent M. Keith, David Leslie, Yvonna Lincoln, Jack Newell, Bill Segura, Melora Sundt, Dan Tompkins, and three anonymous reviewers. Parker C. Johnson and Mujaji Davis in the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis helped prepare the text and I am in their debt. I appreciate the help of Kristen Maus in copyediting the text. Jim Nageotte, my editor at Sage, has become a true friend, mentor, and wordsmith.

    Much of the work for this book was made possible by generous support from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The opinions, of course, are mine alone.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    I have had friends and colleagues read parts of this book as I have written it, and I have discussed different ideas at conferences and in lectures as a consultant to colleges and universities. I also teach a doctoral seminar on administration that is composed of midlevel administrators at a variety of different postsecondary institutions. I have used drafts of this book in class for feedback and debate. Certain questions continually arise and deserve a response.

    I thought you were politically on the left. Isn't reengineering just another way for managers to assert more authority over the faculty and staff?

    I am on the left, yes. Organizational redesign is neither anti-democratic nor warmed-over Taylorism. If anything, redesign offers a way for broader participation and decision making on the part of multiple groups and constituencies. At the same time, we also ought not fool ourselves that reengineering as a structure or any structure ensures democratic participation in an organization. Organizations exist through human activity and ideas. Just as it is possible for individuals to subvert democratic efforts within a democracy, it will also be possible for institutional leaders to claim that reengineering is necessary and choose some ideas that enhance their power and overlook others. As I noted, what is necessary in each institution that reengineers is to define organizational commitments and goals, as I did in the introduction. Such commitments provide definition. Unlike Taylorism or “great man” theories of leadership, reengineering at least sets the stage for possible wide-scale decentralized efforts by all of an organization's participants.

    But don't ideas like soft projects and the lessening of departmental structure set the stage for greater administrative authority? It sounds anti-union.

    Not at all. We must appreciate the necessary tension that exists across constituencies. Some, but not all, colleges and universities have unions that successfully represent the interests of different constituencies. I have been to campuses where unions are helpful, and I have visited other campuses where they are not. Many campuses also are not unionized. Unions, like reengineering, are empty concepts if they are not defined and contextualized. If unionization means the rigid definition of structure that maintains at all costs the status quo regardless of present contexts, then I fully understand how reengineering can be seen as problematic.

    But few unions exist on campuses that do not recognize the dramatic changes taking place in society that demand colleges and universities to reorganize how we work. Organizational redesign is not, however, a code word for “downsizing,” which in itself is a 1990s code word for “firing.” If anything, reengineering provides all constituencies with the possibility for greater participation in deciding what work they do and how it is done. Our tasks may well be reorganized, but such reorganizations are done via full participation of those involved in the processes.

    OK, fine, but elsewhere you've derided organizational fads. How come you speak of this one with such fervor as if it's a panacea for all that ails us?

    If I have been interpreted as saying that redesign or reengineering is a panacea, then I have been misunderstood. It is not a path to utopia, the New Jerusalem, or any other promised land. It is not a magic elixir. However, it is unlike previous management gimmicks in two fundamental ways. First, reengineering provides a way to break out of traditional molds. Whereas TQM, strategic planning, and the like sought to improve upon present day practices, redesign seeks to change fundamentally such practices. We don't tinker with what we do, we change it.

    Second, I have always felt that some of these ideas that are borrowed from business demand an organizational contortionist in order to fit them to academe. Colleges and universities are special places. They are different from for-profit businesses with “bottom lines.” Nevertheless, in an era when dramatic change is needed, it is not helpful to suggest that our leaders either have to go with their intuition, since nothing from the business world will work, or use ideas for organizations entirely different from ours. Reengineering is intellectually driven and appears to be a perfect fit for organizations that have a history of shared governance and collegial decision-making.

    That's fine to say, but I don't think you understand the pressures everyone faces right now. I have faculty who need training in technology and I have to get the place wired so that everyone can interface with the library's new electronic gizmos; I don't have time to redesign.

    You've just answered why we need to. I fully appreciate the pressures we face. Everyone, not just the faculty, is facing new challenges in the workplace as they recognize the need for changed infrastructures, among other things. We have two choices. We can muddle through and continue to feel like the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland screaming, “no time, no time.” Although we will accomplish some tasks in this manner, we will end up exhausted, burned out, and incapable of dealing strategically with comprehensive reform.

    Or we can take a breath and consider how to redesign processes so that individuals and groups work with one another across functions and structures in a cohesive manner.

    You don't get it. I can't just put the brakes on everything for a year and say we're going to reengineer and let everything come to a halt.

    I never said that everything should come to a halt. Think of it in two ways. First, when we run a marathon we don't just wake up and say, “Pm going to drop everything; Pm going to run 26 miles today.” We train. Different people train in different ways, and depending on the shape we're in, we might begin very slowly or relatively quickly. Organizational redesign is similar. We don't drop everything. Reengineering is a process, and processes occur over time.

    Second, we learn about reengineering and educate the institution about it. We don't simply get the reengineering bug and begin. We discuss the idea with our colleagues. We raise and debate issues. We create study groups that set agendas. Remember, reengineering will never work if it is the brainchild of a single individual. It takes an organization to bring about reengineering.

    OK, you've got me. How do I begin?

    You just did.


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    About the Author

    William G. Tierney is the Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California. He holds advanced degrees from Harvard and Stanford Universities and a BA from Tufts University. His most recent book is The Responsive University: Restructuring for High Performance (1998). He is currently involved in a 4-year study pertaining to faculty roles and rewards. He recently received the distinguished research award from the Association for the Study of Higher Education, and Change magazine recognized him as one of 40 young leaders in the academy.

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