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In American higher education, instruments of diverse philosophic heritage have evolved to define, develop, and demonstrate quality. There are the traditional approaches of accreditation and program review, instruments built heavily on the concept of peer evaluation (Bogue and Saunders, 1992). There is the assessment movement, emerging in the last twenty to twenty five years and built around the concepts of valued added and multiple evidences. (Astin, 1992; Banta. 1993; Angelo, 1995). Emphasizing continuous improvement and customer/client satisfaction, the concept of Total Quality Management is now finding application in college and university settings (Deming, 1986;Seymour, 1992; Lewis and Smith, 1994). Finally, we can see some campuses and systems and some states developing Performance Indicators as a way of having intelligence about their operations and achievements (Banta and Borden, 1994; Gaither, 1995; Community Colleges: Core Indicators, 1994). Each of these quality assurance systems is subject to both philosophical and technical imperfections.
Quality assurance in our colleges and universities, however, is more than systems and technique, more than ciphers and computers. Systems are servants of spirit. A faculty member with caring touch and high standards may be more directly potent in the cause of quality than regional accreditation, than a ranking in U. S. News and World Report, a system of total quality management, or a report of performance indicators. An academic administrator with courage, compassion, and integrity may be a more direct contributor to the cause of quality than any system of quality assurance. Let me illustrate.
Earlier in my career I remember visiting the office of Memphis State University Graduate Dean, Dr. John Richardson. Dr. Richardson was a splendid professional who had made a lifelong investment in Tennessee education at every level, known far and wide as a man of integrity, high standards, and personal caring. On this particular day, I found Dean Richardson on the phone, apparently with one of our state senators. I gathered from listening to one side of the conversation that the senator wanted a student admitted to graduate school, a student who did not meet the regular admission standards. After trying a persuasive approach with Dean Richardson, I discerned that the senator switched to a more threatening tactic. Perhaps the senator surmised that a touch of political pressure might ease the Dean to a more satisfactory response. My inference concerning the change in the senator's tactics derived from watching Dean Richardson's visage and listening to his response. The Dean's face assumed a grim and determined fix, and he spoke over the phone as follows: "Son, are you threatening me? Because if you are, I will come up there to Big Sandy and campaign against you when you come up for re-election next year. And, son, I will defeat you." And he would have. Dean Richardson's long term and high quality investment in Tennessee education had earned him both professional and civic respect over the state and especially in West Tennessee.
Did this exchange reflect a quality issue? Certainly! But it had little to do with the traditional approaches of accreditation and program review, little to do with outcome assessments and multiple evidences, little to do with TQM and customer satisfaction, and little to do with accountability reporting to boards or states. It was about caring, courage, and character. It was about a collegiate administrator who knew what was right and was willing to act on what was right.
Now this lesson in collegiate leadership does not appear on my college transcript at Memphis State University, where I was then in graduate study. It constituted, however, a more powerful lesson than many of the theories represented in the graduate courses that do appear there. Thus, the promotion of educational quality has technical and moral dimensions, requiring the conceptual and ethical engagement of collegiate leaders. Beyond our systems for nurturing and assuring quality, there is a personal dimension--the dimension of moral outrage.
Fresh with Ph.D., a new assistant professor of political science, appointed to a research university, gave his first course examination. While wandering the back of the room, he spotted one of his students glancing at his shirt sleeve with some frequency, a suspicious action considering that this was the end of the spring and short sleeve shirts were more compatible with the relatively hot and humid weather. The student was a member of the university's baseball team, and the student was also not known for his spiffy dressing habits. Cotton mesh casual shirts, walking shorts, and sandals were more often seen than his attire for today's test day--white pinpoint oxford shirt, navy blazer, regimental tie, gray slacks, and tassel loafers. Alarm bells began to ring in the belfry of our new assistant professor, and he wracked his brain for memory of some doctoral course or experience that might guide his actions.
Should he call the student out and accuse him of cheating? An option of questionable merit. Might he ask to inspect what appeared to be an informing shirt cuff? Again, a tactic of uncertain but potentially dangerous valence. Might he depend on the observations and witness of students around the offending scholar? Would the honor code work? Should he ignore the incident and concentrate instead on the journal article needing his attention so that he could traverse a more certain and speedy path to tenure and associate professor? A safe and easy option.
He decided instead on a test of performance and invited the student over to his office for coffee and conversation after the passage of a couple of days, a salutary and friendly professorial gesture. "This analysis on first amendment rights and hate speech codes was interesting," the assistant professor opened . . . "You didn't really get into the 'fighting words' test suggested by the Supreme Court ruling of Chaplinsky vs New Hampshire. Do you see that ruling supporting your analysis?" In a moment, our young assistant professor will discover whether his baccalaureate scholar can do more than catch and throw baseballs--also a performance occupation. Indeed, it may be discovered whether this student is willing to honor in the classroom the same test he must live by on the baseball field--the test of performance. And, if he is thoughtful, our young professor will make contributions to both improvement and a standard of excellence in this exchange. If, indeed, the student has cheated, what actions are suggested. Will our professor flunk the student on this examination or in the course? Or might he, in the spirit of improvement and performance, allow the student to field this play again?
This personal professorial act is an act of quality for which we lack a suitable quality assurance acronym. Such artistic acts of caring for both standard and student, however, may advance the cause of quality as surely as those systems having acronyms. The ideal of quality and the ideal of integrity are linked. College administrators and college faculty have opportunity and responsibility to model, to teach about quality and integrity in collegiate settings.
Indeed, some would suggest that at least part of the increased civic and political interest in academic quality may be traced to instances in which a few faculty and administrators in colleges and universities have abandoned their sense of care and integrity. There are, it appears, too many "contentious cynics" and "spiritual zombies" in our colleges and universities, if we may borrow a phrase from former Harvard scholar Stephen Bailey (1974). The unhappy stories of their work are being carried with disturbing and disappointing frequency in both professional and public press. In addition to the stories appearing in such publications as The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, each year of the past decade has seen one or more book length critiques concerned with the quality of our stewardship in higher education. The titles of these books anticipate tone and theme and provoke concern before one even gets to the Preface: Profscam (Sykes, 1988), Killing the Spirit (Smith, 1990), Imposters in the Temple (Anderson, 1992), How Professors Play the Cat Guarding the Cream (Huber, 1992), The Rot at the Top (Mieczkowski, 1995), and the latest forbidding title is When Learned Men Murder (Patterson, 1996).
There is a reality of goodness in American higher education. In pleasant contrast to these critiques of the academy, is the formal essay on "Accountability of Colleges and Universities," (Graham, Lyman, and Trow, 1995), a report highlighting the major strengths of American higher education and citing in support the evidence that more than half of Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scholars in the U. S., that the proportion of our population attending higher education is higher than other leading nations, that American higher education continues to attract large enrollments from international students, and that private giving has grown substantially (pp. 1-2). Even this essay reminds us, however, that "Higher education has no immunity from the accountability that the public is demanding of all of its institutions" (p.5).
Boards of Trustees are becoming more active in their interests in this fundamental responsibility of the institutions they hold in trust. A 1992 special report of the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities carried this question and recommendation: " How can this institution set new standards of quality?. . .The panel believes that every institution has to re-examine its mission and values, its ability to be all things to all people, and whether it can continue to define excellence as it always has" (Trustees in Troubled Times, 1992). A publication of the PEW Higher Education Roundtable at the University of Pennsylvania, a recent issue of Policy Perspectives urges " . . . trustees to take more active responsibility for the performance of the institutions they are expected to govern" ("A Calling to Account," July 1995, p. 1).
That state level policy entities--coordinating boards, legislatures, executive offices--have become more assertive partners in the quest for quality is equally apparent. Many states now have some statutory or other policy requiring assessment, and some of these requirements are very specific as to the form and purpose of assessments (Ewell,1988). And there has been a definitive increase in the number of campuses having to respond to these assessment mandates (Campus Trends, 1995). In addition, many states now require annual reporting on a series of performance indicators that may include graduation rates, performance on licensure examinations, alumni satisfaction, etc. (Bogue, Creech, Folger, 1993). Whether campus responses have been substantive and constructive or more cosmetic and adaptive or whether these policies are effective instruments of quality and accountability remains an open question.
Nationally, the public policy conversation over the condition of quality in American higher education is an active one. In a 1989 issue of Policy Perspectives (May, 1989) entitled "The Business of the Business," is this recommendation: "We believe American colleges and universities must make a fundamental investment in quality control--not to satisfy the whims of public inquiry, but rather to develop the context within which faculty can both singularly and collectively assess the quality of learning in their classrooms" (p. 4).
An American Imperative: Higher Expectations for Higher Education (1993) opens with this note: "A disturbing mismatch exists between what American society needs of higher education and what it is receiving. Nowhere is the mismatch more dangerous than in the quality of undergraduate preparation provided on many campuses. The American imperative for the 21st century is that society must hold higher education to much higher expectations or risk national decline" (p. 1).
Clearly, questions of higher education quality are being raised with greater frequency and intensity by those external to the academy. In my opinion the current ferment over issues of quality, integrity, and productivity in higher education may have less to do with our ability to design systems of quality assurance than with the level of integrity and caring exemplified in the daily behavior of those of us who hold learning climates in trust. Having furnished two constructive illustrations, let me now explore less satisfying vignettes.
My opening illustrations of a graduate dean defending the admissions standards of the university and a professor serving as guardian of academic standards in the classroom reveal that the cause of quality can be advanced or damaged in more personal moments in the lives of both college administrators and faculty, in a thousand "moments of truth" occurring in our colleges and universities every day. Leadership in quality assurance, therefore, is a responsibility invested not just in those holding formal administrative appointment but invested in the mind and heart of each one holding climates of learning in trust--invested in the care of professors and presidents, deans and directors.
Since many of the critical reports accent what they believe to be an absence of appropriate attention to undergraduate education, let us begin there. A dean of students received a call from a student in obvious emotional distress. Here was her story. It seems that she became ill with the fall flu bug and missed an examination in her chemistry class. Having contacted the professor in advance to explain her absence, she spoke with him after class upon her return to see if she might arrange a make-up examination. He explained that he was only on campus two days a week to teach his one class, while the remainder of his time was devoted to his research in a nearby research park. Only 25 percent of his salary, however, was being charged against the research grant.
He carefully explained to our young undergraduate that his principal responsibility to the University was to keep his research moving, that he had neither the time nor the inclination to arrange a make-up examination, and that she would have to accept the scores on her other exams for the course. When the Dean of Students called to see whether any compromise might be reached, she was informed by the professor that if he attended to every little problem and excuse offered by hysterical undergraduates, he would hardly have time for his research.
An exception, you may say, to the reality of caring that may be found in most of our classrooms and laboratories. Just one such story, however, of our failure to treat students with dignity has the potential to outweigh a thick accreditation report, a formidable set of performance indicators sent to the state, or a slick annual report from the president's office. Moral outrage on the part of a chair or a dean would be an appropriate response to this unhappy case where arrogance of spirit and narrow vision of role prevent us from celebrating the nobility of the call to teaching.
A friend sent me a news clip appearing in the August 25, 1993 issue of The San Francisco Chronicle: "Why is Wendy Rouder standing there looking puzzled? Because she registered at City College by phone--a new system--and then mailed in the fees for two courses, plus $10 for a campus parking sticker. Simple, wot? Not. Back came a receipt but no parking sticker. However, it did show a $10 overpayment so all is swell? Well: she went out to the school and stood in line for an hour to get the parking sticker. 'That'll be $10,' said the bureaucrat, at which Wendy triumphantly presented the credit slip, to no avail. 'You'll have to give me $10 if you want the sticker now, and then you may apply for a refund, which'll take about eight weeks,' he said, not unkindly. Defeated, Wendy asked for a refund form. 'Here you go,' he said, handing her one, 'but you won't get any money back. There's a $10 fee for processing a refund'" (Caen, 1993, p. 6).
I've seen a number of position advertisements for Directors of Total Quality Management in The Chronicle of Higher Education. I wonder if they have a Director of Total Quality Management at City College. If so, he or she has a good work ahead. Meanwhile, it wouldn't hurt the cause of quality if an alert administrator put a halt to this policy nonsense.
While on this point, let me insert a note on administrator and faculty alertness. In Elspeth Huxley's novel The Flame Trees of Thika (1959) are these beautiful lines: "The best way to find things out is not to ask questions at all. If you fire off a question, it is like firing off a gun--bang it goes, and everything takes flight and runs for shelter. But if you sit quite still and pretend not to be looking, all the little facts will come and peck round your feet, situations will venture forth from thickets, and intentions will creep out and sun themselves on a stone; and if you are very patient, you will see and understand a great deal more than a man with a gun does" (p. 272). A sensitive college professional without a study or a system, without a questionnaire or an interview, without a chart or a computer may also learn about quality--if he or she is alert.
Here is another news clip, this one of little bolder presentation and scope. Originally appearing in a major city newspaper and later in USA Today, this front page article featured a community college campus that had cancelled almost two-thirds of its summer school classes on the second day of classes. Students were given no advance notice nor any reasonable explanation for this action, except the president's statement that he had ordered the classes cancelled to meet the budget. The story carried a photo of angry students besieging administrative offices. Is this a quality issue? Well, if you are inclined to think about students as clients, this incident surely must be counted a quality issue.
Might we expect an accreditation team to arrive and investigate this quality situation? Not likely. Will the assessment plan for this campus address this situation? Improbable. May we expect to find the Director of Total Quality Management in the middle of the fray, tending to the concerns of student customers? I doubt it. And, will the institution's accountability and performance indicators report to the state reflect this incidence? Absolutely not.
Now this number of cancellations might be understandable if classes did not meet minimal enrollment requirements, since many summer schools depend heavily upon fee income. However, many of the cancelled classes had full enrollments. How any college president could enter a summer session and not know enough about his or her budget to avoid this kind of behavior is beyond comprehension. Something is missing here. That something is competence and caring. Moral outrage would be an appropriate response to what happened to these students. Apparently, the moral outrage will have to come from outside the college rather than inside, except for those students whose lives and aspirations were affected.
Here is a third media report of collegiate shenanigans and dreary qualitative behavior. This particular story appeared in several city papers, but also found its way to The Wall Street Journal. A professor of engineering apparently engaged in a shady entrepreneurial venture, exchanging his endorsement of shoddy and short work on plagiarized Masters and Ph.D. degrees for students who, from the vantage point of their industrial appointments, shuffled lucrative consultant contracts to their major professor. We can only hope that these two students will not work on our bridges, aerospace systems, or nuclear power facilities. And save us from their obtaining faculty appointments in our colleges or universities.
At least responsible administrators and faculty on this campus engaged in a speedy piece of "due process"--arranging a prompt departure for this entrepreneurial but morally bent professor and recalling the faulty degrees from students, who surely must have harbored a flawed notion of educational quality. The reports on this incident do not indicate that the accreditation, assessment, total quality management, and performance indicators systems of the campus were active elements in this quality drama.
Consider this final illustration of offense to quality. Here is a private college campus embarking upon the delivery of a new master's program, an initiative designed to reach a new market of students. Nothing wrong with initiative. However, here are unhappy conditions of the program following two years of operation and the graduation of the first class. Only a fourth of the graduating class of approximately twenty students met the admissions requirements stated in the college catalog and accreditation candidacy prospectus for this program. While most of the graduating students were employed full time, at least half have enrolled for 12 to 15 hours of graduate work in at least two consecutive semesters. More than two thirds of the graduates have been given credit for graduate courses that cannot be found in the college's graduate catalog, that were not in the original graduate prospectus, that have little or no relation to the graduate program mission, and that were not authorized for acceptance in the program as originally outlined in the program prospectus.
Only one of the half dozen full time faculty listed in the college's catalog and personnel records in this field has taught in the graduate program, while the remaining courses have been delivered by adjunct faculty of marginal qualifications. A review of course syllabi files reveals at least one file containing not a syllabus from this liberal arts college but a syllabus from another university. An easy cross check reveals that the university from whence this syllabus has come is the same university from whence the graduate program administrator has received his doctorate. A good argument can be made that not one but two colleges have something to think about here.
For this program and this campus, any reasonable sense of academic standard has fallen before the seductive call of numbers and tuition trend lines. While disguised, this campus scenario, like the others preceding, is unfortunately real. A potentially happy ending is that apparently there are some faculty and administrators on this campus who are exhibiting moral outrage over these conditions. How can we measure the damage already done to the ideal of quality and to the competence and character of students who have graduated in this program. These graduates had to know they were being cheated, or they were allowed to nurture a shallow sense of educational standard?
If we surveyed the personnel rosters and administrative directories of American colleges and universities over the last ten to fifteen years, we would probably find a growing number of directors of assessment and directors of TQM or continuous improvement. Indeed, some of these appointments would be found not at the director level but at the vice presidential level. Do we need a Director of Moral Outrage, or perhaps an executive level Vice President for Moral Outrage? Perhaps not. Such an appointment would do little more than add to the administrative bloat already lamented in too many current reports and likely to become a source of increased conflict between campus faculties and administrators in cost containment contexts.
However, we might make use of a position suggested in Robert Townsend's 1971 book Up the Organization, a Vice President for Anti-Bureaucratization. Anytime the vice president finds tangled processes, four-stage signature approvals, five-part forms, or other performance nonsense, such as we have been describing, taking place within an organization, the vice president would, according to Townsend, take position outside the offending office and yell"Horseshit!" as loud as possible until the situation was corrected.
Consider the collective impact of these stories and the unfortunate reality of too many others that could be told, disappointing departures from caring and standard. To what extent does the neglect of personal and moral responsibility for quality in higher education contribute to the growing pressures of public accountability, which may, in turn, lead us in a search for systemic solutions? Systems of quality assurance are "head first" solutions.
The nurture of quality in our colleges and universities, however, must go beyond systems. Accreditation and assessment, TQM and accountability reporting--beyond these systems we need presidents and professors, deans and directors who have a keen sense of standard and right behavior, who answer the call to honor and are willing to use moral outrage as an instrument of quality assurance, who create quality climates via the influence of their ideals as well as their ideas. Thus, the more critical design elements of collegiate excellence and quality may be "heart first" actions of caring and courage.
What unites the systemic and the personal dimensions of quality? In my mind, the uniting element is a habit of mind and heart that creates a community of caring. In a community of caring, the value of compassion and the power of expectation call students and colleagues from the poverty of the commonplace and launch each to the far reach of his or her promise. The values of courage and candor create a climate in which a respect for diversity of mission and talent is matched with a scorn for shoddy work, whether individual or institutional. A community of caring responds not only to the intellectual call of advancing the truth but to the ethical and personal call of honoring dignity, excellence, and responsibility. In a community of caring, quality does not and cannot live apart from integrity.
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