This document may be too large for your printer buffer to handle. We suggest downloading this document to a disk if printing difficulties are encountered or e-mailing the author for a hard copy by clicking on his/her name.

In the latter half of the 20th century, Americans have made a magnificent investment in higher education: 3600 campuses, 600,000 faculty, 15 million students, $170 billion in revenues. Had the technology been available, a scanning satellite making a pass over the nation every ten years since 1950 would furnish dramatic evidence of the physical growth of campuses and the establishment of new programs and services. This expansion would include a tripling of two-year community college campuses and a doubling of doctoral granting institutions.

Americans justifiably celebrate higher education as an investment in the power of ideas and as an expression of their faith in the centrality of education to a democratic society. We herald our colleges and universties as organizational instruments of our curiosity and wonder, as forums of discovery and dissent, We assign to them the mission of advancing on the enemies of ignorance and prejudice. We hold them as repositories of value, beauty, and standard--calling student and society to excellence in the arts, in the sciences, and in the professions.

We mark them as engines of cultural and economic development, making it possible for individuals and society to reach the far edge of their circle of promise. We place with them the responsibility of putting knowledge and wisdom to work, grappling in the dirty trenches of the nation and the world to battle those problems that beset mind, body, and spirit.

There is, however, an arresting and contrasting civic perception in these closing years of the 20th century, years marked by frequent critical assault for a range of perceived and real shortcomings. Each year of the past decade has seen at least one book length treatment critical of higher education. Bloom's 1986 The Closing of the American Mind, Sykes 1990 Profscam, Smith's Killing the Spirit, Anderson's 1991 Imposters in the Temple, Roche's 1993 The Leaning Ivory Tower and Patterson's 1995 When Learned Men Murder are just a few among those critical reviews.

As illustrated in the 1993 monograph An American Imperative, concern with the "moral compass" and "moral vocation" role of higher education is more frequently found in public discourse. The disappointing display of values in American higher education can be found in an unfortunate array of both personal and institutional dramas of dark texture.

Here, as just one quick example, is a major state university and its medical center admitting patients for heart transplant surgery, with the full knowledge that the probability of these surgeries actually taking place is virtually zero. Patients and insurance companies are billed for large sums. Those aware of this cruel charade included medical staff, the dean of the medical school, and it appears upper level administrators in the university. The depressing state of health for both patients and university was brought to light in a legislative audit.

We are not talking here about the mismanagement of research, the degradation of academic credentials, or the careless stewardship of public resources. We are talking about a callous disregard for human life and dignity in an academic and professional field whose purposes are to revere and enhance human life and dignity. From this and a hundred other sad stories, is it any wonder, then, that civic and political officers may question whether higher education has severed the precious link between mind and heart, whether our pursuit of technical competence is unaccompanied by cultivation of conscience.

In his 1996 work No Neutral Ground, Robert Young explores those values that have traditionally undergirded the American college and university. His title emphasizes that academic organizations are no more value free than any other organization. Here is thoughtful reminder that what we know will always be servant to what we believe. In our policy and practice, we elect and we model values that can have helpful or harmful valence.

Public disaffection with some of the values being modeled in higher education add force to other pressure vectors faced by higher education in these closing years of the 20th century: cost containment pressures and reduced revenue regimens, political leaders expecting sharper mission focus and less across-the-board mentality in dealing with fiscal retrenchment, parents and students expecting their college tuition investment to yield a good paying and satisfying job upon graduation, civic and collegiate policy makers relying increasingly on market mechanisms to define public goals and priorities, civic dissatisfaction with attention to teaching, competitive pressues from an emerging privatized sector, impressions of organizational obsolescence and recalcitrance to change, egalitarian discomfort with higher education as a haven for a protected and privileged class. These factors mark a civic and political climate less friendly, and sometimes downright hostile, to higher education.

We are, not surprisingly, no longer perceived as places of sanctuary, where values other than the purely financial and selfish might prevail, where commitment to truth and unfettered inquiry nurtures a standard of conduct marked by nobility and integrity. If there were a halcyon moment in American higher education, it is no more. In the words of that notable scholar Pogo "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Thus, in the closing years of the 20th century, American higher education faces a serious question of public trust. Mistrust breeds suspicion. And suspicion breeds control. The issue of trust is, as we just noted, accompanied by the challenge of budget diets and cost containment pressures as both federal and state governments struggle with their own questions of priority.

This is not the first moment of financial crisis for American higher education. Those who lived and labored in American colleges through the economic depressions of the early 1800s and the 1920s might, if alive today, find contemporary issues and challenges a light and simple burden. Nor is this the first moment of wide spread criticism of higher education. Nevertheless the range, frequency, and intensity of contemporary critiques of the academy may portend a breakpoint moment in this transition from 20th to 21st century. Mission clarification, integrity recovery, and performance accountability are issues high on the public and political agenda for change.

Conserving the past, critiquing the present, constructing the future--this is a complex mission expectation and one that destines our colleges and universities to remain always in the crucible of public conversation and one that guarantees a continuing tension in civic expectation and evaluation of higher education. For organizations that are established to honor social, economic, political, scientific, and educational heritage even as they criticize that heritage, for organizations that hold hands with the past even as they reach for the future, the challenge of change and the challenge of accountability are particularly wrenching exercises.


As we move toward the 21st century, one of the most commanding changes in the social, political, and economic climate for higher education is the more aggressive posture of agencies external to the campus--boards, coordinating agencies, legislators, executive branches of governing, accrediting agencies--insisting on a more public engagement of quality and performance issues. Consider, for example, these policy developments having an accountability accent . . .

In 1994-95, for example, 24 states conducted studies of faculty workload; and in 1995-96, 21 states did so. In 1994-95, 20 states had laws or policies requiring public campuses to assess student learning; and in 1995-96, 24 states had such assessment requirements. In 1995-96, 18 states had some form of performance funding/budgeting in which some portion of higher education appropriation was tied to meeting state goals. (Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, September, 1995, p. 10.; Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, September, 1996, p. 12.)

To these policy developments, we may add the more assertive posture of governing boards. In a March/April 1997 issue of Change, author Marvin Lazerson explores this trend in a piece entitled "Who Owns Higher Education?" Today's trustees are less likely to find the older two-motion theory of board operation satisfying. According to that theory of board role, a board meeting would be comprised of two motions. The first motion would be to fire the president. If that motion failed, then there would follow a motion to adjourn. Contemporary trustees, in both corporate and collegiate sectors, are more likely to question and probe issues of policy and performance in the financial and educational life of an institution, contributing to the accent on accountability.

Clearly, these developments place the locus of accountability initiative and interest external to the campus as compared to earlier years when faculties enjoyed almost complete autonomy on issues of policy and performance.

In some ways, accountability is a tired term, overused and less often understood. Perhaps, therefore, we ought to take just a moment to probe its meaning. Writing in a 1972 monograph on Accountability in Higher Education, Kenneth Mortimer suggested that "Accountability accentuates results--it aims squarely at what comes out of an educational system rather than what goes into it. It assumes that if no learning takes place, no teaching has taken place" (Mortimer, 1972, p. 6). This view affirms a shift in perspective from assuming that the presence of a qualified faculty, a carefully selected library, a well equipped physical plant, and an adequate financial base are guarantors of quality to the question of whether students really learned and changed in the presence of these resources.

While civic friends and colleagues call us to the results model, we continue to hold tightly in some cases to the resource and reputational model of quality and performance. Here, for example, is a university grappling with serious budget reductions and that has crafted procedures to evaluate the priority of both academic programs and administrative services--a courageous and complex work. The criteria first published for the assessment of academic program quality included no criterion related to evidence of student learning nor any evidence related to satisfaction or perception of students or graduates! Such behavior lends credence to the notion that faculty may be the only professionals who can advance in standing and status without concern for their primary clients.

From my perspective, accountability involves a formally expressed expectation--a campus or board policy, a state or federal law or policy, or formal standard of another agency such as an accreditation agency--that may embrace any or all of these conditions:

A tensioned dialogue on higher education governance, quality, and performance has accompanied the emergence of accountability expectations. . . and for understandable reasons. The motives and methods of civic and collegiate accountability interests are sometimes contentious and adversarial. In their 1995 monograph Accountability in Colleges and Universities, Graham, Lyman and Trow suggest that ". . .these hemispheres contradict rather than complement one another" (Graham, Lyman, Trow, 1995, p. iv.). The differences in motive and method tend to create two cultures.

Are collegiate and civic accountability cultures destined to remain contentious and adversarial, or is there promise for partnership and for reconciliation. In closing, we explore an architecture for partnership and seek a system that accents academic and political decision utility.


Reconciling political and academic accountability requires an examination of both attitude and method. First to matters of attitude.

Sobering Realities. On the matter of attitude, there are sobering realities to be entertained before we venture ideas on how to bring academic and political accountability cultures closer together. The first question is whether any accountability system will negate the unhappy fruits of poor economic and revenue conditions in a state, region, or nation. Second, is there any accountability system that will negate the attitudes of political officers who do not value higher education. Third, is there any accountability system that will compensate for dark motives, shallow standards, courage deficits, and insensitive conscience in some academic administrators and faculty members. Fourth and finally, is there any accountability system that will negate the positions and perceptions of those who do not want to be bothered by the facts.

It has been said that under carefully controlled conditions human beings will behave as they #*%@ well please. A variant of this law is that in the face of incontrovertible scientific evidence, human beings will believe what they wish. Here is what Sir Francis Bacon observed:

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion . . . draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects; in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate (Bacon, 1937, p. 29).
Thus, we would be wise to understand in advance that favorable trend lines, statistical portraits, and performance indicator profiles may not alter cherished positions and beliefs of those who who do not wish to be disturbed by the facts--whether academic or political officers. While these notes may shake our faith in the power of rationality, they also keep us alert to the decision frailty of accountability systems.

Indeed, an important question that has been raised about current accountability policy and systems is whether they have had constructive decision impact at either the campus or the state level. In a 1993 SREB report, Bogue, Creech, and Folger suggested that some campus responses to state policy had been more cosmetic and adaptive than substantive and constructive. Now that we have explored and acknowledged the limits of rationality in both political and academic settings, let us move to a more encouraging note of attitude.

The Mind of the Scholar. In an organization that prospects for truth in adversarial forum, in an organization holding that we have not understood a truth until we have contended with its challenge, would we feel comfortable if our policies and our practices, our assumptions and ways of doing business went unchallenged. The mind of the scholar is hospitable to dissent and disputation--and should remain so when the dissent and disputation targets the heart of the collegiate enterprise.

Moreover, we should not be surprised that an organization like a college or university, whose principal work is to assault common sense, may itself come under assault. Today's truth was yesterday's heresy; and the bringers of new truth, the wreckers of paradigm, the critics of common sense are not always greeted with warm and friendly embrace.

Might the mind of the scholar also accept the range and intensity of public criticism as an indicator of higher education's success, a pleasure measure of constructive moment? If there has been any distinctive feature of American higher education in the latter half of the century more important and visible than the emergence of accountabilaity interests, it would surely be enhanced access. The increased access to college and university education produces more minds equipped for and inclined to criticism. Have we not said in our catalogs and promotional brochures that we want our graduates to think critically? Did we not believe that they might also think critically about their intellectual homes? Gibran says that "I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers" (Gibran, 1926, p. 58). It is easy to be ungrateful to our critics, but we should resist that impulse.

As a quick indicator of the previously mentioned tension in public discourse about higher education mission and performance, let us note that not even on enhanced access do we have consent. In Defenese of Elitism is a provoking but stimulative treatise in which author William Henry observes that " . . .no social evolution has been more willfully egalitarian than opening the academy. Despite the seeming elitism of fostering self-improvement and learning, the true effects have been to help break down the distinctions between the accomplished and the workaday, and to promote pseudo-scholarship based on gender anxiety and ethnic tribalism" (Henry, 1994, p. 150-151). Henry's prescription for this perceived unhappy drift in standard is to close down most community colleges and return many universities to their normal school status.

We have said that the mind of the scholar is hospitable to dissent and disputation. Such dissent and disputation are inevitable and welcome outcomes of our inclination to curiosity, which is perhaps the most fundamental value of the educated mind. Accompanying that curiosity should be the values of courage and persistence that enable a good mind to stay the course. Such a mind does not run and hide at the first sign of contention and criticism.

In that spirit, it may well be that some motives and methods will remain contentious. Here, however, are reflections on how we might realize additional complementarity and partnership between political and academic accountability systems.

Continuing Use of Peer Review. The practice of laying performance before the judgment and experience of those external to an organization is in the best spirit of the concept of accountability. And this is precisely what colleges and universities have been doing for years in accreditation and academic program reviews. While the limitations and liabilities of these practices are by now obvious to both academics and civic friends, in my mind, they represent evaluative practices worthy of continuance.

Here are four changes I would commend. First, I would urge a stronger governance involvement of lay and civic voices in the management boards of accrediting associations. Second, I like the suggestion by Graham, Lyman, and Trow that accreditation utilize the concept of audit. If an institution is meeting the conditions of accreditation, it could be argued that it should be meeting those conditions all the time. Rather than ten year visits, it may be that accrediting groups would form their visting committees from both peer reviewers and professional evaluators, similar to hospital accrediting groups, and make unannounced visits to campuses for purposes of auditing their conformance to accrediting criteria and standards. Third, I would urge the adoption of an evaluation scheme that yields more public information and distinction than a simple pass/fail. The insertion of a "commendation" status might be a beginning. And finally, I might commend the merit of involving board members/trustees in selected accreditation and program reviews. In the early history of American higher education, board members often sat on baccalaureate examinations. Why not call board members to a more active participation in the quality assurance activities of a campus.

Performance Indicator Profiles. All but two states served by the Southern Regional Education Board require annual reporting on a series of performance indicators in 1993 (Bogue, Creech, and Folger, 1993). Having performance intelligence on our programs and evidence of progress toward public goals is not an unreasonable expectation at either the campus or state level. While public performance profiles can be manipulated and camouflaged in various ways--and there is no public report that cannot be distorted--asking campuses to offer public evidence on performance indicators expressing their mission and distinctiveness accents does not seem an unreasonable expectation in my mind.

What might help to improve the decision utility and acceptability of these profiles would be to involve teams of academics, board members, and political officers/staff in their design and use. Instead of academic and political officers standing off in grand detachment and adversarial posture, let them join in ventures of design and evaluation. Understanding and appreciation are more likely to emerge from more intimate association than from polite political distance.

Performance Audits. Most public colleges and universities are already subject to financial and administrative audits from state auditors working from either executive or legislative base. What might be the benefits of expanding state audits to examine campus performance indicator reports and other quality assurance activities to ascertain what policy and practice decisions have been influenced by campus quality assurance efforts? Might there be professional development and renewal advantages in inviting selected faculty and staff to take paid leave from their campus to serve occasionally on audit teams with state professional auditors?

Accountability of Accountability Policy and Systems. Since we have noted that there is no public policy without flaw, no public policy that cannot be met with adaptive and cosmetic responsee, perhaps we would want to commend periodic external evaluations of accountability policy by evaluator panels external to a state--an accountability of accountability if you will. Here evaluator panels would examine data, interview principal campus and political officials to garner candid and open perception about the value and impact of accountability systems in a state. In closing here are principles that might anchor and guide such evaluation.


Among the important principles that accountability practices and policy should serve are these:

Would these principles should prove offensive to academic or political conscience. Now this closing note. Widely respected by corporate America, management scholar Peter Drucker wrote of higher education in Innovation and Entrepreneurship that "No better text for a History of Entrpreneurship could be found than the creation and development of the modern university , and especially the modern American university" (Drucker, 1985, p. 23). Thus, the contemporary American college and university is a product of both civic and collegiate imagination and invention. I see no reason why these pleasant attributes of mind cannot continue to infect our thinking as we search for ways to nurture and demonstrate quality, as we search for ways to reconcile academic and political accountabilaity cultures.


An American Imperative: Higher Expectations for Higher Education. A Report of the Wingspread Group on Higher Education. The Johnson Foundation, 1993.

Anderson, M. Imposters in the Temple. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Bacon, F. "Of Great Place," in Essays, Civil and Moral, The Harvard Classics, C. W. Elliot (ed.). New York: P. F. Collier and Son, 1937, p. 29.

Bloom, A. The Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Bogue, E., Creech, J., and Folger, J., Assessing Quality in Higher Education: Policy Actions in SREB States. Atlanta: Southern Regional Education Board, 1993.

Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, September, 1995.

Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, September, 1996.

Drucker, P. Innovation and Entrepreneurship. New York: Harper Collins, 1985.

Gibran, K. Sand and Foam. New York: Albred A. Knopf, 1926.

Graham, P., Lyman, R., and Trow, M. Accountability of Colleges and Universities. New York: Columbia University, October, 1985.

Henry, W. III, In Defense of Elitism. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Lazerson, M. "Who Owns Higher Education?" Change. (29)2, March/April, 1997, pp. 10 - 15.

Mortimer, K. Accountability in Higher Education. Washington, D. C.: American Association for Higher Education, 1972.

Patterson, D. When Learned Men Murder. Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa Foundation, 1996.

Roche, G. The Fall of the Ivory Tower. New York: Regnery, 1993.

Sykes, C. Profscam. Washington, D. C.: Regnery, 1988.

Young, R., No Neutral Ground. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1997.

Copyright E. GRADY BOGUE, PH.D.

FAX: (423) 974-6146

Talk to the Conference Participants

Questions and comments may be directed to the Conference Convenor, Alvin G. Burstein or individual authors by clicking on his/her name.

Main Page

This page has been accessed times.

Last updated: July 22, 1997