Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Making Reform Work

Making Reform Work: The Case for Transforming American Higher Education

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Making Reform Work
    Book Description:

    Making Reform Workis a practical narrative of ideas that begins by describing who is saying what about American higher educationùwho's angry, who's disappointed, and why. Most of the pleas for changing American colleges and universities that originate outside the academy are lamentations on a small number of too often repeated themes. The critique from within the academy focuses on issues principally involving money and the power of the market to change colleges and universities. Sandwiched between these perspectives is a public that still has faith in an enterprise that it really doesn't understand.Robert Zemsky, one of a select group of scholars who participated in Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings's 2005 Commission on the Future of Higher Education, signed off on the commission's report with reluctance. InMaking Reform Workhe presents the ideas he believesshouldhave come from that group to forge a practical agenda for change. Zemsky argues that improving higher education will require enlisting faculty leadership, on the one hand, and, on the other, a strategy for changing the higher education system writ large.

    Directing his attention from what can't be done to what can be done, Zemsky provides numerous suggestions. These include a renewed effort to help students' performance in high schools and a stronger focus on the science of active learning, not just teaching methods. He concludes by suggesting a series of dislodging eventsùfor example, making a three-year baccalaureate the standard undergraduate degree, congressional rethinking of student aid in the wake of the loan scandal, and a change in the rules governing endowmentsùthat could break the gridlock that today holds higher education reform captive.

    Making Reform Workoffers three rules for successful college and university transformation: don't vilify, don't play games, and come to the table with a well-thought-out strategy rather than a sharply worded lamentation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4846-3
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Robert Zemsky
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-6)

    The American university, as we regularly remind ourselves, boasts an ancient heritage. We count ourselves the direct descendents of Abelard in Paris, of Oxbridge and a tradition of the college as sanctuary, and finally of the German university with its emphasis on research and codification. As remembrances, these traditions often take on a kind of Lake Wobegon quality, where all are our ancestors were strong, all their students good-looking, and all their claims to virtue way above average.

    In truth, however, the modern American university as an institution did not exist a half-century ago—not until the scientific and scholarly...

  5. 1 Prelude to Reform
    (pp. 7-21)

    An invitation from Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings asked me to join her in Denver for a roundtable discussion focusing on American higher education. Nothing seemed right—no list of invited participants, no offer to cover travel costs, no indication, really, of intended purposes or likely outcomes. I had all but decided to decline the invitation by citing family and other responsibilities, when the e-mail from Jim Duderstadt, former president of the University of Michigan, arrived; he hoped I would join him for breakfast in Denver the morning of the secretary’s roundtable. I bought my tickets that afternoon.

    We all...

  6. 2 The Wine of Our Discontent
    (pp. 22-37)

    Much of the story of reform in higher education has been written by the exhorters who have challenged us to do better while at the same time suggesting they know exactly what “doing better” entails. Often the best known exhorters have been university presidents—Charles Eliot of Harvard, Robert Maynard Hutchins of the University of Chicago, and Clark Kerr of the University of California come readily to mind. More recently, higher education’s leading exhorters have come from organizations that promote improvement. Russ Edgerton as president of the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) and Lee Schulman as president of the...

  7. 3 Commodification and Other Sins
    (pp. 38-56)

    Part snarl, part slogan, part technical term—it is the process by which markets transform educational experiences into educational commodities or products—for many academic insiders, commodification is the other side of the lamenter’s coin, the sure sign that the nation’s colleges and universities have gone astray. It is the process Andrew Delbanco had in mind when he lamented that the modern university was now dangerously close to becoming “just another corporation.” Money matters too much—values hardly at all. Students have been transformed into customers. Faculty have been told to become entrepreneurs, which is just a step above being...

  8. 4 The Way We Are
    (pp. 57-71)

    It is as good a time as any to ask, Is American higher education really as bad as the lamenters, efficiency pundits, and anti-commodifiers would have us believe? Have the nation’s colleges and universities truly lost their way, and do they require strong words to put them back on course? Who is really angry and who is merely disappointed with American higher education? Is there now—or likely to be in the near future—a groundswell of discontent sufficient to burn through higher education’s Teflon coating? All of which is to ask, Who beyond those who would remake higher education...

  9. 5 The Rain Man Cometh—Again
    (pp. 72-89)

    For colleges and universities October has traditionally been a tough month—growing darkness, impending rain and cold, the creeping realization that the football team won’t win that many games, and, to make matters worse, an opportunity for really bad news. It was on an October day in 1987 that the stock market experimented with free-fall, jangling the nerves of every institution whose endowment included equity holdings. Two years later, on Friday the 13th of October, the market flirted with a similar decline. For residents of the San Francisco Bay area, October is now marked as the month of the “Little...

  10. 6 Scandals Waiting to Happen
    (pp. 90-106)

    I was working with a board of trustees filled with corporate executives certain that higher education was in trouble—not their own university, to be sure, but everyone else’s. They listened politely as I explained what could—and could not—be included in an effective reform agenda, and then, in no uncertain terms, they told me to stop pussyfooting around. Just like everybody else in the academy, they said, I was afraid to identify higher education’s real problems: faculty who can’t teach, administrators who don’t know how to stop spending other people’s money, and students who are more interested in...

  11. 7 The Four Horsemen of Academic Reform
    (pp. 107-125)

    Margaret Spellings stood before us just as she stands before most audiences—smiling, comfortable, and confident, forever displaying her can-do, will-do determination. Though the challenge was large and time was short, just about a year, she expressed no doubts that her assembled commissioners would deliver a “comprehensive national strategy” addressing what theChronicle of Higher Educationcalled “such sweeping issues as access, affordability, accountability, and quality.”¹

    Without meaning to, the secretary had stumbled into what I subsequently realized was a linguistic cul-de-sac. Though she was celebrating an enterprise devoted to rationality, clear thinking, and precise exposition, she was asking her...

  12. 8 Flat-World Contrarians
    (pp. 126-142)

    Colleges and universities are forever on retreats—presidents convene them, trustees love them, consultants depend on them for their livelihood. Most retreats focus on institutional issues: the preparation for a campaign, the quality of campus life, the strength of the curriculum, or, as is most often the case, simply the need to get better organized. Beginning in the summer of 2005, however, an inordinately large number of such gatherings took a different tack, inspired by the publication of Tom Friedman’sThe World Is Flat. The book, thick though it was, was a natural read for academics: this narrative full of...

  13. 9 The Wrong-Way Web
    (pp. 143-159)

    Globalization, Friedman argues, was a product of merging two irresistible forces. First, the unexpectedly rapid liberalization of economic systems resulted in convertible currencies, binding trade agreements, transparent business practices, reduced tariffs, and a mindset that made “country of origin” considerably less important. In a process that resembles nothing so much as the mad dance of the sorcerer’s apprentice (recall the early Walt Disney cartoon in which Mickey Mouse plays the hapless apprentice), countries, cities, individuals, even tribes and clans rushed to expand markets, produce standardized products, and embrace business models that stressed just-in-time manufacture and service delivery.

    The second irresistible...

  14. 10 Were Learning to Matter
    (pp. 160-181)

    Despite the energy Steve Lehmkuhle and Claudia Neuhauser invested in their alternate organizational structure for the University of Minnesota, Rochester (UMR), their ultimate goal had more to do with learning than with either structure or technology. Their announced purpose was to develop an academic environment in which students learned more because they learned better. Indeed, what is probably the most radical and hence important aspect of the UMR experiment is its embrace of the revolution neuroscientists and others have fomented in their search for a better understanding of how students learn and hence how they might be better served.


  15. 11 Building Blocks
    (pp. 182-202)

    The Wharton School’s Greg Shea has an uncanny ability to get experienced—and sometimes not-so-experienced—executives to understand the perils of misdirected management. In the 1990s he was a mainstay in an executive leadership program for senior higher education leaders and managers offered by the Wharton School and Penn’s Institute for Research on Higher Education. With ill-disguised envy, I suspect, I would sit in the back of Shea’s classroom and watch him take what should have been a skeptical class of presidents, provosts, deans, and vice presidents and march them through routines whose intent was to “re-wire” how they went...

  16. 12 Changing Strategies
    (pp. 203-220)

    The history of American higher education is well supplied with reform movements that have gone nowhere. Despite fervent calls for change most often issued by a commission with an impressive masthead, nothing much happens—or worse, the only visible result is a lot of hurt feelings and a further hunkering down by the college and university leaders on whom successful change ultimately depends. Higher education traditionalists will want to argue that is as it should be: higher education does not need reforming, it’s doing just fine as it is, thank you. Cynics and skeptics, lamenters and critics will once again...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 221-228)
  18. Index
    (pp. 229-240)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-242)