The Strategic Plan: a tool for administrative power?

Questioning the purpose of the strategic plan

The Chronicle of Higher Education carries an extract from a new book by Benjamin Ginsberg on the ‘all-administrative university’ which apparently argues that:

that the explosive growth in administration, the decline in faculty influence, and the institutional corporatization of American universities contributes to a loss of intellectual rigor.

So, doesn’t sound at all polemical then. But the extract on strategic planning is quite interesting:

The strategic plan serves several important purposes for administrators. First, when they organize a planning process and later trumpet their new strategic plan, senior administrators are signaling to the faculty, to the trustees, and to the general community that they are in charge. The plan is an assertion of leadership and a claim to control university resources and priorities. This function of planning helps to explain why new presidents and sometimes new deans usually develop new strategic plans. We would not expect newly elected presidents of the United States simply to affirm their predecessors’ inaugural addresses. In order to demonstrate leadership to the nation, they must present their own bold initiatives and vision for the future. For college leaders, the strategic plan serves this purpose.

A second and related purpose served by planning is co-optation. A good deal of evidence suggests that the opportunity to participate in institutional decision-making processes affords many individuals enormous psychic gratification. For this reason, clever administrators see periodic consultation as a means of inducing employees to be more cooperative and to work harder.

And it goes on. Essentially the argument is that not only is strategic planning a waste of time, it is also a tool for administrators to secure power and control over faculty. There are undoubtedly examples of where strategic planning is done poorly or undertaken insincerely or even cynically. And whilst it is always possible to over elaborate strategic planning, when properly executed it can be a key vehicle for achieving institutional change and improvement.

But this is clearly not the view here:

The plan is not a blueprint for the future. It is, instead, a management tool for the present. The ubiquity of planning at America’s colleges and universities is another reflection and reinforcement of the continuing growth of administrative power.

I’m not sure I’ll be buying the book.

Advertisements

Agonising over International Student Recruitment

Squeamish or purist? US universities debating use of recruitment agents

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on what sounds like a lively debate on the use of agents for international student recruitment.

The practice of paying overseas agents for the students they recruit has become more contentious as it has grown more common among American colleges. Proponents say it can help attract students in an increasingly competitive global student market, and they note that other countries, like Australia and Britain, rely on foreign representatives to bring in students.

But a primary membership group for admissions officials, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC, has released a proposed policy statement that would expressly forbid colleges from using commission-based agents to recruit domestically or internationally. (Institutions cannot pay commissions for domestic students if they receive federal financial-aid funds.)

… Mr. Hawkins questioned paying commissions to student recruiters, saying the practice, when used by for-profit institutions in the United States, had proved “disastrous” in the past. “It creates an incentive to marginalize students’ interests,” he said.

So, are they being unduly squeamish? Or is it more about adopting a principled approach to international student recruitment? Many UK universities have routinely used agents for international recruitment for many years but the key here is about how you do it and making sure you use the right ones. As Mitch Leventhal of SUNY points out in an essay about engaging properly with agents, it’s essential to maintain high standards.

While US universities agonise about this it is of course good news for competitor nations in international student recruitment. And in the UK we need every assistance we can get to counteract the negative effect of the messaging and the practice of Tier 4 immigration controls.

Stanford Adds Alumni Interviews

One of those big differences between US and UK universities

Inside Higher Ed carries a piece on alumni interviews:

Alumni interviews have for decades been part of the admissions process at elite private colleges. Their role has sometimes frustrated applicants, and left them guessing about strategies. Over the years, the process has also annoyed many alumni.

Interview

"Enough about you, let me tell you about when I was a student here..."

A 2002 article in The New York Times quoted a Cornell University alumnus talking about how all of the candidates seem the same: “If I see another valedictorian, I may throw up.” And Cornell doesn’t even call the sessions “interviews,” preferring the term “contact meeting” to stress that the alumni aren’t deciding who gets in. Still, alumni interviews are the norm at elite colleges — with a more common complaint of alumni of late, as documented recently by Bloomberg, being that they don’t have enough influence to make the interviews worth their time.

So, Stanford has joined in after standing apart from others for some time. It’s really just not clear why.

But could it happen in the UK? Mass applications would effectively prevent this as they have already killed off interviews in most subjects and institutions. But even if interviewing was still a common feature, would you involve alumni in the process?