Book Review: The Organization of Higher Education: Managing Colleges for a New Era

Editor: Michael N. Bastedo

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press – 366 pages

Book Review by: Paiso Jamakar

This book points out how institutions of higher education have changed and continue to change, looking more and more like businesses and companies.

It also point out how companies – particularly the largest ones in the United States – have changed and continue to change, looking more and more like universities and colleges, with large grounds looking like campuses.

This is a collection of writings by a dozen professors of higher education. Michael N. Bastedo, editor of this volume, is associate professor for the study of higher and postsecondary education at the University of Michigan. He has been a Fullbright scholar in the Netherlands, research director of the Institutes on Public University

Governance, and a Ford Foundation Global Policy Fellow at the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

He writes: “People like to talk about ‘higher education is becoming more like a business’ but the reverse is more probably true: business is becoming more like higher education. Consulting firms, law firms, and hospital firms have long operated as quasi universities at the top of the professional prestige hierarchy (Abbott, 1988). But now companies like Microsoft, Google and Xerox are organized as campuses rather than traditional firms.”

He continues: “Employees are recruited using rigorous exams, certifications, and auditions and have far more autonomy than in traditional firms. Research and development functions have become greatly expanded in the quest for information and ‘firms as campuses’ have become total institutions (Goffman 1961) that provide transportation, personal services, gyms and entertainment to facilitate 24/7 schedules.”

Talk about company culture becoming like campus culture: “Even sabbaticals are migrating to firms. In 2008, 38 percent of large to mid-sized companies allowed some form of paid or unpaid leave to employees (Galinsky, Sakai & Wigton, 2010). General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Timberland, American Express Hallmark and Proctor & Gamble all offer three months or ore of fully paid sabbatical leave to some employees, and many more offer one to three months of paid leave.” The author points out that questions relating to such topics as governance, elite leaders and field dynamics are being emphasized, disproportionately by universities in their courses about higher education. On the other hand, important bread-and-butter issues relating to college affordability – such as who will attend college, who stays in college, how much do students actually learn, how much should college cost (college costs are soaring and student debt has escalated in the last decade), how the equity and stratification in our education system can be improved – have been for the most part been largely ignored.

In the light of the above, Bastedo spells out the basic purpose of this book: ”This book seeks to reinvigorate the study of higher education as an organization. The book’s authors seek to address these criticisms by reevaluating and reconsidering the state of the field of higher education organizations and propose lines of inquiry for the future.”

The book’s 12 chapters are organized into four basic parts. Part I, Reviewing the Field, covers topics relating to organizing higher education and an important aspect of higher education research, which is strategic thinking. Part II, Reinvigorating Core Literatures, discusses subjects on governance research; the related issues of power, politics and global rankings in higher education; the quest for prestige and positioning for it; creativity in organizational culture; and organizational change in a globally competitive postmodern world.

Part III, New Lines of Inquiry, focuses on diversity as a bridge to the future, social movements and the university; agency theory in higher education organizations; and organizational cognition in higher education.

Part IV, Reconstructing Theory, takes a look at the building theories using sticky social mechanisms to understand and improve educational work. This book is on how to manage institutions of higher education in our new era where much as changed with the increased spread of knowledge and accessibility of information through the Internet and at the same time the huge use of social media by more than a billion people, a large part of the literate world.

Michael N. Bastedo is very knowledgeable on this subject and has done excellent work in locating talent, compiling content, organizing ideas and presenting them well in this excellent work.