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Who provides the Checks and Balances in Higher Education? It's Complicated.


Columbia University in the City of New York
Columbia University in the City of New York

What does “accountability” mean for Higher Education Administration? As Inside Higher Ed notes that the congressional House of Representatives plan to overhaul higher education, and impose more accountability, what does this include specifically? One of the underlying patterns we see happening on a national scale externally and internally among divisional and human resource affairs is the need for "checks and balances" within the postsecondary cultural climate context. Nevertheless, why has this phenomenon proven difficult for most institutions to develop and sustain? How do we provide accountability, while simultaneously staying true to our mission of defending Academic Freedom and the Freedom of Speech?

"What seems to be missing is a layer that combines accounting for the outcomes related to the cultural climate at the institution, and essentially the entire "human resource frame."

 

Some argue that this evaluation of sorts is completed through accreditation systems and organizations. Others suggest that this is completed through the institutional outcomes related to student performance, such as retention and overall graduation rates. While these are significant mechanisms for evaluating the strength of curriculum in each institutional setting, what seems to be missing is a layer of evaluation that combines accounting for the outcomes related to the cultural climate at the institution, and essentially the entire "human resource frame" as noted by Bolman and Deal (2014).

 

After all, deciding to pursue a postsecondary education is not a requirement (although some argue it should be). Deciding to join an institution's staff or become a faculty member is also a personal decision to be made for one’s professional career. In polling and institutional surveying, some responses suggest that employees tend to stay in higher education because of the people and relationships, the family of colleagues they have established, and for students, the community they belong to and the affordability, along with the overall package for social mobility outcomes. Other components that make working at or attending a higher education institution beneficial include the lifelong affiliations and the social accoutrements thereof.

 

However, as we think about what deems a college or university "successful” and “welcoming” and “accessible” we have several metrics of evaluation that are relevant, depending upon the lens we are looking through. A student studying at an institution depends heavily on the resources provided, the faculty experience and expertise, social networking, and the opportunity to accel beyond their college degree. Some students are also looking to advance their autonomy by pursuing opportunities to study abroad, live on their own or among roommates, and essentially take their first stab at "adulting" as research considers traditional-age college-going students entering emerging adulthood.

 

Working at an institution is an entirely different dynamic. Pluralism abounds, and depending on your role, there is increased scrutiny, and often, the success of your position is tied to outcomes and outputs. We have all witnessed the toxicity that can build within a human resource frame where employees feel unappreciated, overworked, and underpaid. Higher education is similar to other sectors and industries in desiring to attract and retain great people, the faculty and staff. If we were to venture down the rabbit hole of the tenure-track versus non-tenure-track dichotomy among faculty, there is much more nuance to be discussed.


"How do we provide checks and balances in Higher Education? Who ensures institutions deliver on their promises, and if not, how are these issues provided some sense of resolution? The answer is: It is complicated."

 

The question remains: How do we provide checks and balances in Higher Education? Who ensures institutions deliver on their promises, and if not, how are these issues provided some sense of resolution? The answer is: It is complicated. Most of the issues cannot be mitigated by only changing the administration or letting go of a senior official. Changing higher education institutional culture requires a consistent commitment to cultural change and transcends any one person or entity on a college campus. The solution is multifaceted, incremental, and it is time we start being more intentional about the cultural climate on campus for students, faculty, and staff alike. When we invest in our people, we invest in the institutional longevity overall.

 

(Article 1 of 3)


Book Recommendation:

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2014). How great leaders think: The art of reframing. John Wiley & Sons.


 

Rebuttals are always welcome,

Jade M. Felder


 

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Whose responsibility is it now,

to help our students get funds for school?

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