Peter Senge on Academia as a Business

Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline explained that academia as the classic example for how difficult it is for organization to manage the process by which change is introduced and sold in to the organization. (Senge, 1990) Senge is best known for stressing the importance of cross department communication and alignment of goals across department lines (Senge, 1990). Higher education tends to function as a disparate group of independent departments and individual contractors. Change becomes a difficult process because there is limited line management outside of the Provost, Dean and department chairs. But without an awareness of the competitive factors and changes in market for college graduates, institutions are walking in darkness at noon day. That is why Senge, George Keller (1983), and others believe strategic planning and alignment is so critical

Senge sees academic departments as the classic silo within the larger university setting. By design at the vast majority of colleges , disciplines are fiercely independent and fight to establish a culture of superiority in order to compete for limited resourses with  other departments and gain the approval of the outside world.

Unfortunately that silo mentality is usually damaging to the organization as a whole. Competing against other departments for resources happens everywhere. But how do they compete? Departments compete for scarce resources, notoriety, students, and presidential attention by advancing their personal goals and agenda and not for the overal good of the university according to Senge.  

Most universities had over 100 of these departments/divisions operating semi-autonomously with their own set of rules and distinctive culture. It was the classic fiefdom of  chairs who have ruled their department for 10+ years with little or no input from busy Deans or Provosts. Does it have to work that way?

The way faculty are evaluated gives us a clue. Peer review, research and teaching expectations, incentive compensation, and culture are by definition defined by the chair and key members of the department as opposed to the Dean. Usually the key members of a department are senior faculty who are tenured. Faculty promotions, tenure and raises are primarily determined by the department chair and these senior faculty in a peer review process.

 According to Senge, the faculty who work in these silos have “blinders on” and cannot meet the needs of the institution when their goals are not aligned with the college’s. These faculty members will not sacrifice or even empathize for the goals of the entire institution if it conflicts with their professional goals or conflicts with the discipline specific work related to achieving tenure or recognition (Senge, 1990). This means most department members are walking in darkness at noon day” in terms of the overall objectives and goals of the institution. When these institutions get “out of alignment” in terms of their department goals versus the entire institution, any change acceptance process is hindered too. 

 Often the institutional department or administrator responsible for implementing change, say the Dean or Provost must exhibitan authoritative style to get things done in this environment. When problems arise, the dysfunctional behavior of chairs will rule the day because faculty won’t understand or agree with the need for change. These cultural fights for institution wide initiatives such as changes in general education requirements, or greater inter-disciplinary integration become a battlefield for the heart of the institution.

Why does this happen? Answer: The institution’s goal of student success runs out of alignment with department goals or expectations for graduates. Senge believes this is not necessary and advocates leaders who can bring departments into line with the overall good of the university.

Business know-how through Integrated Learning

Everything Monmouth College invests in is driven by how it can help our students succeed. Our students did not believe you could learn advanced entrepreneurism from a text so we found 21 entrepreneurs to come and speak to our class. Each entrepreneur, student, family, and culture had a different definition of success. To one person the pursuit of financial rewards was synonymous with seeking success. Others may see the development of admirable qualities such as curiosity, honesty, empathy, and ethical behavior to be preeminent in their definition of success. Monmouth developed its own unique approach to higher education and this course was a good example of how education can change lives.

Monmouth’s approach was designed to impact the wellness of each person–intellectually, physically, and socially by challenging them intellectually and helping students develop admirable qualities. It prepares them for successful lives—whatever their definition. Monmouth’s secret ingredient is integrating learning from science, business, international culture, the arts, and classic philosophy. Check out the comments to most of theses posts and you will be impressed with what our students learned from a few guest speakers.

Integrated learning is Monmouth’s philosophical approach to how knowledge is created, disseminated and best understood. My colleague Michael Connell recently said “To understand anything fully one must consider the history and culture that created it, the science it is based upon, its ethical, moral and political implications, its economic and social manifestations, and the changes it will produce. It is the recognition that facts, theories and ideas do not exist in isolation, but in context.

For our faculty, it is a commitment to a pedagogy based on the principle that knowledge is meaningful only in relationship to other knowledge. To impart these broader insights, we require our students to take courses in global perspectives, personal reflection and community citizenship. It is our intention to explore the inter-relationships between different fields of study in each and every course we teach. The integration of knowledge is a life-skill that allows individuals to understand better the world in which they live, to contribute more effectively to society, and to enjoy a more meaningful life.”

I think that sums it up quite nicely.

Thanks to the 21 Entrepreneurs

Thanks to the 21 Entrepreneurs who participated by coming to campus, hosting us at their place of business, or talking to us by conference phone. Some even commented and corresponded with student participants via this blog. It has been a great Spring and we look forward to continuing Midwest Entrepreneurs Spring of 2012.