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Making Reform Work

The Case for Transforming American Higher Education

Robert Zemsky

Publication Year: 2009

Making Reform Work is a practical narrative of ideas that begins by describing who is saying what about American higher educationùwho's angry, who's disappointed, and why. Robert 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 and offers 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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

This is the first book in more than thirty years that I have not written with a coauthor. It remains the case, however, that in casting and then recasting my sense of how and why American higher education needs to change I have benefited greatly from that extraordinary team that works at the core of The Learning Alliance (now in proper alphabetical...

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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...

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1: Prelude to Reform

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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...

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2: The Wine of Our Discontent

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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...

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3: Commodification and Other Sins

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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...

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4: The Way We Are

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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...

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5: The Rain Man Cometh—Again

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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...

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6: Scandals Waiting to Happen

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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...

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7: The Four Horsemen of Academic Reform

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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...

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8: Flat-World Contrarians

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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...

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9: The Wrong-Way Web

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pp. 143-181

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...

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10: Were Learning to Matter

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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...

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11: Building Blocks

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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...

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12: Changing Strategies

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pp. 203-219

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...


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pp. 221-227


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pp. 229-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780813548463
E-ISBN-10: 0813548462
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813545912
Print-ISBN-10: 0813545919

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 1 illustration
Publication Year: 2009