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  • Competing Conceptions of University Governance: Negotiating the Perfect Storm
  • Brian Pusser
Competing Conceptions of University Governance: Negotiating the Perfect Storm edited by William G. Tierney. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. 264 pp. Cloth $36.95. ISBN 0-8018-7920-5.

This book arrives at an important moment in the evolution of university governance. As the editor, William Tierney, notes in his introduction, rarely has the topic of governance been more relevant, as postsecondary institutions across the world find themselves buffeted by globalization, neo-liberal policies, market competition, and the increasingly rancorous politics of institutional governance. Beginning with Mary Burgan's excellent overview of the array of demands shaping contemporary institutional governance contests, the research and scholarship in this volume provide a detailed depiction of the challenges faced by governing boards and postsecondary leaders. Three themes predominate here: the changing context shaping governance, the governance of state systems, and the changing role of faculty in shared governance. The editor's introduction and the opening chapters provide useful perspectives on the contextual shifts shaping the "perfect storm" of the title. Taken together, these authors suggest that institutional governance mechanisms are being transformed by the complexity of contemporary forces and in turn are responsible for increasingly contested institutional transformations.

Simon Marginson uses data from a variety of national postsecondary systems to argue persuasively that while global forces now shape national and local postsecondary policies, those forces remain beyond the reach of national and local postsecondary governance mechanisms. Marginson draws on a number of disciplines and theoretical standpoints in building a "glonacal" (global, national and local) framework for understanding governance challenges, and in the process turns attention to the role of higher education in creating global public goods. David Collis contends that as postsecondary institutions have become more elaborate, their governance mechanisms have become increasingly ineffective. He takes a novel approach to postsecondary complexity (Clark, 1993) through a focus on the "paradox of scope," the notion that while the core of the university governance structure is shrinking, the obligations at the periphery are growing rapidly, with significant consequences for resource allocation, strategic decision making, and coordination (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997). He concludes with a number of suggestions for dramatically reshaping governance, including increasing attention to corporate board processes, decreasing institutional scope, and instituting greater degrees of privatization.

To illuminate the role of state systems in postsecondary governance Neil Hamilton offers four case studies, with particular attention to shared governance. [End Page 602] He highlights the lack of faculty voting power at the system level and the increasing administrative influence in institutional governance at every level. Hamilton's findings on the unique relationship between knowledge producers and managers support earlier work on the increasing importance of union activity in governance (Rhoades, 1998). He also points to peer review as a linchpin of academic freedom, adding an important perspective to the study of faculty self-governance.

Terrence McTaggert also uses case studies to analyze the interactions between state systems and state policy makers during the restructuring of postsecondary systems. Given the relative dearth of attention to politics in research on higher education (Hardy, 1990; Pusser, 2003), this comes as a welcome addition to the existing literature. He quite usefully points to the role of individual political actors and to the power of market discourse and private sector models in shaping legislative action, and he suggests it is imperative that state systems and state policy makers agree on a public agenda for higher education.

The chapters by James Duderstadt and George Keller are not optimistic about the future of shared governance and the faculty role in guiding the contemporary university. Duderstadt argues that lay board members, faculty senates, and academic administrators lack the expertise to manage an increasingly complex organization. Keller places some of the blame at the campus level, arguing that student unrest and political correctness have contributed to the undermining of shared governance from within. Duderstadt suggests that faculty should focus on curriculum development, faculty hiring, and tenure decisions, leaving finance, management, and external relations to administrators. Both authors are apprehensive about increased legislative oversight of the university and each offers a number of provocative responses to current challenges.

In one of...


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