The Journal of Higher Education 74.4 (2003) 469-472
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Management Fads in Higher Education: Where They Come From, What They Do, Why They Fail, by Robert Birnbaum. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000. 320+ pp. $33.00
Birnbaum presents a theory about the success and failures of different management approaches that, with very careful examination, can be of great benefit to future scholars and institutional leaders. Those who believe that the loosely coupled, semicontrolled, anarchical nature of higher education institutions is the most appropriate form of organizational structure for this education enterprise will find great pleasure and solace in this book. Those who believe there are alternative organizational structures will be greatly disturbed.
A "management fad" is defined as a management innovation that is introduced with exaggerated zeal, receives brief popularity and modest success, but, because it is incompatible with the organizational culture, is never fully absorbed and is eventually rejected, as a body would finally reject a foreign matter. The author has identified seven management innovations that he believes fit this definition: Planning, Programming, Budgeting Systems (PPBS); Management By Objectives (MBO); Strategic Planning; Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB); Benchmarking; Total Quality Management (TQM) and Business Process Reengineering.
While a summary table is not presented by Birnbaum, it is possible to identify the evolutionary characteristic of these innovations and the common reasons they met resistance from the culture of higher education. PPBS was concerned with creating a more rational approach at the beginning or input stage of a process by linking planning based on program priorities with budgeting. It was seen as a solution to the historically based, incremental budgeting systems (called Ur-Management by the author) that rarely questioned the appropriateness of a budget and had as a basic assumption that more money would solve any problem. MBO attempted to bring some control to an organization's output or what an organization should actually be doing by identifying and holding people accountable for specific objectives or outcomes. The underlying assumption of ZBB was that both PPBS and MBO blindly accepted an organization's existing priorities. ZBB required that budget priorities and assumptions be continually reexamined and justified in order to qualify for future funding. Strategic planning came into existence because existing planning techniques primarily focused internally on an organization's priorities and did not take into consideration how external events might also affect an organization. Benchmarking evolved as a more sophisticated form of MBO. While MBO was focused on existing organizational objectives, benchmarking assumed that an [End Page 469] organization could be improve by studying and adopting the processes of another organization that was doing something better than anyone else. TQM attempted to bring together, as a total system, the concepts that related to the inputs of an organization (i.e., planning and budgeting); how an organization functioned or its processes (i.e., the major focus of benchmarking); and the outcomes of an organization (i.e., the basis of MBO). Fundamental to TQM was the assumption that if inputs, processes, and outcomes were seen as an interrelated and interdependent system, an organization would better understand the cause and effects of the various parts of organization's processes and be able to make changes that would help an organization better achieve its vision and mission (i.e., create focused continuous improvement). Business Process Reengineering, an extension of MBO and benchmarking, was the result of the frustration people have with the slowness of change. Reengineering assumed that once reorganization or the implementation of new systems was determined as necessary in order to eliminate internal resistance, it was critical to make rapid changes in personnel, organization, and processes.
This book proposes that these seven management innovations have been inappropriately adopted at one time or another by higher education institutions, and, finding them incompatible with the culture, eventually rejected. Birnbaum identifies a "life cycle" where these innovations are first developed in the nonacademic sector, and as they lose favor in the nonacademic sector they are belatedly adopted by the academic sector, only to be...