DOES GROWING THE NUMBER OF ACADEMIC DEPARTMENTS IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF HIGHER EDUCATION?
Recently, Amazon hired away Candace Thille from Stanford University. It appears that Amazon has had it with public and private college and universities and decided to train its own workforce (Bruni, 2018). It is not surprising that most corporations believe that college does a poor job of preparing students for the workplace. Whereas 96% of academic leaders such as college presidents feel that their institutions prepare students for success in the workplace, only 11% of business leaders feel this way (Keierleber, 2014). Actually, what matters to most employers are skills, not college degrees, majors, and GPAs (Wenreich, 2014). Pfeffer (2007) cites several studies that demonstrate that business schools have not done a good job of creating business ideas that are actually useful to the corporate world. In fact, of the 50 most important management innovations, not one originated in academe. David, David, & David (2011) found that very little is taught in business schools that will actually have value to the corporate world. According to Belkin (2017): "A survey by PayScale Inc., an online pay and benefits researcher, showed 50% of employers complain that college graduates they hire aren't ready for the workplace. Their No. 1 complaint? Poor critical-reasoning skills."
Google makes it very clear that it is moving away from "traditional metrics" that include factors such as GPA and now wants employees with such skill as "leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability, and loving to learn and relearn" (Friedman, 2014). Many of these skills are not taught in college. In any case, it is skills, expertise and knowledge that matter, not college degrees; this is why the proportion of employees at Google without any college degree keeps increasing (Friedman, 2014).
According to a recent Strada-Gallup 2017 College Student Survey, based on a sample of 32,000 college students, "only one-third of students strongly agree that they will graduate with the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in the job market (34%) and workplace (36%). And just half (53%) believe their major will lead to a good job" (Busteed & Auter, 2018). Caplan (2018) claims that the education system is useless for most students since it does not provide skills or make learning enjoyable. The main benefit to students of higher education is a degree which is a signal to employers that they have the resolve and tenacity to sit through several years of mind-numbing, meaningless busywork.
Colleges have been using metrics as a way to document performance. Outcomes assessment or assessment of learning have become the mantra of institutions of higher education; 84% of institutions have learning goals for students (Berrett, 2014). The kind of competencies that have to be built into courses are "definable, measurable, and have the longest shelf life so that employees and employers see tremendous value from their investments" (Alssid, 2016). What has resulted is a huge increase in the number of administrators and a gaming of performance measures (Muller, 2018). Indeed, Muller (2018) maintains "that which gets measured gets gamed."
Unfortunately, no one cares about measuring administrative productivity. Smith (2018) has been writing about the BS in academe. Three kinds of BS he has underscored are:
BS is universities hijacked by the relentless pursuit of money and prestige, including chasing rankings that they know are deeply flawed, at the expense of genuine educational excellence (to be distinguished from the vacuous 'excellence' peddled by recruitment and 'advancement' offices in every run-of-the-mill university). BS is undergraduate 'core' curricula that are actually not core course systems but loose sets of distribution requirements, representing uneasy truces between turf-protecting divisions and departments intent on keeping their classes full, which students typically then come to view as impositions to 'get out of the way.' BS is administrators' delusion that what is important in higher education can be evaluated by quantitative 'metrics,' the use of which will (supposedly) enable universities to be run more like corporations, thus requiring faculty and staff to spend more time and energy providing data for metrics, which they, too, know are BS (Smith, 2018).
It is not surprising there are so many flaws in the assessment process--e.g., none of the instruments used have been tested for reliability and validity--that it is as likely to cause more harm than good. It is not clear that measuring "learning outcomes" has resulted in improving the quality of education (Worthen, 2018; Muller, 2018; Gilbert, 2018). Gilbert (2018) asserts that it is an open secret among assessors that "assessment has not caused (and probably will not cause) positive changes in student learning" (Gilbert, 2018). In any case, it has resulted in the hiring or more administrators.
There are three vital areas where government spends an inordinate amount of money yet outcomes remain quite disappointing: education, public health, and the criminal justice system. Indeed, there is a great deal of concern by politicians about the rising costs of these three areas (Edwards, 1999). Selingo (2017) points out that more than 800 colleges are at risk and may not survive. A great deal of research and experimentation is underway in an effort to develop more efficient and effective solutions. Several researchers have been promoting networking universities--i.e., several institutions collaborating and partnering together--so that costs can be shared. These partnerships among universities would result in reduced costs. Networked colleges could share administrative costs (e.g., career services international recruitment, and/or admissions) as well as courses in low-enrollment areas (Selingo, 2017; Tobin, 2014).
If small liberal arts colleges want to survive, they need to change their business model to one that stresses collaboration rather than competition.
An obvious model: The Five College Consortium of Amherst, Hampshire, UMass, Mount Holyoke, and Smith allows for cross-registration of students, shared curricula, greatly enhanced library resources, shared faculty appointments, and joint purchasing of materials and health insurance. As Carol Christ, president of Smith, notes in her essay about partnerships, 'The College Without Walls,' the sharing makes each institution small and large at once, greatly expanding elective possibilities without in any way threatening the very different identities of the campuses (Weisbuch, 2014).
Some colleges are merging in order to survive; merging colleges can save money by cutting costs. This is obviously a more drastic move than simply networking colleges. Two trends are adversely affecting institutions of higher learning: decreased state funding for higher education and a declining population of teenagers. In Georgia, two-year and four-year colleges are being merged. Thus, Gainesville State College, a two-year college, merged with North Georgia College and State University, a four-year college, and became the new University of North Georgia. This type of merger makes it very easy for students to switch from the two-year to the four-year college. Pennsylvania and Vermont are also looking into mergers as a way to cut costs. One researcher found that the mergers taking place in Georgia have improved the two-year college completion rate by 7.4% (Quinto, 2017).
There have been many changes in higher education (e.g., growth of online education) but the academic department has "survived largely unchanged--even untouched--by reform" (Edwards, 1999). It is difficult to make substantive change to institutions of higher education without considering change to the academic department structure. It should be much easier to merge departments within a college than merging two-year with four-year colleges.
This paper will focus on higher education and highlight how it is wasting resources that are lavished on it. In particular, this paper will examine how the creation of unneeded academic departments can have serious adverse consequences. In fact, institutions of higher education that want to improve the quality of their schools and save huge amounts of money should consider merging departments. A college or university that wants to improve efficiency and quality has to emulate the new corporate models that stress reducing layers of bureaucracy. The goal at many innovative organizations is to flatten the organizational hierarchy as a way to promote open communications and enhance employee involvement. In the corporate world, the latest computer technology is often used to flatten and decentralize the organizational structure. This is supposed to reduce the layers of bureaucracy and create a more agile, efficient, and effective organization. In 2009, The Economist surveyed 349 executives from all over the world and found that 90% identified organizational agility as a "core differentiator in today's rapidly changing business environment" (Economist Intelligent Unit, 2009). Too many layers of bureaucracy lead to organizational sluggishness and the inability to change.
Interestingly, higher education has been hyping the use of the corporate model as a way of achieving efficiencies (Schultz, 2015). In actuality, the term "corporate model" is often used in higher education as a code word for increasing class size, adding to the layers of bureaucracy, and creating communication blockages between faculty and top administrators; to many administrators; "corporate model" frequently means a hierarchical, autocratic form of management. The goal is usually to take away power from faculty and increase the power of administrators (Friedman, 2015).
College presidents and provosts are often more concerned with fattening up their CVs than doing what is best for a college. They are primarily motivated about what will make them look good for their next job. This is why they love creating more structure. It enables them to say that they created new schools and/or added new departments, which looks good on their CV and might lead to their clinching a better job in the future. Of course, no one asks whether the additional structure made a school more efficient. At one college, faculty teach in buildings filled with mold, asbestos, and vermin, with leaking roofs and malfunctioning air conditioning and heating. But repairing infrastructure does not make a college president look good for the next job so scarce resources are spent on the creating schools and unneeded academic departments. The average tenure of college presidents is only 7 years and their average age is 61 (Snyder, 2013). The average tenure of a chief academic officer/provost is only 4.7 years (Pierce, 2011). It should therefore not be surprising that the loyalty of the college leadership will not be to the institution, but to themselves. Padding the CV often matters more than making meaningful improvements.
This paper will demonstrate how too many academic departments can result in several problems. A college or university that is interested in making changes should first examine its academic departments. Once this problem is solved, it will be much easier to fix the other problems. When an organization becomes too large it becomes inflexible and it becomes extremely difficult to change course. Colleges have to be nimble and this can only happen with fewer academic departments and administrators.
Too Many Departments Increase Administrative Bloat by Adding Superfluous Layers of Bureaucracy
In academe, over the last several decades, the trend has been to increase in the number of administrators and support staff. Administrative bloat--the problem of too many administrators--has resulted in an inordinate amount of waste in higher education (Friedman & Shraibman, 2017; June, 2017; Ginsberg, 2011a; Green, Kisida, & Mills, 2010). Anderson & McGreal (2012) underscore that expenditures on university administration has outpaced the growth in spending on research and teaching since the 1930s. This, they posit, helps explain why tuition increased by 498% between 1981 and 2011 vs. an increase of only 115% for other goods and services over the same time period. They state: "Unlike in other economic sectors, few universities have chosen (or as yet been forced by economic exigency) to flatten their organizations, merge, share services or otherwise drastically reduce administrative overhead." Bok (2015: 33) also avows that "in most universities, administrative staffs have been growing much faster for several decades than faculties or student bodies. Bureaucrats mistakenly believe that the solution to problems requires the hiring of additional bureaucrats. This is why, Michele Zanini, director of a think tank that helps organizations reduce bloat, says: "Bureaucracy never shrinks. It's really hard to unwind bureaucracy once it's there" (June, 2017).
We know from the business world that organizations do not function well with too many layers of management. Consultants who have examined several major universities have found that their organizational structure consists of too many layers of management. Kiley (2011) asserts: "universities are complex, decentralized institutions. They waste a lot of money on redundant administrative activities and could probably save money in the long run if they made big changes to their structure." Ginsberg (2011a) believes that administrators often have little interest in "intellectual products" and are more concerned with building luxurious dormitories and athletic facilities.
Construction projects can be very visible symbols of administrative achievement and can be completed within a relatively short time frame, allowing immediate credit-claiming at board meetings and job interviews. Investments in academic departments and programs, on the other hand, can take years to produce results--so many years that any resulting credit is likely to be claimed by some future group of managers (Ginsberg, 2011a: 169).
Adding an unneeded academic department or school could also be a quick and easy way to create a "visible symbol of administrative achievement."
The federal government is concerned with efficiency and ways of reducing tuition costs but at the same time it is partially responsible for administrative bloat. Between 1993 and 2007, the ratio of number of administrators per 100 students grew by 39%; the funds spent on administration per student (inflation adjusted) grew by 61%. The ratio of administrators to students went from 1:84 in 1975 to 1:68 in 2005; and the ratio of professional staffers went from 1:50 in 1975 to 1:21 in 2005 (Ginsberg, 2011b). From 1987 to 2011-2012, public universities and private nonprofit colleges collectively added 517,636 administrators and professional employees. From 1976 to 2011, a period of surging government assistance to education, the number of full-time, nonfaculty professionals rose by an astounding 369%; the percentage increase in the number of full-time faculty with tenure and on tenure tracks was only 23% (DataPoint, 2014). Ginsberg (2014) states:
Indeed, for every $1 spent on instruction, $1.82 was spent on non-instructional matters including 'institutional support,' i.e., the care and feeding of deanlets. If the ratio of deanlets to professors in 2010 had been the same as in 1976, there would now be nearly 400,000 fewer deanlets whose combined salaries account for one-fourth of all tuition dollars paid by students and their parents in 2010 (Ginsberg, 2014).
It is clear that the high cost of tuition is due to the hiring of more administrators, not more educators (Marcus, 2014). Increasingly, colleges are relying on adjuncts and faculty on non-tenure tracks to do much of their teaching. Green, Kisida, & Mills (2010) attribute administrative bloat to the fact that tuition accounts for a relatively small share of a university's revenues; most comes from government and private gifts. They contend that the best way to reduce administrative bloat is for government to reduce subsidies to higher education.
A report entitled "Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive: Changing Staffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education" recently released by the Delta Cost Project substantiates the problem of administrative bloat in higher education (Carlson, 2014a):
1. New administrative positions were responsible for a 28% increase in the number of higher education jobs from 2000 to 2012.
2. The ratio of number of full-time faculty and staff members per professional or managerial administrator has dropped 40% and is currently about 2.5 to 1. This is a roundabout way of showing that there are many more administrators but fewer faculty and staff members for them to manage.
3. Colleges are using more and more part-time faculty members. About 50% of all instruction in senior colleges is done by adjuncts.
4. Shifting from full-time to part-time faculty has not resulted in any savings since the number of administrators has skyrocketed.
5. Faculty salaries have been "essentially flat" from 2000-2012.
In many universities, especially as they grow in size, schools may be created, which are then headed by deans. Deans often have associate deans and perhaps assistant deans, who are often referred to as deanlets. Each dean may then require his/her own administrative assistant.
The state-of-the-art business model prescribes the flattening of the corporate structure to achieve maximum creativity and efficiency. An efficient organization is marked by a flat or horizontal structure. Flat structures have short chains of command and a wider span of control, which refers to the number of subordinates controlled by the supervisor. A tall, or hierarchical, organizational structure is characterized by long chains of command and narrow spans of control. Needless to say, flattening the corporate structure will normally speed up the decision-making process, shorten lines of communication, and achieve efficiencies. Each additional layer of bureaucracy slows down decision-making, increases costs, and hurts creativity. In the Knowledge Economy, no efficient business can afford a complicated hierarchy.
At many colleges, the chain of command is quite simple: faculty member > chair of department > provost. This chain works quite well when the number of departments is kept reasonably low. At many other colleges, the chain of command is the following: faculty member > chair of department > assistant dean > dean > associate provost > provost. It might be time to evaluate current metrics and develop new ones in order to assess whether the overhead associated with administrators and support staff are providing value. Unfortunately, no one cares about measuring administrative productivity, with the focus solely on determining faculty productivity and learning outcomes. Most institutions are concerned with outcomes assessment or assessment of learning; 84% of colleges have learning goals for students. Whereas new metrics are being used by schools across the country to measure faculty productivity (Berrett, 2014), the same should be done to measure administrative productivity.
Colleges with approximately the same number of students often have huge differences in the number of their departments. One might consist of 20 academic departments and the other with 36 departments. Since there is little accountability, college presidents often create departments for the wrong reasons. Some are created for political reasons, e.g., to satisfy a particular interest or ethnic group, even if there is no demand for this major. Sometimes a donor requests that the college create a department. The worst excuse for creating a department is when a college president does so to demonstrate that s/he is working hard. Some college presidents actually brag about having created five, six, seven, or ten new academic departments (and schools) as though they had developed new products.
The department structure has contributed to administrative bloat. It is difficult for one provost to work with thirty or more chairs (a span of control problem). This encourages the addition of layers of bureaucracy. This is why it is so crucial to reduce the number of departments. However, once a department is created, it is usually around forever because departments are closed or merged only when they have no students. Colleges are far more likely to add new departments than to merge existing departments.
New departments can in theory bring in more students, but not if they cannibalize each other. It does not take any talent to create a new department, whereas it takes expertise to reduce the number of departments. Of course, it is difficult politically to eliminate departments. However, it is less difficult to merge departments. A key advantage of merging academic departments is that it makes it much easier to reduce the number of schools and administrators. It is an easy way to increase efficiency and save huge amounts of money by reducing administrative bloat. Fewer academic departments also frees up space since each academic department requires a departmental office as well as an office for the chair. Of course, the department also needs a secretary.
Academic Departments Encourage a Silo Mentality and Tunnel Vision and Decrease Student Adaptability
A silo mentality is defined as follows:
An attitude found in some organizations that occurs when several departments or groups do not want to share information or knowledge with other individuals in the same company. A silo mentality reduces efficiency and can be a contributing factor to a failing corporate culture (Investopedia, 2015).
A way to break down this kind of thinking is to encourage employees from different departments to work together and share information. The creation of more and more academic departments can result in a silo mentality. Deformation professionelle bias is a cognitive bias that comes from the tendency to view the world in a narrow way and through the eyes of one's discipline or profession. People suffering from this see the world in a distorted way and not as it really is. The quote from Mark Twain saying that "to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail" is reminiscent of this bias (Friedman, 2017).
We tend to forget that dinosaurs did not disappear because they were frail and scrawny; they disappeared because they could not adapt. Institutions of higher education have no choice but to adapt to changing conditions and focus on skills and competencies that are appropriate for the knowledge economy. It is no longer about creating more and more academic departments which is a way of creating more silos. There is a good reason that silo busting has become an important management goal. Silos breed tribalism and a refusal to collaborate and share knowledge.
Aoun (2017) feels that "when machines come for our jobs, we will need skills in communication, creativity, collaboration, and complex thinking to compete." The educational system of today which made sense for people working in farm and factory economies will not work in today's knowledge economy. Aoun asserts that students will need combined majors. Students need to be trained in "humanics" which combines data science, technology, empathy, and the liberal arts.
One way to reduce the silo mentality in academe is to encourage interdisciplinary work and collaborations across departments. Silo busting has become an important buzzword in management (Tett, 2015). Tett (2015) observes how silos breed tribalism. Organizations that get too large can find themselves with rigid silos and consumed with turf battles. This is exactly how academe works. Smith (1993) asserts that: "Academic departments serve as organizations that exhibit all the segmentary politics described by anthropologists: segmentation for largely demographic reasons, balanced opposition among themselves, and unitary resistance to a superordinate entity, usually the college or university as a whole." Manlow, Friedman, & Friedman (2010) observe: "Universities are probably better known for turf battles than for communication and collaboration across disciplines. Loyalty is usually to the department or discipline even if it means that the university or even, sometimes, the students will be shortchanged."
Many colleges create new departments when they should be doing everything possible to break down barriers. Some colleges claim that in the name of accreditation (this is often the case with AACSB accreditation), faculty must publish in a narrow area, one that corresponds to the courses that they teach. This is often interpreted to mean that faculty teaching, say, marketing must publish only in marketing journals and that management faculty publish only in management journals. It is not unusual for faculty to be rebuked for publishing in supposedly outside areas. A number of colleges actually provide new faculty with a list of a few major journals in a discipline and told that these are the only acceptable journals for tenure and promotion. This kind of thinking strengthens the silo mindset and ensures mediocrity. Professors who want to be awarded promotions and tenure develop the silo mindset so they can publish in specific, narrow journals. Publishing in niche and interdisciplinary journals (and certainly journals in other disciplines) is one way to jeopardize one's chances of getting tenure.
This may be the reason that students with double majors tend to earn more than those with a single major (Makridis, 2017; Friedman, Friedman, & Amoo, 2003). Makridis (2017) studied data on over two million full-time employees and concluded students with double majors earned more than those with a single major. Makridis (2017) makes the point: "that students who are eager to expose themselves to more frames of thinking and disciplinary knowledge may well be investing in the very foundation that prepares them for a successful and innovative career." At Stanford University, a new major combines computer science (CS) with any of 14 disciplines in the humanities; it is known as CS + X. Thus, students may major in, say, CS + music. This is quite reasonable given that computer music has been around for quite a while (Ruff, 2016).
Too Many Academic Departments Adversely Affect Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Research
In the corporate world, thriving companies are constantly improving and changing products. The theory of the product life cycle posits that products eventually go into decline and are replaced by different products. The amount of knowledge continues to increase exponentially, which means that the number of departments, minors, and majors must increase. There are a large number of majors (and jobs) today that did not exist 20 years ago.
The two terms, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary are often used interchangeably. This is incorrect since they are not the same. Resnick (2012) explains the difference.
Multidisciplinary research is bringing disciplines together to talk about issues from each of their perspectives. They may collaborate, but they maintain a separation of their disciplines in that process. When the project is done, those disciplines go back to where they came from to start other projects. Interdisciplinary is bringing those same folks together in the same way, but using that expertise to create new instruments, models, approaches that couldn't occur if they were separately handled. So you're creating new knowledge by saying, 'If I integrate biology and anthropology and we create, let's say, this protocol that addresses the issues from both and integrates them, I'm developing a new way of trying to find new answers,' and that's the difference (Resnick, 2012).
Back in 2001, some researchers were claiming that academic departments were obsolete (Friedman, 2001). One of the objections to them was that they hurt creativity by being inflexible. As new interdisciplinary disciplines emerge, it becomes too costly to create new departments. Moreover, turf battles make it impossible to decide which department gets to create the new courses that make up a new discipline. Thus, for example, which department should "own" business analytics: marketing, statistics, or CIS? The same problem exists with "Forensic Sciences." Is this part of biology, chemistry, computer science, accounting, sociology, or all of them?
Collaborations with scholars from other disciplines are usually discouraged by departments. The reality is that collaboration between several authors produces better and more impactful scholarly papers than research conducted by single authors (Council of State Governments, 2015).
Studies have shown that teams produce more creative and impactful research than single authors do. From 2004-2013, single-authored publications in the U.S. achieved a field-weighted citation impact of 0.80, below the world average field-weighted citation impact of 1.00 and well below the U.S. overall average of 1.49. The percentage of the United States' total research publications that were single-authored declined from 17.5% in 2004 to 12.4% in 2013, consistent with the global trend (Council of State Governments, 2015: 38).
Diversity in multiple authorships as well as authorship in fields other than one's own seem to result in higher-quality academic research. One study examined the "ethnic identity" of the authors of 1.5 million published scholarly papers. The results showed that papers written by authors from diverse ethnic groups had greater impact and received more citations than papers co-authored by individuals from the same ethnic group (Philips, 2014). This is because they have different insights coming from dissimilar backgrounds. The same can probably be said for faculty from different disciplines.
Klein (1996: 191) asserts: "Almost all significant growth in research in recent decades, the committee [National Research Council] concluded, has occurred at the 'interdisciplinary borderlands' between established fields." Duarte et al. (2015) maintain: "Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity--particularly diversity of viewpoints--for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving." There is much more "boundary crossing and interdisciplinary activity" (Klein, 1996: 42) today than in the past. This is partially due to convergence of disciplines.
Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in economics and considered one of the fathers of behavioral economics, never took a single economics course yet was able to transform the discipline with insights derived from psychology. Fortunately, he was never told to only publish in psychology journals. Kahneman (2011: 269) describes how he was handed an essay written by the Swiss economist Bruno Frey that stated: "The agent of economic theory is rational, selfish, and his tastes do not change." Kahneman was astonished that economists could believe this given that it was quite obvious to psychologists that "people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable. Our two disciplines seemed to be studying different species, which the behavioral economist Richard Thaler later dubbed Econs and Humans." Kahneman (2011: 374) avows: "Theories can survive for a long time after conclusive evidence falsifies them, and the rational-agent model certainly survived the evidence we have seen, and much other evidence as well." The discipline of economics benefitted from the contributions of psychologists who introduced important concepts such as cognitive biases and the idea that humans are predictably irrational.
Determining which Departments to Merge
One way to determine whether an academic department is pulling its weight is to use responsibility center management. This is a tool that encourages accountability and helps colleges decide which departments to merge with others and thereby save resources. Unfortunately, this tool sheds too much light on what is actually going on at a university and administrators often do not like such transparency. Admittedly, there are other factors to consider when deciding which departments should be merged.
Responsibility Center Management (RCM) is an idea developed at Penn State University in the 1970's when the university was in terrible financial shape (http://www.budget.upenn.edu/dlDocs/rcm.pdf) whose goal is to "encourage and reward innovation and efficiency." It helped restore PennState University to fiscal stability. The college is divided into two types of centers: Revenue-generating centers (schools and departments) and non-revenue generating centers (administrative service centers). The revenue-generating centers have to produce sufficient revenues to cover the "direct cost of their own operations" as well as the allocated costs of the administrative service centers. What this ensures is that resources are not squandered on departments that are not producing revenues to the college.
What RCM promotes is the following (http://www.budget.upenn.edu/dlDocs/rcm.pdf):
--Disciplined financial decision making Schools are responsible for their own bottom line. --Entrepreneurial activity Schools retain the majority of the revenue they generate, and reinvest it in their highest priorities. --Shared Fundraising Deans are actively engaged in fundraising for school and cross-university priorities. --A Culture of Accountability Tuition revenue is distributed in large measure based on course units taught. Space charges are directly tied to occupancy and costs. Administrative units are funded via transparent algorithms. Schools recognize the full costs of their programs.
Brenau University in Georgia used a similar approach to determine exactly how much each academic unit contributed to the school. This way administrators determined the precise cost of graduating a business, nursing, or English major. By knowing the costs and revenues, they were able to know which departments were the cash cows. This approach makes a college aware of which departments are losing money and which ones are generating a surplus, which in turn places pressure on departments to be more productive. As a result of this initiative, Brenau doubled its income over the last decade and expanded into other locations (Carlson, 2014b). One consultant stated the following about Brenau University's close attention to revenues and costs generated by each department and major: "It is very much the exception that an institution understands its costs at a granular level" (Carlson, 2014b).
A similar approach involving the use of spreadsheets is being used to improve the productivity of individual faculty members and departments. Schools such as the Texas A&M University system are using spreadsheets to evaluate gains and losses from each faculty member. This is calculated by determining the revenues generated by each faculty member (grants, number of students, etc.) and then deducting the expenses (salary of faculty member, costs of labs, etc.). This is also being done for each department (Simon & Banchero, 2010). The balance sheet approach has demonstrated that some faculty members at Texas A&M netted their schools as much as $280,000, while others cost their institutions $45,000. Some departments generated gains of more than $5 million for their colleges, while others cost their institutions more than $1.4 million. Without accountability, there is no pressure to make improvements. Unprofitable departments do not necessarily have to be shut down; merging two small departments can yield great improvements to productivity. The goal is transparency that leads to accountability and increased efficiency.
According to Brainard (2010), at least 25% of all academic programs offered at a typical college are small (fewer than 7 degrees awarded in 2007-2008 AY). Programs that tend to be small are Physics and Germanic languages (Brainard, 2010). If institutions want to eliminate waste, there has to be a simple procedure for allowing the merger of weak departments. In some cases, it even makes sense to merge two strong departments if it allows for the creation of interesting interdisciplinary programs. In some colleges, there is a Science Department that combines physics, chemistry, biology, and earth sciences. Accounting and Finance is also a popular combination that results in interesting programs.
Morningside College, a college having financial difficulties, used prioritizing criteria--an approach described by Dickeson & Ikenberrry (2010)--to decide which programs to cut (Mangan, 2017). An academic task force was assigned the task of ranking programs from 1 to 135 using four criteria: student demand (weight = 35%), quality of the program (30%), program's use of resources (20%), and compatibility of the program with the overall mission of the college (15%). The president decided which programs among the bottom 50% (i.e., ranked 68 or less) should be cut. Programs that were cut included physics and philosophy.
Admittedly, it is much more drastic to cut programs than to merge departments. In fact, before cutting programs, colleges and universities should first merge departments and schools. As noted above, the idea of networking colleges is seen by some as a way of helping small liberal arts colleges survive. John Reynolds, president of Morningside College, made an interesting remark which may explain why many institutions are in trouble: "Colleges are very good at adding. They're not good at subtracting" (Mangan, 2017).
Porcarelli (2016) calls this the "Age of Disruption" and emphasizes the fact that no business is "immune from obsolescence whether those forces come from technology, globalization, or consumer-driven expectations." The world has never seen so many rapid advances in diverse fields and society is "evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace." Business models that might have worked during the industrial age will be disastrous during the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Schwab, 2016). The old rule books for running an organization have to be thrown out. Because we are in an age of technological convergence. This may also help explain why disciplines are also converging. Raphan & Friedman (2014) aver that the rules have changed; firms that want to thrive have to be agile, adaptable, and not frozen in the past.
In recent years, there has been a rapid convergence of and cross-fertilization between industries, which has created market situations that challenge traditional assumptions underlying marketing theory. Thus, even those organizations that are able to avoid Levitt's myopia, and define themselves in terms of meeting a consumer need, may find that this is insufficient. Firms today must be far more adaptable, looking for opportunities and threats that can come from businesses that are outside the scope of traditional myopia, but which, in today's environment, can rapidly and unexpectedly impinge upon a firm's business (Raphan & Friedman, 2014).
Companies that were slow in changing direction are in serious trouble or bankrupt. Think of firms such as Kodak, Sears, A&P, Kmart, Yahoo, Netscape, Blockbuster, Toys "R" Us, and MySpace to name just a few. Newspapers all over the country are laying off people because they cannot compete with the internet. Many retailers are in serious trouble because they have not found a way to compete with Amazon. In the mid-1950s, 25% of all undergraduate enrollments were in liberal arts colleges; today, it is about 3 to 4% (Tobin, 2014). Unfortunately, most institutions of higher learning have a mindset that might have made sense in the industrial age. The rules of running a college or university are being rewritten and narrow academic departments are becoming obsolete.
One argument made by departments that are against merging is that they need a "voice." This argument implies that the only way for, say, a Department of Italian Studies, to have a voice is by being a stand-alone department. One can posit that being part of a small department with few majors is not the ideal way to make one's position known. It is better if one is part of a larger department. In addition, this kind of thinking can bankrupt a college. After all, there are many areas that deserve to have a voice. One might maintain that every college should have departments in Catholic Studies, Protestant Studies, Judaic Studies, Islamic Studies, Buddhist Studies, Hindu Studies, Atheist Studies, Asian Studies, Africana Studies, Latino Studies, Russian Studies, Women's Studies, LGBT studies, Children Studies, Elderly Studies, Disabilities Studies, and so on.
A century ago almost everyone would have agreed that the key purpose of higher education was to teach values and morals. This is no longer the case; by 2011, about 80% of college freshman stated that the purpose was to become "very well off financially" (Berrett, 2015). There are, in fact, three differing views as to the raison d'etre for higher education (Brooks, 2014): (a) the commercial purpose (acquiring skills for a career): (b) the cognitive/intellectual purpose (acquiring information to form a comprehensive philosophy of life); and (c) the moral purpose (acquiring values and morals to build an integrated self).
Whatever one believes is the major purpose of higher education, this could just as easily be accomplished with fewer departments. Indeed, students trained in departments with too narrow a focus may not have the adaptability and agility companies want of employees. They may also lack the necessary knowledge to have a comprehensive philosophy of life and may not have all the tools needed to make the proper moral decisions.
This paper demonstrates that reducing the number of departments via mergers can benefit a college or university in many ways. It can help reduce wasteful academic bloating, eliminate the silo mentality, provide students with a broader outlook, and encourage interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary programs and research. It certainly is more reasonable to merge departments than close programs. In addition, colleges and universities must deemphasize meaningless metrics and focus on what really matters to employers and students: skills. Valuable skills such as critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, empathy, ability to collaborate, communication, and leadership can be taught in liberal arts majors as well as business majors. Busteed & Auter (2018) aver: "In practice, colleges and universities should think purposefully about drawing more connections between the college experience and the careers for which students are preparing."
In any event, institutions of higher learning that refuse to make any changes or focus on nonsense metrics to demonstrate that learning is taking place will wake up one morning and find that they are no longer viable and have gone the way of numerous colleges that are bankrupt. In fact, one scholar has predicted that half of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States will be bankrupt within the next few decades (Hess, 2017).
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HERSHEY H. FRIEDMAN
Department of Business Management, Murray Koppelman School of Business, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York
LINDA WEISER FRIEDMAN
Paul H. Chook Department Information Systems and Statistics, Baruch College Zicklin School of Business and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
How to cite: Friedman, Hershey H., and Linda Weiser Friedman (2018). "Does Growing the Number of Academic Departments Improve the Quality of Higher Education?," Psychosociological Issues in Human Resource Management 6(1): 96-114.
Received 21 February 2018 * Received in revised form 26 March 2018
Accepted 27 March 2018 * Available online 18 April 2018
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|Author:||Friedman, Hershey H.; Friedman, Linda Weiser|
|Publication:||Psychosociological Issues in Human Resource Management|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
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