The Review of Higher Education, Volume 32, Number 1, Fall 2008

Clifton F. Conrad
Professor, Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Review of
Joseph C. Burke (Ed.). Fixing the Fragmented University: Decentralization with Direction. Bolton, MA: Anker, 2007. 450 pp. Cloth: $45.00. ISBN:978-1933371153.

Portions of Conrad's Review:

Beginning in the mid-1990s and culminating in a compilation of executive summaries from its Returning to our Roots series, the Kellogg Commission (2001) concluded that the public university envisioned by Abraham Lincoln and Justin Morrill had become fragmented and, in turn, challenged our nations state universities to become as student-centered and publicly engaged as they are in building research capacity and advancing institutional prestige.

In response to this clarion call, this volume edited by Joseph C. Burke advances a potpourri of strategies for fixing the fragmented university strategies that are aimed at providing institutional direction (such as through strategic planning assessment, quality assurance, and priority budgeting) while simultaneously preserving the historic decentralization of our universities. To this end, the book draws on the voices of national experts: major university presidents, faculty, and individuals associated with foundations who have been directly or indirectly engaged in efforts aimed at revitalizing the public in the contemporary university.

. . . The third part consists of two chapters that propose strategies for redesigning the mission of public universities. Drawing on his findings from his oft-cited National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and Documenting Effective Educational Practices (DEEP) projects, George Kuh advances a series of recommendations for enhancing student learning and success (e.g., highlighting diversity both within and outside of the classroom, building partnerships between the campus and community). Richard Cherwitz and E. Joanna Hartelius contend that a compelling rhetoric is needed to convince faculty that research on public problems can be as significant and rigorous as conventional inquiry.

. . . For those interested in an overview of largely traditional change strategies for rescuing the contemporary university, this volume is a reliable place to start. For those familiar with the conventional wisdom, a handful of chapters in this volume breathe some fresh air into the formidable challenge of reinventing the public university. Perhaps most notably, J. Frederick Volkwein has written a wonderfully evocative chapter in which he argues that student quality assurance focused on student learning can help to bring unity and direction to the contemporary university. Volkwein makes the innovative suggestion that special accreditation for general education programs might be long overdue.

Also compelling is the chapter by Richard Cherwitz and Johanna Hartelius with its use of research on rhetoric to make the case that deliberate and strategically crafted language (p. 271) is essential for transforming the university. They go on to advance intellectual entrepreneurship as a strategy for devising a rhetoric that has both intellectual substance and an academic ethos. These are but two of a handful of strategies in this book that I found genuinely interesting.

Read the Cherwitz/Hartelius Chapter