Book Reviews

From the December 2000 AAHE Bulletin


Management Fads in Higher Education: Where They Come From, What They Do, Why They Fail
By Robert Birnbaum (2000). Jossey-Bass, San Francisco; 287 pages; $32.95.

Reviewed by James R. (Dick) Pratt, vice provost, academic personnel and budget, Portland State University, Oregon;

Covert "scientific" management strategies have infiltrated colleges and universities since World War II. Today, higher education is a commodity, an altered state that invokes analogies to business (customers, products, clients) and, increasingly, efforts to run higher education as a business. Birnbaum’s review of adopted practices and their effects on the business of higher education is cogent, clear, clever, concise, and maybe a little too close to home. (Mercifully, it only refers to those "other" colleges and universities.)

But this is not just tipping sacred cows. Business management "fads establish frameworks that promise to find answers." That is, they are "vaporware," promises usually not kept. Since colleges and universities are late-comers to business management, it will be no surprise that fads adopted in business only later arrive in higher education, where they often suffer their fate again: adoption with much fanfare and then overselling answers to all questions. Later, as more information and other options arrive, the fad pales. The failure of management fads is, of course, a consequence of their incomplete or inept adoption, meaning that the fad’s strategies cannot be proven wrong. (See planning programming budgeting system, management by objectives, zero-based budgeting, total quality management, benchmarking, business process re-engineering, et al.)

These are powerful lessons for academic managers to learn, but good can come from even the most unworthy fads: Institutional culture changes, alertness increases, and good ideas worth distilling are discovered. Best of all, Birnbaum provides suggestions about how benefits across the organization can be extracted from new management techniques. The engaging, lively approach tackles the controversy over the promise of new techniques and recommends ways of using fads constructively.

This book will immediately be useful to college and university administrators who are being urged to run their institutions "like a business." As funding models respond increasingly to calls for performance indicators, benchmarking, and academic scorecards, Birnbaum’s analysis will help all of us understand previous fads and their life cycles. As Peter Ewell wrote in the November/December 1999 issue of Change, "It’s important to recognize that management in higher education really is different than it was 30 years ago." This book will help managers understand those differences as they effect change and improve processes.

Higher Education in an Era of Digital Competition
Edited by Donald E. Hanna and Associates (2000). Atwood Publishing, Madison, Wisconsin; 362 pages; $29.95.

Reviewed by Stephanie Low, assistant dean of undergraduate studies and co-director, Center for Effective Teaching and Learning, the College of Charleston, South Carolina.

In this collection of essays, Donald Hanna and his associates examine the need for change in higher education institutions precipitated by the emergence of competition from alternative education suppliers. These educators have for decades been actively involved in implementing technology solutions for learning. The authors, all educational technologists except John Tallman (a senior legal counsel for the University of Wisconsin System), organized their work around five themes:

  1. The emergence of a global learning society.
  2. Changing the patterns of learning to respond to changing individual, organizational, and societal needs.
  3. The dynamic new possibilities and challenges of learning via advanced technologies.
  4. Transformational change in higher education on a global scale and views of the leadership our institutions require.
  5. The importance of ethics and equity of access as elements that must drive decision making and leadership at an organizational level.

The early chapters highlight background topics, including an examination of new education providers and the resistance to change in traditional higher education institutions. Hanna examines the social aspects of learning environments, and provides evidence that supports the need for learner collaboration as opposed to traditional, lecture-based teaching. Rather than assume that technology is a solution in and of itself, Hanna suggests that higher education institutions should emphasize effective teaching and learning techniques such as collaborative learning, and provide technology to facilitate those techniques.

The core of the book examines the need for organizational change and for new leadership. Hanna suggests that each traditional university re-examine its current structure and revise its strategic mission to meet the needs of new generations of lifelong learners. Hanna reassures the reader that the "relatively recent phenomenon . . . of online universities that offer almost all of their curricula online" has little impact on the "extended traditional university" that utilizes technology to expand the traditional classroom experience to include nonresident learners.

The chapters from Donald Olcott Jr., Kathy Schmidt, and Janet Poley include sound, practical advice on how higher education leadership must evolve to positively affect faculty and students. They also examine ethical and pedagogical issues that are affected by the use of educational technology. In particular, Olcott warns "Institutions that arbitrarily assign popular . . . delivery systems, traditional and distance, will only create an instructional mosaic devoid of pedagogical considerations." The Integrated Technology Systems Design (ITSD), presented in Chapter 12 by Schmidt and Olcott, provides a step-by-step campus strategy for managing the wide variety of technologies for instructional design and delivery. In addition to recommendations for structured instructional design and assessment, it also emphasizes the need for a partnership between faculty, support personnel, and administrators to build effective instruction that utilizes multiple technologies.

Standardized Minds: The High Price of America’s Testing Culture and What We Can Do To Change It
By Peter Sacks (2000). Perseus Books, Cambridge, Massachusetts; 351 pages; $26.

Reviewed by Danette E. Ifert, associate professor of communication, West Virginia Wesleyan College;

Journalist Peter Sacks indicts what he argues is a widely held assumption in the United States that standardized tests are valid and reliable measures of merit. Most of the book provides a generally chronological account of how standardized tests are used to sort individuals, beginning before kindergarten and continuing through the educational system and into the workplace. Anecdotal reports of individuals who have been harmed by standardized testing (usually those with high grades or other measures of performance and low standardized scores) and references to quantitative studies on the problems associated with standardized testing support Sacks’s viewpoint.

The later chapters in the book discuss how institutions ranging from local boards of education, to state legislatures, and the testing organizations themselves have increased educational reliance on standardized tests via calls for increased accountability. The result of these pervasive tests, Sacks argues, is an educational focus on "teaching to the test" and on denigrating creative, nonlinear thinking. These results are particularly likely to result when state educational funding and bonuses to school employees are tied to test scores, he claims.

Throughout the book, Sacks develops several reasons why standardized tests are misused. One argument is that the tests have low validity, particularly when compared with performance assessments or course grades in high school and college. Reliance on standardized tests, writes Sacks, creates situations where people who perform well in courses or on other performance measures are traumatized by not being allowed to graduate from high school, are not admitted to college, or are not hired by some companies. Sacks also argues that the tests are culturally and socioeconomically biased because family socioeconomic status or parents’ educational attainment are better predictors of test scores than actual learning.

Unfortunately, Sacks provides few suggestions for how to go beyond our societal over-reliance on standardized tests. He does note the potential benefits of performance-based assessment as one way of providing a more comprehensive picture of student learning. Sacks also refers to changes in admissions at the University of Texas in the post-Hopwood era, such as including family socioeconomic status and other potentially disadvantaging factors in the admissions formula. (Note: Hopwood refers to the 1996 lawsuit Hopwood vs. Texas, in which a federal court barred Texas colleges from considering race in admissions decisions.)

Despite the limited focus on how the current system can be changed, Sacks’s book is a thought-provoking account of the role of standardized testing in the United States.

Dancing with Bigotry: Beyond the Politics of Tolerance
By Donaldo Macedo and Lilia I. Bartolome (2000). St. Martin’s Press, New York; 192 pages; $32.

Reviewed by Michael Edwards, assistant professor of philosophy and director of philosophy, Barat College, Illinois;

In Dancing with Bigotry, Donaldo Macedo and Lilia Bartolome, professors of education at the University of Massachusetts—Boston, issue a call for a "pedagogy of hope that is informed by tolerance, respect, and solidarity [and] will point us toward a world that is more harmonious and more humane, less discriminatory, less dehumanizing, and more just." Under such a pedagogy, students will experience a classroom that is "democratic and liberatory," where they are subjects and not objects.

Macedo and Bartolome see the need for such a pedagogy especially in classrooms populated by students from subordinate communities and teachers from the white middle class. They are at their most powerful when delineating the "miseducation" that takes place in such classrooms — the devaluation of students’ native languages, attribution of underachievement to cultural deficits, etc. And they articulate a compelling research agenda:

Does cultural subordination affect academic achievement? What is the correlation of social segregation and school success? What role does cultural identity among subordinated students play in linguistic resistance? Does the devaluation of students’ culture and language affect reading achievement? Is class a factor in bilingual education? Do material conditions that foster human misery adversely affect academic development?

But instead of researching the answers to these questions or fleshing out a picture of the humanizing pedagogy they have in mind, Macedo and Bartolome have thrown together a slender volume filled with abstract claims and vague exhortations that are rarely anchored in the concrete or practical and in which anecdote often substitutes for evidence. (And I do mean thrown together. There are an extraordinary number of obvious errors in grammar and spelling, as well as sloppy footnotes. So great as to make one wonder whether anyone bothered to read the book before publication.)

While they are correct to reject the view that teaching is a technical science, their dismissal of interest in methodology as fetishistic is vexing given that they offer in its place a silver bullet of their own, "political and ideological clarity," the sine qua non of their radical pedagogy. Amazingly, the authors choose not to develop this key notion fully. Instead, they refer the reader to a Harvard Educational Review article written by Bartolome in 1994 for "a more detailed discussion of the concept "political clarity.’" This advice is all the more puzzling because her article has no more to say on the topic.

If the book is too thin, it is also too thick. A third or more of it explores familiar ground as if it were fresh news. Witness the dated quotations from David Duke and his ilk, as well as the two separate discussions of The Bell Curve, the inadequacies of which have long been demonstrated. The authors rely heavily on other researchers; two of the five chapters are devoted to dialogues with their favorite theorists, Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux, that mostly reiterate points made elsewhere in their book and do little to advance its argument.

All this is most unfortunate. Had Macedo and Bartolome done the research, had they provided direction on how to humanize the classroom, they would have written a book that belonged on every educator’s shelf.

To Teach with Soft Eyes: Reflections on a Teacher/ Leader Formation Experience
Edited by Rica Gardia (2000). League for Innovation in the Community College, Mission Viejo, California; 150 pages; $19.

Reviewed by Karen Boyd, educational psychology doctoral candidate, Georgia State University;

Graduate schools train doctoral students to conduct research even though only about 15 percent of those who earn their Ph.D. find employment at research institutions. The remaining 85 percent go on to become teachers, even though they have no formal teacher training. To remedy that situation, many universities have devised programs (or, in some cases, at least single courses) to give future college professors some hints on effective teaching strategies. Such courses are often built around books like Wilbert J. McKeachie and Graham Gibbs’s Teaching Tips, the accessible review of current literature on the teaching strategies most appropriate for college settings.

But literature reviews, no matter how informative, tend to depict the teacher-student relationship in a rather abstract way. Those teacher training courses would gain a great deal if they could balance the abstract with some particulars. To Teach with Soft Eyes does just that.

This book presents the reflections of 25 college teachers and administrators who participated in a teacher formation program sponsored by the Fetzer Institute and designed and facilitated by Parker Palmer, a veteran at guiding reflection and fostering growth. Each participant offers a short but thought-provoking chapter that provides very personal examples of what abstract theory can look like when it is applied in a classroom, or administrator’s office, or professor’s mindset.

Though all authors are employed by the same institution (Richland College in Texas), their professions run the gamut from administration to the humanities, to math and science. And though the context in which the authors work and write is a community college, the problems they address are problems that are common across the country in institutions of all sizes.

  • Do students learn more from a sage on the stage or a guide on the side?
  • What happens when teachers allow students to participate in choosing course objectives?
  • How can teachers respond to students who are angry or confrontational?
  • What does it mean to provide a "safe space" for students to learn?

This book would make an excellent companion text to the traditional teachers’ handbooks used in teacher preparation courses. But it could also be a refreshing reading-for-pleasure text for higher education professionals, because it offers a very optimistic (though unstated) message: Those lofty ideals that lured us into college teaching in the first place might actually be attainable. We might actually be able to engage, involve, and nurture our students.

The Practice of Change: Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Women’s Studies
Edited by Barbara J. Balliet and Kerrissa Heffernan (2000). AAHE, Washington, DC; 221 pages; $28.50 (AAHE members, $24.50, order from

Reviewed by Kathryn Mary Johnson, assistant professor of sociology and co-chair of the Sociology: Non-Profit Management Program, Barat College, Illinois;

The Practice of Change is a comprehensive text designed both to foster women’s studies scholarship and to encourage meaningful social action. The book is part of AAHE’s multi-volume series on service-learning in the disciplines, and the stated goal of the series is to encourage service-learning curricula to "strengthen students’ abilities to become active learners as well as responsible citizen." The Practice of Change meets, even exceeds that goal on every level.

Service-learning is recognized as a viable pedagogical tool across all academic disciplines, women’s studies certainly included. Historical issues, however, have led to a particularly uneasy tension between academic women’s studies circles and service-learning advocates. Women’s contributions to community service have long been perceived as controversial. Largely unpaid, philanthropic service undertaken predominantly by middle-class women seeking to impose their own cultural mores on the larger community has been repudiated over the past several decades. Moreover, service that is "Band-Aid" in nature, glossing over the more systemic and substantive structural changes necessary to bring about true and lasting social/political/economic change, has also been denounced. The editors of The Practice of Change are certainly sensitive to this historical tension. Their inclusions address this heritage with careful consideration and thought-provoking discussion.

The articles represented in the text move the reader beyond theoretical and historical debate, however. The book provides a rationale for incorporating service-learning into existing university curricula, and its arguments are so compelling that it may even inspire some educators to do just that.

The efficacy of praxis for extending student learning experiences is clearly articulated throughout the text. Concrete examples of service-learning opportunities, along with actual community program ideas, course syllabi material, and assessment suggestions make the text extremely useable. Everyone from the fledgling service-learning educator trying to sell the concept of service-learning to unreceptive colleagues, to the most seasoned and established service-learning program director will benefit from this book. Women’s studies students who are asked to read this book in their classes will gain valuable critical thinking skills along with a heightened activist self-concept.

Rituals, Ceremonies, and Cultural Meaning in Higher Education
By Kathleen Manning (2000). Bergin & Garvey, Westport, Connecticut; 184 pages; $49.95.

Reviewed by Karen Boyd, educational psychology doctoral candidate, Georgia State University;

This book offers a qualitative study of higher education rituals and the meaning participants attribute to those rituals. Chapters providing thick descriptions of the rituals alternate with chapters explaining the rituals’ significance according to anthropological theory. For example, the inauguration of a new president at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, is interpreted through a structuralist framework as a rite of passage. The other rituals, all of which occur at Mount Holyoke College, are analyzed using other perspectives, such as Myerhoff’s secular ceremonies and Turner’s ritual theory.

The author proposes that these case studies, gathered over a 10-year period, will enable readers to "enrich the rituals currently enacted on their campuses, create ‘new’ rituals, and enhance their and others’ understanding of the rituals and ceremonies in which they participate." For those who have never before reflected on academic ceremonies and their function as meaning-making activities, this study might be a revelation. Manning’s highlighting of the ways in which small gestures convey life-changing meanings might give readers a fresh look at the pomp and circumstance at their own institutions.

However, for those who relish good qualitative research, this study will be a disappointment. It lacks the hallmarks of qualitative research — lengthy and candid quotes from participants and insightful descriptions of places and events. This study is sparse on quotes, usually limiting them to a few phrases, and description is often trite. Further, strong qualitative research uses the data to show the limitations of currently existing theory; this study accepts the theoretical status quo. And, if transfer is the author’s objective, it is reasonable to expect the report to suggest the limitations of the study’s generalizability.

Manning proposes that "If one remembers as well as takes advantage of the created reality of rituals and culture, successful ‘new’ traditions are possible." However, the author does not address important ways in which the two colleges described in her research differ from many of the higher education institutions across the nation. For example, how much do the rituals’ significance depend on the participants’ having known and lived in community with one another in a socially isolated setting for four years? Nationally, many students (perhaps the majority) are commuters who never really get to know the other students in their classes; nationally, many institutions (perhaps the majority) have problems simply getting students to attend class regularly, let alone attend a ceremony for which no academic credit is given. Manning’s case studies suggest that some rituals in some settings can be a moving experience, but readers who want to create "new" rituals on their own campuses will need to gather much more preparatory information than Manning’s study provides.

White Reign: Deploying Whiteness in America

Edited by Joe Kincheloe, Shirley R. Steinberg, Nelson M. Rodriguez, and Ronald E. Chennault (2000). St. Martin’s Griffin, New York; 354 pages; $17.95.

Reviewed by Ned Scott Laff, associate vice president, Barat College, Illinois;

A colleague tells me that he often has his students begin in the middle or near the end of a text. It is this advice I suggest to readers of White Reign — begin with chapter 16.

This chapter is an interview with Michael Eric Dyson, a Baptist minister and professor of philosophy and religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago and the author of I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. Dyson outlines the basic intent behind the text, provides a lucid explanation of "white studies," and does so in a matter that even readers resistant to the project would pay heed.

As Dyson puts it, "white studies" excavates "the historical and ideological character of whiteness in the . . . fields of cultural and social practices." This examination is grounded in three areas: economy of invention, which explores how cultural privilege and arguments about inherent goodness and supremacy become linked to white identity; economy of representation, which examines how these cultural privileges are socially and culturally symbolized and embodied; and economy of articulation, which explicates the intellectual justification of these cultural privileges. From this ground, Dyson believes that we can "define and demystify the meanings of whiteness and to make sure that the study of white identities, images, and ideologies rests upon a critical intellectual foundation."

Few can argue with this approach. From racial profiling and cultural imaging to court sentencing and, it would be hard to argue against the need for white studies. Had the rest of White Reign contributed to explicating the intellectual foundation Dyson outlines, the text could have provided a pedagogical pragmatics that we could use to infuse curriculum, course content, and teaching. The reader assumes this to be the intent because the editors break the book into two sections — "Theory and Pedagogy" and "Culture and Pedagogy." But unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, readers will find the obfuscating vocabulary and syntax of post-modern criticism, and personal narratives proselytized into polemics that will turn readers from the project.

For example, many readers will struggle to translate points that are made, such as "Critical multiculturalism as a point of intersection with critical pedagogy supports the struggle for a postcolonial hybridity." Readers will encounter the familiar litany of white oppression and cultural colonialism, of white privilege, of whiteness as the implicit norm from which the "other" is marginalized, objectified, and commodified. Many readers could very well be put off when told that in a search for the "Heart of Whiteness," one contributor took to the information highway to consult white supremacists’ home pages for direction and answers. And more. What readers will not find is an outline of a critical multicultural education, which the text promised.

It is not that we are unfamiliar with the realities that whiteness counts and confers privileges, that this privileging is all too hidden and plays itself tacitly, and that privileging becomes complicated with gender and class. But if we are to join Dyson’s project as educators, we need pedagogical pragmatics that can be incorporated across the curriculum. The contributors to this text fail to provide this. As such, readers of White Reign will be hard-pressed to find a vocabulary, a language, and a strategy to engage the pedagogical challenges.

Learning from Change: Landmarks in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education From Change Magazine, 1969–1999
Edited by Deborah DeZure (2000). Stylus Publishing, Sterling, Virginia; 460 pages; $35 (AAHE members $30, order from

Reviewed by Lee Bash, dean, Division of Lifelong Learning, Baldwin-Wallace College, Ohio;

I’m assuming that, as members of AAHE, the majority of you are already familiar with the virtues of Change magazine, which for the past 15 years has been under AAHE editorial leadership. It is under this leadership that Change has honed its focus to concentrate largely on topics that reflect an emphasis on undergraduate reform and academic affairs. As it evolved, Change has often taken the initiative to explore those topics that represent innovation and new frontiers in education.

Learning from Change is a collection of most of the best works spanning the 30 years Change magazine has been published. The book provides the reader with a single rich resource from which to draw inspiration, models of good practice, and foundations upon which to build future initiatives.

The collaborative work contains more than 160 excerpts and articles organized across 13 broadly defined subject areas. Each topic is introduced by experts who help the reader understand the breadth and complexity of the material presented.

And don’t skip the "Conclusions" section, which provides a highlight of the developments that have changed higher education during the years 19691999; a detailed discussion of those trends that are derived from the subjects covered in the book; and a list of unfinished agendas. The developments segment contains a concise summary of more than 25 instances that have had profound impacts on education, thus representing a cultural shift. The trends portion contains four categories that go into greater detail and provide a rich summary that I believe needs to be read by (and distributed to) every educational leader. The final portion likewise nourishes every reader with provocative and challenging issues that we all need to address if we are to be successful in the future.

Although the "Conclusions" section of the book comprises just a few pages, I have emphasized its importance here because, for me, it frames the significant role of Change in an environment that is quickly being transformed, and suggests that we can continue to rely on this magazine to provide us with guidance and insight.

As for the body of the book, it is everything you would expect from Change. Although the 13 topical chapters are helpful if you’re looking for specific categories, I often simply pick up this book and randomly read when I have a few moments to seek inspiration — and I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed. How many books can make that claim?

See a Book to Buy?

Two of the books — The Practice of Change and Learning from Change — are available from AAHE directly at

Many of the others will be available at your local bookstore or directly from their publishers.

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