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Crisesof Purpose in the Ivy League: The Harvard Presidency of LawrenceSummers and the Context of

Crisesof Purpose in the Ivy League


  1. Competitive Context

  1. Choice of Presidency

Theapproach given to the selection of the president was that of aleader-centered viewpoint. The team charged with the responsibilityof picking the person to take over the leadership of HarvardUniversity from Rudenstine narrowed down their choices to twocandidates: Lawrence Summers and Lee Bolinger. At that time, all thestakeholders wanted was to get a leader who would propel theUniversity into the advancements of the 21stcentury. For example, the Corporation tasked with the selection ofthe president wanted someone who was &quotaggressive, pushy andbolder,&quot a new face who was likened to an agent of change and anindividual who could think outside the box. On the other hand, thestudents, trustees, and faculty wanted someone who would forcefullyspeak about the issues affecting the institution, work to enhance theundergraduate experience, and bring back the Harvard University tothe national spotlight. All these changes were required because thereputation of the school was at stake. They thought the Universityneeded dynamic leadership.

Fromthe two candidates, the most qualified candidate according to Harvardtraditions and standards was Lee Bolinger though his personalitytraits were regarded as inferior to those of Summers regarding theissues they wanted to be addressed. They relied on character approachto select Lawrence Summers as the 27thpresident of Harvard University, one who was viewed as a dynamicleader although the faculty never preferred him. The selection panelmistakenly assumed that his leadership experience in government couldeasily be translated to governance in an academic environment. Theboard failed to recognize that the president should be someone withemotional intelligence translating into social skills, empathy,self-regulation, and motivation, to mention just a few. Reduced levelof emotional intelligence in Summers was seen by his inability totake advice from various stakeholders (Dunning&amp Meyers, 2009).

  1. Events During Lawrence Presidency

Ininstitutions of higher learning, shared governance is essential so asto incooperate a wider view of various stakeholders and ultimatelyserve the needs of the broader society. Without this kind ofgovernance, the institutions would not attain their goal of bringingup students to become better and productive citizens in a competitiveworld. Higher education institutions are headed by the president whois tasked with the role of coordinating all the relevant areas withinand outside the organization to keep up with the economy, technology,and academics. Governance of the institutions is shared between thepresident, the trustees and executive appointees of the president,the faculty, students, and alumni. It is the combined effort of thepresident and his or her representatives, trustees, the faculty,alumni, and students that make the planning, and implementation ofpolicies efficient (Basham, 2012).

Thecase at hand represents a leader and leadership that chose to ignoresome sections thereby disregarding shared governance within theinstitution. Summers opted to exclude the faculty, students andalumni from the Directorate of Harvard University immediately heascended to power. His aim was to develop a single power,disregarding the former Harvard system in which the academic unitswere independent. His first appointment i.e. hiring from Washingtoninstead of the traditional trend of hiring Harvard graduates, was anindication of what type of governance he wanted to establish duringhis tenure. Traditionally, the president appoints the faculty deanthus, the control of academics calendars, budget, and the curriculumwas overseen by the academics unit. Summer decided to give it adifferent approach of designing a new process for budget approval byvarious educational units some who were his accomplices or weresympathetic. The issue of having a single power, although applaudedby some alumni to bring back the power of the president, was notwelcome by the Trustees, the students, and the faculty members. Thefight over who had authority in some parts of the university and whatamount of power he possessed, were some of the issues that led to theresignation of Lawrence Summers from the presidency (Dunning&amp Meyers, 2009).

  1. Resignation

Asdiscussed earlier, a leader should demonstrate emotionalintelligence. He should handle situations critically and avoidremarks that may seem to affect an individual or group of people.Throughout his leadership, Summer made some statements that reducedthe level of confidence in his leadership to the students andfaculty. One notable remark that is often viewed as the cause of hisresignation is the one he made in 2005. It was about women and theirrepresentation in the science and engineering workforce. Summersdefended the overrepresentation of men in this faculty. Immediatelyafter the remarks, a report was produced indicating the number ofwomen and men professors he had approved their tenure at HarvardUniversity in 2004. Among the thirty-four professors, only four ofthem were females. Gender diversity within the organization was amajor challenge during his time as the head of Harvard University.During his term as president, there was another commentary that wasnot worthy of him – the anti-Semitic comment made in 2002 stirred alot of reactions from various institutions and political divide. Helater said that the remark was not made in his capacity as thepresident, but rather as a member of the community.

Althoughhis resignation was mainly attributed to the 2005 pronunciation, itis quite clear that it could have resulted from other aspects. Fromthe day he was selected as a candidate for Harvard presidency, he wasnot preferred by the faculty. He was not among the candidates with abackground in academia. In any organization, micromanagement canaffect the relationship between the employees, departments or units,and the management. Creativity and innovation from the employees ordepartments cannot be realized if the system allows formicromanagement. In institutions of higher learning, micromanagingthe departments or faculties prevents them from coming up with newideas and procedures. The divisions often consult their manager orthe president who may sometimes be unavailable this was the problemof Lawrence Summers. He was arrogant to the faculty members and onlywanted those people who served his interest. At times, he would dosomething to demonstrate that he was the smartest. To him, the entiredepartment lacked intellectual merit.

  1. Accountability

Theneed for increased accountability in higher education institutionshas been an issue since 1980. During this period, issues to do withassessment and learning practices were considered in the context ofaccountability. All through the 1990s, the scope of the issues werewidened to incorporate various measures of institutionaleffectiveness as well as productivity. Higher education coordinatingboards were the overseers of accountability and were responsible forrecording any issue of accounts (Altbach et al., 2011).

Currently,the consumers of higher education have become more sophisticated.These people demand quality and accountability at the same time, witha conducive environment and competitive pricing of services offeredsuch as tuition. The measures used throughout the 20thcentury such as the size of the library, number of contracts won bythese institutions, and the staff to student ratio are not relevantin today`s system. The increased demand for partnership betweenschools and businesses also requires the need for accountability.Higher education is required by the business environment to clearlydefine their role in the credentialing, teaching and learning as wellas the training of students to meet their demands.

  1. Governing Bodies

Asindicated earlier, the American higher education institutionscomprise of some agencies, which coordinate to ensure success in theorganization. The first governing body is the administration composedof the president and his appointees. The nominees include the dean ofevery faculty. The deans determine the tenure of every appointee andoversee the budget of every division. For Lawrence Summers, issues ofappointment were overemphasized. All he wanted was appointees whowould facilitate his interests. Some of the appointments did notfollow the due process. Another area that was formalized butinterfered with during the reign of Summers was the area of thebudget. Conventionally, the president only came in the final stagesof budgeting to either approve or disapprove it. Summers tried tooverhaul the budgeting system and instead adopted his own. Everyfaculty conducts its fundraising. However, the 3% of the amountgathered through fundraising is retained by the President for hisinitiatives. The premier is also allowed to raise funds (Bok, 2013).For example, Rudenstine, during his tenure, conducted a fundraisingcampaign with the aim of raising $2 billion.

Apartfrom the president and the faculty, the next governing bodies are thetwo trustee agencies. These are the 30-member Board of Overseers andthe seven-member Harvard Corporation. The latter has theresponsibility of overseeing the daily management of the universitybusiness affairs as well as performing the financial management ofUniversity. Members of the Corporation are the president and sixmembers who serve their terms indefinitely and are given theresponsibility of electing a new member in case one of them decidesto retire. Since the formation of the Corporation, it has been widelydominated by the white businessmen. It was until 2000 that the firstmember of color was elected to join the Corporation. The new memberwas a lawyer of African-American origin.

Thealumni are also given the responsibility to participate in theformation of the governing body. They do so by selecting the30-member Board of the Overseers for a six-year term. The Board hasno administrative powers compared to the Corporation. Their powersare just limited to offering advice to the president. It is thepremier and the Corporation that have powers to offer administrativecontrol to the University. It was the mandates of the Corporation andthat of the faculty that Summers was trying to influence to have theoverall monitoring of the institution.

  1. ETOB Structure and Accountability

Theaxiom stands for &quotEvery Tub on its Own.&quot It was introducedin the early 19thcentury during the presidency of John Thornton Kirkland to define adecentralized system of financial management. The ten facultieswithin the institution form a unit. Every tub must be able to beself-sufficient when it comes to financing. Although every sectioncan perform their financial budgets, these budgets are reviewed bythe paradoxical central budget office. It is the departmentresponsible for the transmission of the budgetary details to theCorporation for approval. However, the central budget office onlydoes not have any administrative powers but does the review ofbudgets on an operational basis. The department collects budgetaryspecifics from the university-wide funds, which are later approvedindividually by the Corporation

Therefore,it means that every faculty, University institution, and museum mustbe able to manage their finances. The central administration has noresponsibility for the insolvency of a particular department.However, they can intervene under some exceptional circumstances. Intimes of intervention, the top management acts as a banker and canprovide the faculty with loans or make outright grants to facilitatethe running of every faculty.

  1. Benefitis and drawbacks of corporatization of Higher Education

Fulfillingtraditional institutional purpose

Thepower to control institutions began long ago during the 13th century. During this period, the hierarchy of the church facilitatedthe bringing together of the scattered organizations such as thecathedral chapters, religious orders, and the universities. PopeInnocent IV later declared that each entity under the churchhierarchy should constitute a free corporation. Nevertheless, it wasthen argued that the declaration was never put to practice and thatthose in power invented it for the convenience of legal reasoning.The existence of higher education as a corporate stems from the factthat there was a demand to protect the institutions from the threatsto their freedom coming from the town people, the kings and localbishops (Duryea &amp Williams, 2013).

Theconcept of corporates was later, in 15thand 16thcentury, clearly defined in England. The development oforganizational ideas provided a legal basis in which the parliamentand the king could delegate duties or activities to universities,liberal establishments, trading companies, municipalities and otherinstitutions. The issuance of charters provided the systems with thebasis of perpetual succession as well as the system of privategovernance in which the corporate bodies were free from interferencefrom certain forces. The universities were then given the power tocreate and maintain their rules and regulations to govern theiractivities. The rights of the individuals were protected in theseinstitutions because the corporation existed as an artificial entity.The granting of charters and statutes, which widened the scope toinclude the overseers and external visitors enabled the election ofleaders by fellow staff members and overseeing the operations of theinstitution by visitors (Duryea &amp Williams, 2013). The foreignvisitors were intended to offer advice to the administration.Nevetherless, they could not participate in the administrativecontrol of the institutions.

Themodel described above influenced the founding and development ofAmerica’s oldest institutions of higher learning Harvard, William,and Mary. For instance, the language used in the charter granted toHarvard bared similarity with those issued to Oxford and Cambridge.The governing council was responsible for running the affairs of theinstitution. The committee comprised of the president and theteaching staff. The external authorities or visitors were given thefinal approval powers and had the right for visitation this meantthat more administrative powers were in the hands of the foreignguests (Duryea &amp Williams, 2013). Later, the higher educationbecame completely liberalized from government authority and had itsregulatory bodies.

Succeedingin a complex and competitive market

Whilecorporatization was advocated for widely, opinions on its benefitsare still divided. The quality of learning, as well as research, arein jeopardy. The first challenge to the corporatization is on thefaculty–student relationship. The rise in the number ofuniversities has brought competition over students` enrollment incampuses. The rising pressure of viewing students as customers hashugely impacted the ways by which teaching and knowledge are passedto the students. The institutions are tasked with the responsibilityof developing efficient supply mechanism to ensure that their demandsare met and that they are satisfied with the services offered.Although the argument of customer value proposition providesflexibility in meeting the diverse needs of students, it can be amarketing tool especially in this era when these higher learninginstitutions are hard-pressed for funding. In the case study, forexample, it was noted that the government funding of establishmentswas going down (Willeetts,2011).With decreased sources of financing, the institutions might bechallenged to enroll more students to attract revenue. The cost oflearning could also rise such that only high-caliber personalitiescan attend coveted universities. The increase in the number ofstudents was noted during the presidency of Lawrence Summers.

Moreover,the changing relationship between the faculty and the students islikely to stir up student satisfaction rating. The administrationcould use these scores as a basis for the promotion of facultymembers. The memberships may be forced to develop unwarrantedtechniques to safeguard their careers. Sometimes, this could resultin the flattering of students through grade inflation this wasparticularly noted by Lawrence Summers when he lamented on theincreased numbers of students graduating with grade A`s from HarvardUniversity.

Secondly,despite the insistence of higher education institutions as groundsfor pure research, the evaluation of performance in measurable termssuch as some publications, affect the faculties since the researchersare evaluated and given monetary incentives based on theseinvestigations. The gap between the teaching and research can widen.Some professionals may feel inferior although they are suitable forthe delivery of knowledge (Layman, 2011).

Lastly,corporatization is challenged by the fact that higher educationinstitutions have not done well when it comes to making theirgraduates employable. Despite the high demands of graduates, there isa mismatch between the competencies required by employers and theknowledge gained in these institutions. The industries are exertingmore pressure on Universities by funding researchers andparticipating in the setting up of laboratories to facilitateresearch. The move might be substantial for both students,stakeholders, and the faculty, but it could affect the value ofeducation. It is likely that higher learning will focus more ontraining rather than education, which was formerly the objective ofthese institutions.

Sharedgovernance within a “corporate” higher education

Therising number of admnistators, public officials and institutionalboard members has made the higher education institutions to look likebusiness enterprises. These institutions are viewed as amulti-billion dollar company with its revenue used purposes otherthan academics. Because of the political and economic influence, theinstitutions are operated like “corporatized” business modelsthus breaking away from the traditional functions of theseinstitutions (American Federation of Teachers, 2012).

Thepresidents of these institutions are nolonger the academic leader butrather a CEO with their duties similar to those of company’s CEO.The goals of the top administrators are politically influenced andthe mission of offering academics is just seen as one of the mandate.Private corporate research, sports, health care, entertainment andhousing are some of the agendas that administrators tries to balancewith academics. Most importantly, the idea of enhancingconfidentiality and efficiency has resulted in the recruitment of topadministrators with diminished faculty role during the selection. Thepower of the faculty are therefore reduced to that offering advisoryservices rather than full partnership in the offering of quality(American Federation of Teachers, 2012).



Fromthe selection of candidates for the presidency of Harvard University,it worth to note that the demands within the higher learninginstitutions have changed with time. The 21stcentury has been faced with challenges of focusing more on revenueand reputation rather than education, which is the primary goal ofthe institutions. The fight between different sections of thegoverning boards is an indication of failure in the control of theschools. As the Corporate side struggle to focus on finance withlittle regard to the promotion of knowledge in the institutions, thefaculties are forced to find ways of satisfying the demands. Asindicated from the analysis, the number of students enrolled as wellas the number of graduates awarded A’s is a cause of concern.

Regardingleadership, the selection of leaders is focusing more on personalitytraits as an approach to the picking of the presidency of theinstitutions. Although it works in some instances, it results in theloss of shared governance. Rather than Summer concentrating on asingle power approach, he could develop a servant leadership. Throughthis sort of governance, the faculties would not feel left out in thedecision-making processes of the academic affairs like was controlledduring the reign of Summers. The case study is critical in theassessment of higher learning institutions and leadership in the 21stcentury.


Iused to believe that the governance of higher education institutionsolely relies on the president and other top administrators. Afteranalyzing the case study, I have come to learn that even the alumnihave some role in the decision making process of these institutions.I have also understood that the board of trustees have some specialrole in governance. Secondly, I have realized that quality ofeducation is challenged by the kind of governance in theseinstitutions. It is important to note that in cases where facultymembers are evaluated based on the number of students obtaininghigher grades, chances are that grades may be inflated.


AmericanFederation of Teachers (2012). Shared Governance in Colleges and

Universities.Retrieved from

Altbach,P. G., Gumport, P. J., &amp Berdahl, R. O. (Eds.). (2011). Americanhigher education in the twenty-first century: Social, political, andeconomic challenges.JHU Press.

Basham,L. M. (2012). Leadership in higher education. Journalof Higher Education Theory and Practice,12(6),54–58.

Bok,D. (2013). Highereducation in America.HigherEducation in America.Retrieved from

Dunning,R., &amp Meyers, S. (2009). Crisis of Purpose in the Ivy League: TheHarvard Presidency of Lawrence Summers and the Context of AmericanHigher Education.

Duryea,E. D., &amp Williams, D. T. (2013). Theacademic corporation: A history of college and university governingboards.Routledge.

Layman,J. (2011) ‘A Five-Point Plan for the Future of Higher Education’in Coiffait, L. (Ed) BlueSkies: New Thinking About the Future of Higher Education.London: Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning.

Willeetts,D. (2011). Putting Students at the Heart of Higher Education.Experience’ in Coiffait, L. (Ed) Blue Skies: New Thinking about theFuture of Higher Education. London: Pearson Centre for Policy andLearning.

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