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[Excerpt] A number of important themes emerge from the chapters in Governing Academia. First, decentralization gives individual units—be they university campuses within a state system, colleges within a university, or departments within a college—an incentive to act in their own best interests, but less of an incentive to work toward the common good. As Heller points out, at the level of a state system, decentralization of control may lead to wasteful overlap between campuses. As Wilson shows, decentralized budgeting in the form of responsibility center management models may cause units not to maximize the quality of the education they are providing students. And, as Lohmann demonstrates, decentralized hiring by departments may lead to ossification, replication of the status quo, and a failure to move quickly into new areas of inquiry that require interdisciplinary approaches.

A second theme is that there may not be any single optimal design for a governance structure either for a system of state academic institutions (Heller), for boards of trustees (Hermalin), or for the organization of the university (Lohmann). Rather, what arises reflects the local history of each organization and the very different constraints it faces. Put another way, the variety of governance structures and organizational forms that we observe in place at a point in time may be present for very good reasons. It is natural for institutional arrangements to evolve as conditions change; hence the movement first away from, and then back toward, central control of the public university system in some states may reflect adaptation to changing circumstances and needs rather than irrational behavior.

The third and final theme is that the changing environment that higher education faces is likely to continue to influence the forms of governance we see in academia and the way academic institutions behave. Recent decades have seen the growing use of part-time and non-tenure-track faculty as academic institutions try to cope with financial pressures. It is not surprising, therefore, that Kaplan finds that faculty authority in governance tends to be concentrated in academic matters and that more and more financial matters are the purview of the administration. The growing threat from for-profit providers leads Pusser and Turner to worry about whether the traditional nonprofit higher education sector will maintain its concern for the public good and continue to act in the public welfare. The rush to commercialize faculty research findings is but one example.


Suggested Citation
Ehrenberg, R. G. (2004). Conclusion: Looking to the future [Electronic version]. In R. G. Ehrenberg (Ed.), Governing academia (pp. 276-280). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

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© Cornell University. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.