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Jones Distinguished Lecture Series

picture - Dr. Patricia CormierDr. Patricia Cormier

Driving the Imposters from the Temple:
The Accountability Movement in American Higher Education

May 5, 2003
Emporia State University

Dr. Patricia P. Cormier, President
Longwood University

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves.

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Matthew 21:12, 13

The image of driving the unworthy, the unrighteous and the pretenders from our sacred places is certainly nothing new in the Western tradition. From Jesus' expulsion of those who defiled the Temple to the American electorate's longstanding desire to "throw out the opposition," we have a long history of wishing to preserve the integrity of our institutions, sacred and secular. I come here today to tell you of a similar movement taking place in higher education, a movement that in many ways is as profound in its implications for the academy as Jesus' actions were for the early Christians and Jews.

My purpose is to analyze the major elements that comprise this modern-day call for accountability, to describe the position of the educational establishment to each, and finally to suggest a model for future actions. And although I shall focus my remarks on that which I know best - the American educational scene - I believe that the issues I raise about the academy's perceived relevance and worthiness are germane to all educators throughout the world.

I take the title of this paper from a book written in 1992 by Dr. Martin Anderson, Imposters in the Temple. A life-long academician, senior domestic and economic policy advisor to two presidents, and now Senior Fellow in the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, Dr. Anderson is a scathing critic of the American professoriate. Allow me to share with you two paragraphs of his work:

"Our universities and colleges are the home of the high priest of the American intellectual world, the men and women we look up to and listen to and sometimes follow. Some of these intellectual priests are what we think they are - men and women of integrity, brilliant scholars with a passion for truth, conscientious teachers who love their craft. But today many of these academic intellectuals are betraying their profession. They have scorn for their students and they disdain teaching. They represent their research and writing as important and relevant when much of it is not. Some have a passion for radical politics that transcends all else, and a few even have little regard for the truth.

They are the corrupt priests of America's colleges and universities and, while small in number, their influence is large and pervasive. They are the great pretenders of academe. They pretend to teach, they pretend to do original work. They do neither. They are imposters in the temple. And from these imposters most of the educational ills of America flow. Only when we understand these renegade intellectual priests, and take action against them, can America's full intellectual integrity and power be restored."

Imposters? Pretenders? Renegade intellectual priests? Where has language like this come from? What has happened to the unassailable image of colleges and universities as being secure intellectual islands, places successfully dedicated to teaching our children timeless truths, while at the same time preparing them for the fast-paced, ever-changing world of the future?

I would submit to you that words like Dr. Anderson's are indicative of a new and increasingly pervasive attitude toward higher education. As a university president, I can assure you that views like these are far from uncommon-and while most lack his rhetorical fury, they are no less profound. The truth is that we in higher education are being critically examined by an increasingly skeptical public, a public that is intent on holding us to a set of standards that we are unaccustomed to and that is in many ways strange to us. Lying at the root of all discontent is a deep belief that there is a profound disjuncture between what colleges and universities are, between what pre K-12 schools are, and what society wants them to be.

Leaving aside all the inflammatory rhetoric, I believe that the accountability movement in higher education is the result of an external environment that is focusing on three powerful societal shifts: vocationalism, the application of technology to the educational process, and the use of business principles and practices in the management of educational institutions. Collectively, these three developments present higher education with both daunting challenges and exhilarating opportunities. I firmly believe that those institutions that are sensitive to the messages being sent them by their constituents, that listen attentively, and subsequently embark upon a program that both reaffirms core values and recognizes the need for responsiveness, will thrive and prosper. Those that do not are in for difficult times.

By far the most prevalent and relentless pressure on colleges, universities and schools today flows from an economic environment where a college degree is perceived as being essential to securing a good job. This change is largely reflective of a shift from a manufacturing based economy to a largely service based, and the accompanying decline in high-salary, blue collar employment. The fact that most high-paying jobs now require higher education preparation, and that the gap in expected earnings between college and high school graduates has increased by over 20 percentage points over the last ten years, is not lost upon today's parents and students. Quite understandably, they are asking colleges and universities to provide them an educational experience that is directly relevant to their immediate life needs. And to an academy that has long prided itself on "teaching people to think" and has purposefully held itself aloof from the lowly business of work force preparation, this can be troubling indeed.

I must make the point, however, that in my experience the call for more vocational emphasis is not anti-intellectual. I do not have large numbers of constituents telling me that the Liberal Arts and Sciences are no longer relevant and should be replaced by things such as business, accounting, or computer science. In fact, I hear time and again that those students who have a firm grounding in the Liberal Arts and Sciences are ultimately the most successful in that they are able to think critically, solve problems and take on leadership roles. What I do hear from both students and employers, however, is that there is a lack of integration between many liberal arts and sciences experiences and the need for applied knowledge. I hear very clearly students and parents expressing a profound fear that higher education may become too expensive for them and that there are far too many needless bureaucratic impediments to achieving a degree. They are not asking us to give up the study of literature, philosophy or history; they are asking us to examine all our processes to ensure that their educational experience is linked in a meaningful way with the realities of the world that they must live and work in.

Most institutions in the United States have gone to great pains to accommodate the vocational needs of their students. Indeed, it is largely in response to vocationalism that a new type of institution has come to be- the comprehensive university. Intended to be all things to all people, the comprehensive institution offers a blend of professional programs and liberal arts and sciences programs. Most institutions are also now actively engaged in providing students a comprehensive career counseling program that begins as early as their first year and is intended to integrate their academic program choices with their career aspirations. And perhaps most importantly, we are now making more and more use of internships, where our students are placed in an actual work environment to learn what it really means to apply their knowledge and abilities to specific tasks. (Education/Business)

Where we still need work, however, is in the area that is most difficult to deal with - shaping each classroom experience to emphasize the applied value of the knowledge being transmitted. I believe very strongly that the strength of higher education lies in its many components: the skills learned in a literature class are every bit as vital as those acquired in a math course. For higher education to keep itself relevant, however, all institutions must do what schools like Emporia State and Longwood do in their teacher preparation programs: present all knowledge and information in such a way that its value to the student is apparent and applicable. As you who prepare teachers already know, this does not mean that we ignore or change the fundamental truths of our disciplines, it means that we find creative, meaningful and pertinent ways to make them known to our students. It is fine to offer professional programs and career counseling programs, but it is not until we bring vocationalism to the classroom, and make every one of our disciplines a source of applicable knowledge, that we will be able to fully meet the needs of our students. It is vital that heroic deeds are connected to today's world and are made as apparent as the influence of the computer is to the future.

The Application of Technology to the Educational Process
Connected to the challenge of making ourselves vocationally relevant is the issue of making ourselves technologically relevant. We now live in the Information Age, and, it might be argued, are in the midst of a technological revolution, a revolution that is every bit as powerful and pervasive as the Industrial Revolution. While I am dazzled by the force and brilliance of this new age, and am awed by the incredible pace of the revolution, as an academic administrator I am aware that it may be the greatest external challenge confronting us. And I am deeply concerned that the academy has been slow in understanding how important technology has become. It is not that we have ignored technology; in fact we are leaders in creating and supporting electronic technology, and academic researchers have been and continue to be on the cutting edge of technological development.

My fear is that we have not brought the new technologies into the classroom at the level and pace demanded in this new information age. I am concerned that we have not yet begun to think of education as something other than one teacher in front of a classroom of students. I am concerned that we have not adequately begun to view technology as something that can not only free us from traditional time and space constraints, but can also dramatically influence the teaching and learning process. Most faculty appreciate what technology has done to facilitate their work in the library and the laboratory, but not enough have begun to rethink their teaching practices in light of what the new technologies can accomplish. We must understand what it means to live in an age where the amount of information available now doubles every few years; we must recognize that we live in an age where knowing how to access information is more important than attempting the increasing impossible task of memorizing it.

We are being held accountable by the children of the Information Age. Our students frequently come to us with a higher level of technological preparedness than many of our faculty; they bring with them the expectation that those they came to learn from will make full and unfettered use of information technology. They expect to be challenged by a fully interactive, high tech educational experience. As far back as 1994 one of America's premier higher education forums, the Pew Higher Education Roundtable, posited the following:

"The interactive power of telecommunications is opening the way to different means not just of conveying information but of responding to questions that arise in the natural course of learning. The concept of 'classroom time' can come to seem a quaint anachronism when considered against the ability of the information superhighway to lead students to sources of information. The simple connection of e-mail makes possible a system of rapid and frequent interaction between students and those who evaluate and encourage their progress. The results can be improved student mentoring as well as an enriched form of Socratic enquiry."

If we are to continue being the preeminent societal institution that is entrusted with preparing our fellow citizens for the future, we must move quickly and efficiently to ensure that our educational methodologies and practices are technologically relevant. Indeed, the need for urgency is made very clear by the tremendous increase in competitors offering easy-access, low-cost educational programs that are conveyed almost entirely through technological means. Ranging from for-profit corporations to small proprietary schools to huge mega-universities like the United Kingdom Open University or the University of Phoenix, groups that recognize customer need are rushing to enter the fray, not only in America and Europe, but globally. And while we attempt to promote ourselves with words such as "quality" and "substantive," the burgeoning enrollments of our competitors are evidence of societal need. I would suggest that we have more than enough intellectual capital to compete with these alternative programs, but that we have in many cases been lacking the collective will to embrace fully all that technology has to offer.

Having said that, I must point out that we have not been inactive and that most institutions are putting more and more resources into developing information technology capabilities. Most have created an Information Technology division within the institution and employ an ever increasing number of people who install and maintain hardware and software, advise academic departments, conduct ongoing training programs, and assist the institution in planning for the needs of the future. I am very proud of my own campus in that we have every residence hall wired for full network access (1 port per pillow) and require all new students to have a laptop computer. (ITTIP Study)

As proud as I am, however, I still know that this is not enough. Until such time as instructional technology is fully embraced by our faculty, until such time as we undertake the serious business of rethinking and enhancing our pedagogical techniques, until such time as we meet or exceed the technological needs of our students, we will not be doing enough. In fact, I am beginning to believe what my husband says about me - that I have "nostalgia for the future."

Before I leave the topic of technological innovations, I would like to share with you the thoughts of Mr. Glenn R. Jones, a successful entrepreneur who is regarded by many as a visionary in the field of telecommunications:

"The information age is powered by computers and embraces satellites, cable, fiber, and other components of high velocity delivery systems. Information and entertainment now move at the speed of light and are like the wind; they know no borders. Time and distance are erased. Information is being delivered faster than it can be understood and there is too much entertainment to watch. So even in the information age, we must deal with the limitations of the world's first wet computer - the human brain. Therein lies our challenge.

In the crucible of the marketplace we must embrace converging technologies. We must think not only of how we configure our storage, access and delivery systems; we must contemplate the worth of what we store, access and deliver. We must design around the ultimate destination point of our systems, the human brain. While nurturing profitability, we must bend technology and its consequences to further human needs. We live in a renaissance; in terms of extending the human mind; the world is rich with opportunities."

I believe the time has come for higher education to fully embrace all of those opportunities.

The Use of Business Principles and Practices in Managing Institutions of Higher Education
Perhaps the most obvious element of the accountability movement, and to academicians certainly the most aggravating, is the repeated application of business principles and practices to institutions of higher education. As the president of a public university in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I can attest to the anger many governors, legislators, business leaders and agency heads feel toward us. Their anger springs from the belief that higher education has been allowed for too long to remain apart from the market driven forces that have demanded everything from government and business to the military and medicine to rethink, reduce, streamline and enhance. They hear the complaints of their constituents and each other, and then see us asking for ever-larger appropriations. Nowhere is the call for accountability greater than with those who hold the purse strings. And as the makers of public policy have made clear, they will not be ignored or put off.

In one state after another, public educational institutions are being forced to prove themselves efficient, responsive and customer-oriented. Words such as strategic planning, outcomes assessment, restructuring, cost analysis and performance funding are now being used frequently - and, I must add, are causing considerable consternation in a community that for most of its history has not included such terms in its vocabulary.

In my opinion, the most difficult part of accountability for the academy is the demand that we prove, in a quantifiable, numeric manner, the worth of what we are doing. While most faculty are quite comfortable with administrators being forced to prove that every dollar is well spent and that there is no excess administrative overhead, they have proven to be less than sanguine about things such as learning outcomes assessment and faculty workload and productivity studies. And for the business and finance officers, who are quite comfortable with assessing faculty performance, there is extreme discomfort with the notion of having to express institutional finances in terms of profit and loss statements. No one seems to be having an easy time of this.

And yet the pressure is relentless and we are forced to behave as we have never behaved before. We are now forced to live in, and be subject to, a market environment. I would like to cite for you some results of the world of business and education coming together:

· As budgets get tighter, and all administrative fat is trimmed away, an increasing number of institutions are being forced to look at academic programs in terms of cost benefit analyses. The University of Rhode Island is one example, where after conducting an extensive revenue production analysis of every academic department, "suspended" forty one programs.
· In some states where institutions are perceived as not moving quickly enough, legislatures are mandating change through law. In Virginia, the General Assembly decreed that all public institutions would restructure themselves to comply with a long list of quality control measures; in place for the past seven years, we still report annually on our progress and are held strictly accountable for our performance. Eight states have gone another route and are now linking funding to performance on a specified set of criteria. South Carolina was on the leading edge of this movement with 100% of an institution's funding determined by its performance levels in thirty-seven "quality indicators." Institutions that do not "earn" enough money to operate will be closed. (But this initiative has now gone by the wayside, deemed too difficult to monitor!)
· More and more institutions are privatizing what used to be internal functions. Increasingly, we are "outsourcing" things like maintenance activities, dining services, residence life, and some administrative functions. The private sector has proven it can provide these services more efficiently and at lower costs.

While all of this has been a great change for us, I do not think it is negative; in fact, as one who has the responsibility for managing a large and complex organization, I think we will ultimately benefit from being placed in exactly the same environment in which all our great societal institutions operate. For too long higher education has defined growth and change as adding to what we already have. Whether it be academic programs or administrative offices, we have historically responded to the need for change by adding something new, always avoiding all discussion of whether what we really need to do is reduce or restructure what we already have. Just as our major industries and institutions have refocused themselves, and reinvigorated themselves in the process, I think that we can do the same.

I would like to conclude my remarks by suggesting to you a possible course of action for the future. First and foremost I think that higher education and Pre K-12 education should not only acknowledge the accountability movement, but embrace it and use it as a vehicle to enhance our strength and our ability to contribute in a relevant and substantive manner. Indeed, I believe that we have a profound responsibility to serve the needs of the society we are so much a part of. I also believe that we have been slow in some cases to keep up with a world that is changing at an extremely fast pace, and that the demands of our constituents are a manifestation of the realities that they live with on a daily basis. As you who educate and prepare teachers know so well, the quality of our future rests upon the ability of one generation to prepare the next for the rigors and challenges that are sure to come. We can ill afford not to listen to the messages being sent us.

As I indicated earlier, I have found that one of the most difficult aspects of the change that has come upon us is accepting the fact that we in the academy now live and work in a market-driven environment; especially the fact that this is an environment where we are expected to show objective, quantifiable evidence of our success. To those who say that our endeavor defies quantitative analysis, that the things we do should not be expressed in subjective, analytic terms, I would say that this is not true. There is absolutely nothing wrong with subjecting the educational enterprise to exactly the same type of critical examination and analysis that we employ in our individual research programs. In the field of scholarly enquiry, we would never accept the validity of an argument or outcome unless it was supported by a suitable body of factual evidence. Why then should we expect a skeptical public, a public that is worried about our ability to meet its needs, to accept anything less?

And yet as an academician I also know that we must never forget what we are: we are an institution of higher education. We have values and a purpose that are unique to us. Unlike businesses where the bottom line is profit and the product is only relevant in terms of its immediate sales potential, we have the awesome responsibility of transmitting to our students the values and knowledge that come from thousands of years of human culture. Not only do we owe it to our constituents to present them with what is immediately relevant and purposeful, we also must educate them in such things as citizenship, leadership, cultural sensitivity and humaneness. These are our values, and as we press ahead into the future, we must reaffirm them, celebrate them and find ways to measure them.

Yes, measure them. I firmly believe that we in the new world we inhabit, we must not only be held accountable for the immediate needs of our constituents, we must also hold ourselves accountable for maintaining and transmitting the timeless truths that make us unique. And perhaps the hardest task we have ahead of us is finding ways to measure things such as values and cultural awareness.

Let me conclude then, by telling you why I believe we can do this, why I believe we can prosper and thrive an age of accountability. Several years ago, Longwood took part in a program called The Campus Roundtable. Facilitated by the Knight Collaborative, an organization dedicated to the advancement of higher education, it brought together a group of thirty faculty, staff, students and administrators to engage in a discussion of what the future might hold for Longwood University. There was no formal agenda, no assignments and no deadlines; we had a full day and a half to do nothing more than talk about the issues that confront us and how we might deal with them.

The results were not only gratifying, they were amazing. Without any administrative guidance or prodding, the group very naturally took up a discussion of the very things I have spoken about today:
· We spoke of external forces and society's heightened expectations for higher education. We acknowledged the need for accountability, cost efficiency and tuition control, and agreed as a group that we should not ask the public simply to accept what we offer, merely because we have always offered it. We must prove its worth.
· We spoke of the tremendous changes wrought in our world by technology, and instead of condemning those changes, spoke of them as opportunities.
· We spoke of the need for our educational process to become more learner-centered, and based far more upon rigorous outcome-oriented assessment. We spoke of our students, acknowledging not only that they have a different set of expectations than previous generations, but also that we have a responsibility to meet their needs.

I would like to share with you the concluding paragraph of our facilitator's summary:

"There was consensus around the table that the world had, indeed, changed. We readily agreed that we did not know the world of students today as well as we need to in order to make the necessary adjustments in the educational experience. We agreed that we need to hold firm to our core values, but must also adjust the ways in which we deliver education and the ways in which we think about education so that they are congruent with the needs of students and society. We don't want to be people who claim that if only given enough time, our eyes will adjust to pitch black darkness. There are new paradigms in education; we must know them."

When I was sitting at that round table with my colleagues, co-workers and friends, I knew that Longwood's future, and indeed, higher education's future, was in good hands. I knew then that we had what it took to meet the needs and demands of the future. As I listened to my people speak and I discussed with them their hopes, dreams, and plans for the future, I knew that we would prevail.

And prevailed we have:
· U.S. News & World Report - #10 among public universities in the South-Masters Comprehensive (5 years in a row)
· Highest job placement rate in the Commonwealth
· One of the highest teacher retention rate in the nation
· Retention rate of 81%
· Graduation rate of 61%
· SACS - outstanding 10 year review

Longwood is now a part of a nationwide study entitled the National Survey of Student Engagement - a project that evaluates students' experiences at over 200 colleges and universities. Our students rate Longwood as one of the most engaging in the country, at the 80th percentile or above on the development of work related knowledge and skills, engagement with technology, engagement with civic virtue and co-curricular activities. We have just participated in a further extension of this project - one of 20 institutions nationwide - that provided an in-depth analysis through campus visits to ascertain specific dimensions of engagement - active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, academic challenge and the extent of enriching emotional experiences and a supportive campus environment. What the report reveals is that Longwood, indeed, prepares citizen leaders for the common good - everyone believes it and practices it.

And as I stand before you, knowing what I do about the quality of education at Emporia State and reflecting upon my own institution, I am assured that I am in the temple of higher education, not in the company of imposters, but of true educators.

Thank you.