The University Record, February 20, 1995
By Gregory B. Markus, Professor of Political Science and Research Scientist, ISR
I view the proposed policy of Value-Centered Management (VCM) from the vantage point of someone who has worked for over 20 years within a unit that operates basically according to VCM principles. The Institute for Social Research retains its own overhead, manages its own personnel matters, makes its own space allocations, even builds its own buildings. Moreover, within ISR the three Centers are largely responsible for their own revenue and expenditure decisions.
On balance, ISR has flourished as a consequence of the high degree of managerial autonomy it exercises. The Institute's revenues have grown steadily, collaboration among the interdisciplinary research staff is cordial and productive, research output is of high quality overall, and the Institute has developed close working relationships with a number of LS&A departments and other units on campus.
There is nothing inherently irreproducible about the ISR experience, and if other U-M units were to acquire greater control over their own budgetary affairs, the results could be quite positive. I say "could be" because it is well known that the aggregation of individually rational, self-interested activity can sometimes yield a collective disaster for common-pool resources (such as a university's collective enterprise). Aware of that possibility, however, sensible people can and frequently do establish operating norms, institutions, and procedures enabling them to avoid such tragedies.
Despite my favorable predisposition toward policies that enable organizational units to exercise greater agency over their own futures, I have two criticisms of the proposed VCM policy for U-M. The first is substantive and has to do with what I see as inadequate safeguards against real threats that VCM poses to certain core University values. The second is procedural and concerns aspects of the planning and proposed implementation of VCM as I understand them.
Many faculty members and administrators at U-M are troubled by the disincentives for interdisciplinary, cross-unit work that VCM engenders and the prospect of individual units attempting to "game" VCM to the overall detriment of the Uni-versity. As a U-M committee report makes clear, any VCM-style policy has some "real limitations," most important of which is the possibility of a "growth in efforts to 'beggar thy neighbor'--to do things in the financial interest of a particular unit but not of the U-M as a whole" (PACE, May 1991, p. 9). These limitations are, to repeat, real and not merely potential or hypothetical.
An assessment of VCM-style budgeting at the Indianapolis campus of Indiana University and Purdue University, for example, concluded that whatever its various advantages (and there were many), the process reinforces a "tendency toward isolation of units," "discourages cooperation between units," negatively affected the "sense of community," and "motivated decisions on financial grounds that 'hurt' academic quality."
I have read a half-dozen memoranda from the U-M Administration and attended at least as many discussions about what was formerly known as Responsibility Center Management and is now VCM. In my judgment the administration has consistently down-played the likely disadvantages of its proposal. A recent memo from Associate Provost Robert Holbrook's office, for example, replied to serious questions about VCM with facile responses: "this is really old wine in new bottles"; the possibility of gaming "is true, but it is true of any system" ; "concern about how to encourage interdisciplinary work is not new," and so on.
Obviously, concern about encouraging interdisciplinary work is not new. What would be new under VCM is that new disincentives to interdisciplinary and inter-unit cooperation would unquestionably exist. How to deal with them?
It is natural for a policy's proponents to accentuate the positives and de-emphasize the negatives when making their case to a skeptical audience (and let there be no doubt: the faculty as a group are deeply skeptical about VCM). Also, perfect policies do not exist in the real world, and therefore every new proposal runs the risk of being nit-picked to death by doubters. At some point, however, the U-M administration and faculty simply must engage in a more honest and open conversation than has occurred to date about VCM's disadvantages and how to mitigate them.
There are hopeful signs. In response to faculty recommendations, the Provost recently scheduled a series of open meetings across the campus to discuss VCM. Another faculty recommendation that has been implemented is the creation of a VCM Faculty Oversight Board. The focus and powers of this board are yet to be determined, however.
The core values most threatened by VCM are collegiality, cooperation, and collaboration--the "three C's." If we move to VCM, we must have clear and explicit mechanisms and practices in place to safeguard these values. Based upon the ISR experience, I conclude that the effective way to safeguard collegiality, cooperation, and collaboration is via collegial, cooperative and collaborative practices. This leads me to my second, procedural, criticism.
New Policies, Old Politics
The process by which the RCM policy was considered at U-M and the plan for its pending implementation insufficiently honor collegiality, cooperation, and collaboration. For that matter, the VCM planning process has been fundamentally at odds with principles undergirding VCM itself. I take those principles to include such things as decentralized responsibility, broadened and more explicit accountability, increased openness about budgetary decision-making, and greater initiative and attention to quality at every level of the University.
Yet VCM is conceived--and is proposed to be implemented--via a process that can only be characterized as hierarchical, narrow, unaccountable to the constituencies that would be affected significantly by the new policy, and generally chilling to the spirit of initiative and quality. I am reminded of the story told about Woodrow Wilson during his days as president of Princeton University. "How can I democratize this university," Wilson demanded, "if the faculty won't do what I say?"
The U-M administration's various dicta about VCM stress the importance of "leadership" to its success. The consensus view of scholars and practitioners is that leadership is the practice of mobilizing constituents in pursuit of shared goals. Garry Wills, for example, wrote that leadership is "a matter of mutually determinative activity" (his emphasis). One is free to disagree with this characterization of leadership, but doing so will not alter three facts:
Enlarging a group can only increase its total knowledge base. Leaders therefore include constituents in organizational decision-making not to make constituents "feel" involved, or to co-opt them, or to enhance the leader's public image. Leaders involve constituents because it makes for smarter decisions.
Constituents execute policies more effectively and efficiently--they "buy in" to them--if the policies are ones they have had a hand in co-creating. Even if at the end of the day leaders observe that the outcome of a collaborative process is the same policy they wanted to implement in the first place, the collaboration will still have been worthwhile due to the buy-in effect.
The leadership capacities of constituents are enhanced when they engage in mutually determinative activities in pursuit of shared goals. Building the capacities of constituents is the right thing to do ethically. It is equally the right thing to do with regard to enhancing the quality of an organization (any organization) and its products (any products).
Contrast the above ideas with the process that brought VCM to where it is at the University of Michigan. At most, only a handful of faculty members were invited to participate in deliberations about VCM. Until very recently the overwhelming majority were unaware that the plan even existed. A Provost may declare that VCM will be implemented by a date certain; but the policy's practical success rests ultimately in the hands of the faculty.
In closing, it is my belief that faculty unease about Value-Centered Management extends beyond that particular proposal, as consequential as VCM may be. There is a growing sense among the faculty that the University decision-making process needs fixing, an impression validated by the VCM experience to date.
The time has come for all members of the U-M community to be engaged more effectively by the University leadership in "mutually determinative activity in pursuit of shared goals," and VCM is an ideal topic with which to inaugurate that process.
This is not a call for government by plebiscite. It does not imply institutional paralysis. Nor does it mean that everybody has to be consulted about everything. It does call for authentic leadership.
By William C. Stebbins, professor of otolaryngology and of psychology
For the past five years I have enjoyed teaching one of the comparatively new collegiate seminars designed for undergraduates in their first two years at Michigan. The seminars are part of a program that began in a small way in the Literary College almost a decade ago and which is now gathering momentum, with a considerable array of courses, particularly for first and second year undergraduates. Thereare those who are more effective teachers, and those who have had more experience, but it is unlikely that there are any who enjoy this kind of teaching more than I do. I am perfectly serious, and those cynics among you who have been standing at a lectern in front of a large lecture hall for too many years should take heart. My own experience is somewhat idiosyncratic, but I have benefited from an interchange with others of my colleagues who have also offered these seminars. These productive exchanges took place during gatherings of those of us who taught them, which were arranged by Associate Dean Jack Meiland and later by Associate Dean Michael Martin.
The objective of the collegiate seminars has been expressed in various ways, but it is my understanding that they came about in part as a reaction to the hectoring from without, suggesting that we were not offering the best possible education to our undergraduates at this university. The seminars were put together in the hope that Michigan could persuade members of their senior faculty to offer their expertise in the classroom to undergraduates in the form of more personal contact, and with the purpose of teaching "critical thinking" and eschewing rote memorization, boring introductory textbooks, and the highlighting of every other passage in the reading material with those fluorescent yellow and pink pens. In effect, we were looking for an alternative to the sunburn theory of learning which assumes that the words of great lecturers and textbooks will be absorbed through the skin like the rays of the sun. Of course the concept of critical thinking is not easily grasped. As a psychologist, I realize fully how inadequately we comprehend it. However, like the bull in the china shop, and as a former behaviorist, I defined it rather bluntly in terms of the behavior of the students I was trying to teach--not in terms of thinking per se but rather in terms of its output in the form of critical speaking and critical writing.
The course was designed as a substitute for the lecture course on the Introduction to Psychology as a Natural Science and was titled: "Experimental Inquiry in Psychology: Mind, Brain, and Perception." I assigned five paperbacks that, I thought, covered this material in an organized and systematic manner and thus would represent the course content. These included Niko Tinbergen's Curious Naturalists, Ulrich Neisser's Cognition and Reality, Peter Medawar's Pluto's Republic, Carl Sagan's The Dragons of Eden (about the structure and evolution of the brain), and B.F. Skinner's About Behaviorism. The following statement given to the students who signed up for the course describes fairly well the objectives of the course as I taught it:
What to expect in taking this course
1. This is a seminar, not a lecture course.
2. Your evaluation will depend on your participation in class. That means vocal communication and discussion in class are absolutely essential. If you feel awkward about speaking in class, I will advise and counsel you to take another course.
3. The reading is the basis for class discussion, and most of the time I will be asking you to discuss issues or answer questions in class arising from the reading. You have to do the reading to contribute to class discussion. I will almost never lecture. Course content is contained in the reading.
4. Four papers and revisions of each (no revision necessary if you get an A) are required, and deadlines for these papers are absolute. The paper with the lowest grade is dropped. Technically you only have to do three papers.
5. This is not a course for notetakers, highliters, or passive learners. You have to play to win.
So why, you might ask yourself, would I want to take this course? There are no multiple choice or true-false tests, in fact no required in-class tests or exams at all. You can shoot off your mouth without fear of recrimination if you have done the reading. If you are not one already, we will make a critical thinker out of you. You will provide yourself with a good grasp of the major issues in biological psychology. Besides, we have a good time, and this is what teaching and learning are all about. It is an interactive process. Who said so? Socrates.
Invariably, I would lose three or four students out of 20 after the second class session, when they realized that I meant what I said--in the handout and in class--that in every session they would be put on the spot for the answer to a question from me or from another student (originally directed at me but then deflected to them) or to discuss a specific issue arising from the reading. Those who stayed were active participants throughout the course, and the attendance remained high (their grade depended not upon their attendance directly, but upon their involvement in class). Papers were heavily edited for content and equally for organization and style, and revisions were expected to take account of those editorial comments. One grade was given for the original paper and another for the revision. Paper topics included a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of observation and experiment in science, of induction and deduction as means of approaching an experiment, and of the principal theories of localization of function in the brain. Illustrative examples, and there were many, came from the reading and from class discussion. The final course grade was based only upon class participation and on the papers. For students who improved steadily throughout the course, early grades were discounted. Improvement mattered a great deal. I used the MTS message system as an extension of office hours but, more important, as a way of firing questions at the students for class discussion the day before class.
I will teach the seminar next year for the sixth time. There is no question but that teaching it the way I do is more work than teaching a traditional lecture course. Paper grading is very time-intensive. I fully realize, of course, that such a seminar format is not applicable across-the-board for all courses. Yet it is the most exciting teaching that I have done while at Michigan. When intellectually stimulated, U-M undergraduates are an enthusiastic, compelling, and rewarding group to exchange ideas with. I think that the course works for most of the students. I base this upon their comments and from the fact that I am still in touch with many of those who have taken the course over the five years that I have offered it. I came away impressed with the quality of thinking that developed in these very talented undergraduates, barely out of high school. It was exciting for me to watch them become critical of what they read and what others said but in a thoughtful and non-personal way, analytical in terms of taking a problem apart in order to deal with it more effectively, and more understanding of the nature and process of biological and behavioral science.