174 of 185 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2011
This is a strange book that should be five stars, given the distinguished authors, topic and promise to offer recommendations for radical innovation at the DNA level of universities. It doesn't deliver on any of these promises. It's bewilderingly weak and in many areas misleading. I've struggled to come up with strong points in order to give it a fair review and not to let my own views and experiences get in the way of trying to help you decide if this is a book for you. The three stars is largely to acknowledge that there is nothing "bad" about it and it's a responsible effort.
The major strength of the book is the track record and credibility of the authors. Christiansen's concept of disruptive innovation is well-regarded and influential in business circles and he has a stellar reputation as a teacher. As the foreword makes clear, the finished book itself is mainly the product of Henry Eyring, who worked with Kim Clark at Brigham Young; Clark is the well-respected former Dean from the Harvard Business School, where Christiansen has spent his academic career. Christiansen suffered a severe stroke that meant that his contribution to the book was constrained but his name is the primary attraction for readers. It was exactly that for me and much of my disappointment and frustration is that so little of the verve and crystalline clarity of his Creative Disruption comes through; his sad illness accounts for much of that.
The other strength is the shared experience and leadership of Kim Clark who took on the challenge of the presidency of Brigham Young and Feyring's helping turn around BYU-Idaho's low-ranked and ever lower business school as a moral mission experience and commitment as a leader. Both he, Clark and Christiansen are devout Mormons and everything I know of them is of three truly first-rate people. Together, the book draws on the intellectual power of Christiansen, the academic leadership experience of Clark and management/academic track record of Eyring. This gives the book credibility and reflects a true commitment to the essence of education.
That may be enough to attract you as a reader. It is definitely a worthy piece of work. It's cumbersomely structured and a little labored in its style. It has very much the flavor and article in a policy journal, such as Foreign Affairs, where the presentation is serious and aims at communicating substance rather than being a fun read or trying to sell some new idea.
Now for the weaknesses. Time for a quick Truth In Reviewing note; I was on the faculty of the Harvard Business School an aeon or so ago, got my masters and doctorate there, have been a professor at MIT, Stanford and comparable foreign universities. I know the territory well. I just don't recognize it from this book. It is very much the view from a school that is unique (HBS) within a unversity that is almost unique (Harvard -- it is very comparable to my alma mater Oxford University -- historic, central to many social and political issues and suffering from a syndrome of Very Important to itself and its alumni ). Far too much of the first 140 pages is the Harvard story. Harvard is not in any way representative of colleges and their challenges any more than, say, the last fifty years experiences of Duke University college basketball is of high school basketball -- same game, entirely different issues. HBS is in another sport -- Formula One car racing perhaps. The book again and again ignores a massive range of issues that don't matter for HBS/Harvard but absolutely dominate across the university landscape. There is just a short chapter on the tenure process, acknowledged as somewhat tough and distorting both research and teaching but very detached and abstract. You cannot understand anything about a college, department, or individual professor if you don't have fairly in-depth insight into the tenure track, tenure decisions, journal rankings, research funding, etc., etc. It's core to the DNA of universities and many times more complex and even more consequential than public school teacher unions and teacher accountability.
Another topic entirely omitted is the administrative burden of colleges. The issue of tuition increases is well-understood but the major problem is that administrative costs are typically over 40% of total income. State funding is being cut by as much as 20% across the board. One impact is that fewer students are being tiaght by tenure track professors. In some schools, as much as 75% of the teaching is done by adjuncts paid by the course. The fee is around $3,000, so that any adjunct carrying a full teaching load can expect to earn about $20,000 a year!!! None of this is even hinted at in the view from HBS, where the revenues are high, professors do not have to tread the academic journal mill to get tenure (to my knowledge, Christiansen has no academic publications), students are taught by real professors, and administration is first-rate. There is surprisingly little coverage from a BYU perspective. I don't recall a single sentence on either adjuncts or admin. The coverage of the book is so off base that it undermines the entire thrust and promise of its subtitle "Changing the DNA of higher education from the inside out." In terms of relevance and accuracy this is a one-star book.
The recommendations are broad and fuzzy. The authors accept that whatever the positive future turns out to be, it will increasingly exploit online learning. This should be given the 140 pages of indepth coverage, but looking forward instead of back, that is devoted to Harvard College/HBS history. There is not a single interesting or original comment about the practicalities of moving online. This is the true disruptive innovation where Phoenix has been a pace-setter, more and more colleges offering online MBAs, business shifting its inhouse training onto the Web, social networking, e-books, and many other foreces swirling around in a turbulent millstream of transition. This book talks at the level of "The Internet is really important and will play a big role in education. You will be able to get your degree....."
I'll end my review here without going into detail. I do want to help you make your own decision but for me personally this is a one-star book, if that, and I could write a dozen pages on where for me it entirely misses its targets. But it's a worthy effort by admirable people whose experience is broad and commitment deep. I can't recommend it to any audience. If you know the field, this is offbase and adds nothing new. If you are a general reader concerned about the decline of education in so many areas, it's misleading and doesn't offer more than bland general ideas and recommendations. If you are a professor at a state university, a dean or a n administrator, there's nothing new and much that I think you'd see as missing the point.
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2011
A little background:
I have been doing research on the future of education both to find areas where I can improve "in the field" at my current job as a teacher, and also as part of research for a major graduate school (the latter being the primary impetus for this book.) I pre-ordered the book after reading "Disrupting Class," by Clayon Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson and Michael Horn. That book analyzes the future of education on a K-12 level, applying the ideas from Christensen's model of disruptive innovation to provide insight and I assumed this would do the same. It does not.
While Disrupting Class was (in my opinion) a fearless, hard look at what K-12 is, and the advances and changes in technology fit the structure of disruptive innovation, I felt that the authors had a harder time with this book. It may because they both spend their lives within the walls of the universities they discuss, but it did not seem like there was the same force behind the critique.
The book is developed by presenting a history of Harvard University and BYU-Idaho. In theory this offers insight into how modern college got to looking like it does today, but the history goes on for well over 200 pages, and I had a hard time finding much value in the process. It felt a little self indulgent to me. Only in the last 50-60 pages does the future of college really come into the discussion, and there there was hard analysis, most was soft recommendation.
The authors also made a critical, and somewhat ironic error (again in my opinion) in their analysis when they consider the role of the university. They state that the role of a university is in discovery, memory and mentoring (in essence, finding information, retaining information and passing on information.) They do not make mention or minimize (whether intentionally or inadvertently) other elements universities provide like certification, a network, a structure that provides discipline etc. This is seemingly because they focused on the knowledge (and the role a university plays,) instead of on the student and the role the university plays for him/her. Considering that a major focus of both of the works by Christensen is "student-centric" education, this seemed like a major misstep, and in my mind means they left out critical factors in their analysis. (They also ignore the role of free education online.)
As others have stated, the model of Disruptive Innovation does not seem to apply to higher education in the same way as it does to K-12 or other fields. The author's may agree with this stance, as there is far less use of the disruptive models in this book than in other books by Christensen. Unfortunately, the author's did not take the time to show why colleges are different and where those differences are. They simply reverted to trying to force some ideas into the structure, and let things remain a bit loose all around. Further, the book seemed to be designed for people working in colleges, and did not provide much insight to help people going to college (or sending kids to college) in making the most of the opportunity.
All in all, I found the actual book quite underwhelming for my purposes. It provided a rather long history of the development of college in this country, and hit on many ideas, albeit in a fairly loose form. The book does provide insights into a lot of areas and provides a starting point for consideration of many ideas (and the sources provided offer a tremendous amount of material worth looking at.)
I rate the book 2 stars because it did not "deliver" what it seemed to be designed to, and honestly, the book seemed like it could have been half the length. If you are interested in the history of education in this country or work in a school, there is value here (though for the latter, the final 60 pages may be more than enough.) If you are looking to understand how technology and globalization will affect how colleges function going forward, I am not sure this is the place.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2012
I won't go over the lengthy ground the other reviewers such a Peter Keen have, other than to say they pretty much hit the mark. What I did not get from their reviews was just how painful this book is to read. I really wanted to read it, I am fascinated with the topic, but could only handle a few pages at a time before I had to put it down, do something else for awhile, and then come back. On reflecting why this book so difficult to read I never really came to a single answer, rather it is a combination of factors:
1) It is a paean to Harvard, the (according to the tone of the book) greatest university in the world. I got the sense that in education, like "The Simpsons" in cartoons, Harvard did it first. The pro-Harvard tone gets cloying very quickly.
2) The advertising copy for the film "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" had the line "It is exactly what you think it is." This book unfortunately does not have the same tag line, and it should. This book is exactly what you would think people from the Harvard Business School would write about higher education. The complexities of education are glossed over and all human problems become amenable to solution via a good business model.
3) It is poorly researched. In trying to track down references (where they were cited) I was taken to large Department of Education report databases and left to search for the relevant work. In many places key statements are made with no attribution, such as: "Many of the online adjunct faculty were working professionals or homemakers for whom the pleasure of teaching was as great a motivator as financial compensation." Really? That is not the experience of most adjunct faculty I know. Where is the data that supports this assertion?
4) The authors seem to want to try and use two case studies (Harvard and BYU Idaho which is run by people from Harvard and the Mormon Church) to make the points about needed higher education reform. The case studies drag on far longer than they should and often read more like advertising copy than scholarship. Furthermore, the case studies are not at all convincing as being generalizable to higher education as a whole.
Overall the book reminded me of Dana Barrett's line in GhostBusters: "You know, you don't act like a scientist...You're more like a game show host." Lots of glitz and flash with little substance. My advice would be to avoid this book and read Christensen's other works on disruptions in higher education which are available for free online.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2013
Buy this book, and invest precious life-hours reading it, only if:
1. You seek a view of higher education that reduces it to 2 quite idiosyncratic institutions and a vanishing field of "others" who deserve no mention.
2. You like the "Great Man" view of history and enjoy reading potted biographies of authors' heroes, in this case the geniuses who made Harvard Business School and Brigham-Young University-Idaho the lonely shining beacons they are (?) today.
3. You can stand hearing DNA utterly and completely misdescribed on nearly every page. DNA does not "change". You cannot change the DNA of a living organism. If you do, the organism dies. You must also be able to tolerate little abstract images of this misdescribed DNA in insets about every 5 pages. (Apparently one of the authors' wives once made a comment about Harvard and BYUI to the effect that it is as if they had different DNA; and voila! She is not to blame for their taking this comment and turning it into a really dumb running gimmick.)
4. You are willing to read all the way to page 100 before you get your first big laugh, which will come upon reading this sentence: "However, the concept of academic honor predates the founding of Ricks College." This does give you an idea just how provincial the authors' outlook is.
Fortunes are being made by self-appointed gurus in U.S. higher education administration, who have both dire outlooks and prophetic nostrums for how Universities Can Be Saved. These fortunes seem to swing on both exaggeration of current challenges and vagueness about the remedies. I'm sorry I contributed to one of these fortunes.
30 of 40 people found the following review helpful
As a former tenured Professor at a top 50 University I found the The Innovative University by C.R. Christensen and H.R. Eyering to be both enlightening and filled with important statistics about a revolution in university education which will have major impact on our society. The methodology used in the book is analogous to Christensen's classic book on disruptive innovation, The Innovator's Dilemma. What's disrupting universities? In a nutshell, it's the on-line educational framework which can lead to quality university education at a fraction of the cost for a traditional bricks and mortar one. Even though, there are many aspects beyond cost when it comes to university education, the rapidly rising cost of university education (3X increase between 1980 and 2010) is the biggest driver which will trigger disruptive innovations.
A traditional university has 3 basic functions: discovery, memory, and mentoring. While excelling in all 3 functions ,as is found in elite universities such as Harvard (aportion of the book focuses on the evolution of the elite university as exemplified by Harvard), requires enormous financial resources to maintain vertical integration. Today the resources required have become astronomical. Only a few elite universities have the financial resources to function at the highes levels. However, over the last 50 years many universities have tried to emulate the vertical integration Harvard model. Even before the 2008 financial meltdown many 2nd tiered (and some 1st tiered ones) universities found themselves either unable to execute or executing poorly in their key mission areas, in an era of shrinking financial resources. This is especially true for public universities associated with cash strapped states. A notable example is the the University of CA system, and their flagship campus at UC Berkeley.
The rapidly increasing cost of college education relative to inflation ( ~3-4% higher) has led many to increasingly question the cost to value of that education, and the increasing opportunities for lower cost disruptive solutions. The importance of increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of universities is highlighted in detail by the authors. Many universities of the future will: operate all year; include more students; develop more focused curriculum; enhance their mentoring; establishi more community; combine in-class/off-line classes; award 3 year degrees; and lower operational costs. Many of these developments are already present in some of the universities described in the book, including one which one of authors (HJR) was associated with, BYU-Idaho. Other universities adopting a lower cost model are Indiana Wesleyan University, Western Governors University, Southern New Hampshire University, Tennessee Technology Centers, Valencia Community College, Rio Salado College, and Devry Institute. A recent report (Winning by Degrees) by McKinsey profiles the previously noted 8 universities and their superior productivities.
The authors argue the metrics used for university success will be transformed in the future and move more towards the measurement of quality and the cost of education, and less on numbers such as faculty prestige, publications, merit scholars, etc. Universities that survive the transformation will need to innovate in terms of areas where they focus their decreasing resources. Both authors provide narratives on how universities familiar to them (BYU-Idaho, and Harvard) are tackling the innovation challenges. In essence for the foreseeable future, Harvard will remain a premier elite university with a broad range of offerings at a steep price, while the more disruptive universities like BYU-Idaho will focus on increasing productivity.
The authors point out the innovation of American universities at the turn of the 20th Century led to the formation of the most dynamic university system the world had seen up to that time. Pioneering Presidents at Harvard such as Charles Elliot, and Lawrence Lowell led the development of standards for excellence in research, scholarship, and academic curricula. The authors remain cautiously optimistic the innovative spirit of the American university infrastructure will find a viable path going forward. On the other hand, they are aware the challenges faced by established organizations, when faced with disruptive innovations.
In summary, the book addresses a topic of critical importance to many Americans, and I believe you will find it both informative and entertaining.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
In 2010, The Academic Ranking of World Universities listed 17 U.S. institutions among the top 20 globally. Yet, American universities are at risk of competitive disruption. When reduced budgets force them to cut costs, they trim but rarely make hard trade-offs, nor do they readily reinvent their curricula to better prepare students for work; they respond to economic downturns by simply raising prices. American universities tend to copy elite and very expensive research institutions such as Harvard, with its vast curriculum and premier professional schools.
On average, inflation-adjusted university costs have quadrupled between 1980 and 2010, while starting salaries for graduates have remained flat in real terms, driving the need for innovation. The authors contend that most universities cannot afford this model, making them vulnerable to disruptive competition.
Online learning is much less expensive, and outcome-oriented accreditation standards are beginning to level the competitive playing field. Two-year colleges and for-profit higher education companies are growing rapidly. The University of Phoenix had $2.5 billion in 2007 revenues, rising to $3.8 billion in 2009 while enrolling 355,800 new students. Meanwhile, the University of California's Berkeley campus faced a $1.2 billion gap in state funding for 2010-2011, and the University of Michigan was receiving just 10% of its operating budget from the state.
Year-round operation, elimination of intercollegiate athletics, online courses, peer-to-peer assistance by fellow students, and a focus on undergraduate education have allowed BYU-Idaho (formerly Ricks College) to stabilize costs. Additional generic opportunities include encouraging high school students to earn online college credit while in high school, establishing community study centers for tutoring help and taking face-to-face courses.
Changing universities, however, will not be easy - tenured faculty have enormous power to resist change. The authors point out that for-profits have little trouble hiring graduate degree holding faculty at a fraction of the salary made by full-time traditional professors. The politics of doing so, however, may not be feasible.
Bottom-Line: The authors' point that university education is ripe for innovation is important. However, their material lacks documentation of the relative effectiveness of online vs. in-class instruction, and doesn't address the growth in many staff and facility overheads that have rapidly boosted costs, as well as the banality and high costs of typical university 'research' that eg. produces 300-some new books on Shakespeare/year.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Christensen and Eyring make a point I can mostly get behind: that in the realm of higher education, "suicide by imitation" is no longer acceptable. Schools trying to mimic the Harvard model will continue to struggle under fiscal realities. Only those schools that have their own educational identities will survive coming transitions. Unfortunately, the moral they take from this point seems insufficiently explored, since they provide only one substantial counterexample.
The model of a scholarship-based university, favoring graduate students over undergraduates and extreme academic specialization over practical application, arose at Harvard directly after the Civil War, and achieved its current mature form shortly after World War II. Other universities have tried in vain to mimic this model, including schools that have no business in such pursuits, like my small regional university. "Harvard envy" has become modern education's malady du jour.
So far, so good. As an adjunct instructor, I've noticed the same problem. But Christensen and Eyring only bother to investigate one significant opposing model: the former Ricks College, now BYU-Idaho. Ricks' emphasis on applied knowledge, remedial liberal arts, and integrated curriculum, make refreshing reading after Harvard's monolithic presentation. Yet Ricks doesn't represent the only significant innovative direction in modern American academia, not by a long shot.
I look in vain for other examples. What about St. John's College of Annapolis and Santa Fe? This school's self-consciously classical curriculum, focused on the Socratic method, makes a bracing antidote to Harvard's secular modernism. What about California's Deep Springs College? This tiny (twenty students) two-year school combines liberal learning with autonomy and hard work, with a profitable cattle ranch, staffed by students, keeping tuition permanently free.
Our authors identify some other schools: Westminster College, Western Governors University, and especially DeVry University. But they name-drop these counterexamples with only surface investigation. The emphasis on only two educational models in any depth creates a false impression of either-or absolutism. "Disruptive innovation," the key model of Christensen's career, is more diverse than that in the academic world. This book steps in the right direction, then stops too soon.
23 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Before proceeding to write a book, an author always needs to be very clear on who his or her intended audience is. Respect for your audience is crucial to a book's success. Christensen and Eyring, however, don't seem to have spent much time figuring out who their prospective readers were going to be. If the book is supposed to be addressed to college professors and administrators, then the way it is written is completely inappropriate. Every single thing gets repeated ad nauseam, as if the authors were writing for a bunch of idiots incapable of processing the simplest idea on a first try. Christensen and Eyring make a very obvious and simple statement and then keep pounding you over the head with it on ever single page of an entire chapter.
Altogether, the book offers a lot of long-winded sentences that state not just the obvious but the painfully obvious. It is, however, very short on substance. The only practical suggestions it makes for the improvement of the higher education system are extremely trivial and well-known to anybody. Moreover, the absolute majority of universities that I am familiar with have been putting these suggestions in practice for a while.
A significant chunk of the book (about 150 pages)is taken up by a very detailed recounting of the history of Harvard University. Since the history of Harvard can be found in a variety of other sources, I felt that its role in THE INNOVATIVE UNIVERSITY was that of padding. Overall, the original content of the book could be summarized in 3 or 4 sentences. The rest is just repetitive, tedious padding.
The things I mentioned, however, are not the worst part of the book. What is really annoying about it is the attempt to analyze the university as if it were a business. Students are referred to as student-customers. Christensen directly compares selling education to selling a box of cereal. And he pushes this "idea" as insistently as he does every other inane observation he makes. If anything will end up destroying the American system of higher education - which, in my opinion, is without a doubt the best system of higher education in the world - it is this kind of attitude. Universities are not businesses. Their goal is not to sell the product at all costs. The university's role in society is completely different. It makes no sense to try to run a business as if it were, say, a charitable organization. Or a household. Or a college. In the same way, it makes no sense to impose on the system of higher education rules and procedures that are alien to it.
I've been working in the system of North American higher education for a little over ten years now. Every day, I see professors, lecturers, instructors, administrators and students who come together for the purposes of sharing, cultivating and advancing knowledge. And there is nothing more beautiful than a bunch of people brought together by their love of learning and their desire to disseminate their knowledge. However, some colleges have adopted the pernicious practice of bringing in very highly paid business managers to manage campuses. These people are often brilliant business leaders who are, at the same time, absolutely clueless about how to run a university. They begin to apply their knowledge of how to run a business to an environment that is completely different. The results are always disastrous. Even if such administrators manage to raise enrollments by moving most of the courses online and destroying the emphasis on research (which are Christensen's and Eyring's main suggestions in this book), the university soon ends up losing all prestige and being referred to both at home and abroad as a "diploma mill."
In the opinion of these authors, it wouldn't be a problem if most of our universities turned into places that churn out useless online courses and produce no research whatsoever. As long as the student-customers are happy with being able to buy a diploma while investing very little intellectual effort into acquiring it, everybody will come out winning. As for research, we always have Harvard.
For those of us who believe that our students and our American scholarship deserves better, this is not a valid path.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Given that the monograph in question was written by two business faculty members, I can say that I am not surprised that the remedy for the current crisis facing higher education in the United States is essentially an entrepreneurial, business solution. In many ways, I find myself agreeing with my fellow reviewers, many of them also academics, who have criticized this particular book for failing to really understand the way higher education outside of two enclaves (Harvard and BYU) really work and consequently pontificating solutions as though we all were. In particular, I was struck by the lack of discussion about faculty and faculty issues, since this is a topic of significant discussion at the present, and in particular the over-reliance on contingent (adjunct) faculty and graduate teaching assistants due to the limited availability of full-time teaching staff, whether tenured or untenured. In particular, I found their attitude towards contingent faculty both patronizing and severely off the mark, as working professionals or homemakers! This divisiveness certainly does not capture the full extent of what adjunct faculty are (many, while involved in other occupations, would be in full time teaching appoints, were there enough to go around), and many adjuncts teach precisely for financial gain as much as they do for love of teaching or to justify possessing a degree which has not lead them to a career in the academy. These attitudes are far from helpful, and though this is one example, it is certainly an important one. Overall, I'm not sure this book presents any real solutions to the problems of higher education except to reiterate what we might expect from business: focus on your customer base and maximize shareholder value. Never mind the fact that the customer (business and organizations who hire our graduates) doesn't actually pay tuition and the shareholders (the state) increasingly see colleges and universities as items to divest themselves of despite the return on quality of life through research (another topic, unsurprisingly, about which very little is said). Yet, such suggestion are little more than tripe and, when combined with the author's fundamental misunderstanding of the university outside their own enclaves, really do little to advance constructive solutions to our problems.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2011
This book's argument is a good one: the traditional university system copies the Harvard model without the financial infrastructure to support it and for student bodies with radically different needs. The authors support this argument by outlining the Harvard presidential decisions that have led to the defining characteristics of the modern university system. The authors also identify the costliness of those characteristics and describe certain universities that have re-imagined their missions outside of that borrowed framework.
My only problem with the book is that the authors labor too much on the narrative details of Harvard history. No doubt because of their backgrounds, they romanticize Harvard's presidents to the same degree that they argue the American university system elevates the Harvard model. For a reader who doesn't share those feelings, these dreamy-eyed narratives carry on just a little too long.
In general, I thought the argument should have been made a little more concisely.
However, I still liked the book and recommend at least a speed-read of it. Also, I would like to read an expansion of the authors' argument: What specific contexts and decisions at other traditional universities also informed modern higher-ed DNA? What social circumstances facilitated the wide-spread adoption of these decisions? In what ways were they social decisions, not just Harvard or other presidential decisions, even if university presidents served as tipping points? Have any defining characteristics emanated from faculty senates? This book calls for more, important research.