Monthly Archives: October 2015

Why Do We Care about What Who Wants? Not-so-Mundane Challenges to Being a Value-Bearing Organization

Emma Arrington Stone Young

A very striking contradiction came to light during the panel discussion following Steve Salbu’s[1] keynote for the first IU Bloomington Future of Professional Ethics workshop hosted at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University on September 25.

At the national level, perceived student demand has driven a shift in emphasis away from the liberal arts and toward “professional” schools, even at traditionally liberal arts colleges. As noted by Salbu, in his experience as a Dean, students are increasingly taking an instrumental view of higher education as they seek high-paying and high-status jobs. However, during the panel discussion it came out that college career placement services have been hearing pushback from employers in law, media, and informatics: These employers often want to see graduates with stronger critical thinking and communication skills – in other words, with a stronger liberal arts education.

This seems to paint a picture in which drivers, incentives, and outcomes have become mismatched: students are interested in appealing to high-status employers, and these student/parent desires are evidently driving higher education policies — yet employers are less than satisfied with the results, and recent graduates are less than satisfied with their financial prospects. Meanwhile, within the academy, faculty are concerned about mission drift — and academic careers have become exemplars of the kind of life path that doesn’t pay for its own University-charged entry cost. Being an institution dedicated to values above and beyond its own self-preservation, whether it be university, a newspaper, or a political party, naturally involves debate over what the precise values are. But in the picture painted above, no coherent vision of the value of education is getting its way. So what is driving higher ed policy?

Responding to the keynote’s emphasis on shifting values in higher education, panelist Tim Hallett[2] brought up the spread of Enrollment Management programs (EM) in colleges and universities. This bureaucratic innovation links Admissions and Financial Aid departments, with the result that financial aid is used as a tool to recruit target populations of students. Hallett cited a study of the growth of EM by Kraatz, Ventresca, and Deng 2010*, which offers several criticisms of the phenomenon:

Studies have shown that “strategic” financial aid policies strongly favor middle-class students with a greater ability to pay, thereby undermining equal access to higher education (Baum & Lapovsky, 2006; Davis, 2003). They have also shown that rapidly growing enrollment management expenditures have consumed a growing percentage of colleges’ budgets and diverted scarce institutional resources away from core academic areas such as instruction and academic support (Goral, 2003; Redd, 2000).

Kraatz et al. ultimately argue that organizational values can be quietly subverted as organizations “adopt new and ostensibly innocuous innovations that promise to solve their technical and administrative problems.” The problems with EM provide one example.

It is not difficult to see how this account could be applied to the problems raised in our workshop as well. While the proper organizational values of higher education are, I think, inherently contestable, in the discussions of many higher education policies, the questions being asked are part of a different conversation altogether: What do our consumers (primarily high school students and current undergraduates) see when they look at our PR? And what do they see when they look at our competitors (other colleges)?

This type of framing radically narrows the focus, and pushes any consideration of graduate futures, community or social needs, employer interests, or academic integrity to the margins — except insofar as they impact the newly central questions of how to appeal to test-savvy students. It places a premium on the judgments of a relatively naïve consumer. The practice of certain law schools, which overall have shown very low employment rates for graduates over the past several years, of padding their employment stats in the college rankings used for recruitment, is one example cited by Salbu. This type of administrative decision can only make sense in a very narrow decision-making framework focused on getting students in the door. How it could ever make good ethical sense is difficult to imagine at all.

Kraatz et al. are concerned to find out what makes an organization more or less susceptible to such mission drift and value subversion. Their questions thus offer a perfect segue from the issues explored in the first IU Bloomington #FutureEthics workshop to the issues shaping the next: Committed Professions: Handling Structural Obstacles to Ethics {outlink}.

* All quotes from: PRECARIOUS VALUES AND MUNDANE INNOVATIONS: ENROLLMENT MANAGEMENT IN AMERICAN LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGES. Academy of Management Journal 2010, Vol. 53, No. 6, 1521–1545.

[1] Cecil B. Day Chair, Professor of Law and Ethics at Georgia Institute of Technology

[2] Associate Professor & Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Sociology, Indiana University Bloomington,

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Workshop review – Professions and Service to All: Challenges, Problems, and Solutions

Saul Kutinicki,
Emma Arrington Stone Young, and
Kenneth D. Pimple

Professions and other occupations exist because they serve human needs. The degree to which professions strive to meet vital needs vary across professions, within professions and organizations, and across time. There can be no doubt that in the United States today, many vital needs are not met, often because providing those needs is not profitable. Providing pro bono services and taking up specialties that serve underprivileged people or underpopulated areas are not practical for many young professionals who are burdened by tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt.
From the workshop description

The first of Indiana University Bloomington’s workshops of five in the series on the Future of Professional Ethics drew about twenty-five academic administrators, faculty, and a few undergraduate and graduate students (plus at least one retired professional) representing law, medicine, journalism, sociology, informatics, and more.

The workshop began with a common observation from the keynote speaker, Steven Salbu, Cecil B. Day Chair, Professor of Law and Ethics at Georgia Institute of Technology: IU has one of the most beautiful campuses he has ever seen. His follow-up was less common, but far from unique: How much does it cost to continually plant and re-plant every flower patch on the campus, and who pays for it? The answer to the latter is, at least in part, students pay for it.

Professor Salbu went on to highlight the terrible effects of rising costs in higher education that, according to the Wall Street Journal, exceed even the rate of rising costs in healthcare. Examples included  students who choose paying tuition at the cost of housing or food and scandals in which schools are sued by the dozen for padding their graduate employment statistics.

To trace the causes and ramifications of the increasing cost of a college degree, Salbu drew on his experience as both an instructor and a Dean. Focusing first on the role of higher education in society, including its role in mediating access to medical care and legal advice, Salbu noted that he sees more and students taking an instrumental view of education or making choices driven by financial pressure from their parents. He lamented the gap between those forces and the desire for personal growth and intellectual adventure that powered his own education. Worse yet, he argued that policy makers in university administration have taken up an “academic arms race” as they compete for ratings based on metrics devised and published by the likes of the U.S. News & Education and the U.S. Department of Education’s Government College Scorecard. The scorecard defines success in narrowly economic terms.

In the last third of the talk, Salbu turned to law and medicine, both of which he argued are failing to fulfill their vital social roles due to rising access barriers – to which higher education policies contribute. Young adults who are interested in providing important services are too often blocked from higher education due to the high cost. If they are able to afford professional licensure,  high student debt often diverts them from specialties that benefit under-privileged populations and areas in favor of careers that minister to the well-off. Diminishing citizen access to these essential professions undermines core social values. Salbu suggested that Milton Friedman might have offered an idea worth entertaining when he opposed professional licensure on the grounds that it drives up costs and limits access.

Following the keynote, three IUB panelists commented on Salbu’s themes:

  • Tim Hallett, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Sociology
  • Carwina Weng, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Disability Law Clinic at the Maurer School of Law, and
  • Jim Kelly, Association Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at The Media School.

The audience who responded to the keynote and panelists included academic administrators and faculty in all those areas, as well as medicine, informatics, and more.

The panel discussion and comments from the audience went in many directions, several of which will be explored in future posts: The role of new college admissions procedures in this picture; the emphasis of law school programs on facilitating corporate law careers over other types of legal service; the varying insights suggested by different definitions of “professional;” how wider social values about health care bear on the moral responsibility of medicine; and journalism as a profession that has been uniquely defined precisely by an ethical code and not by professional licensure barriers, yet which now are losing that touchstone.

Which issues do you find most interesting? We’d love to hear from you.

October 23, 2015

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