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Birnbaum, R. (1988). How Colleges Work

Chapter 2- Thinking in Systems and Circles

Becky Gil

on 5 February 2013

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Transcript of Birnbaum, R. (1988). How Colleges Work

Huxley College Thinking in Circles: The Structure and Dynamics of Academic Organizations A system: is an organized whole that has 2 or more interdependent parts (or subsystems). And is separated by its environment--by a boundary.

Systems are hierarchical

They are made up of smaller systems and themselves are part of a larger system President Wagstaff and Prof. Branch
are part of a subsystem--
the urban ecology program Is a subsystem
of the
Sociology department Subsystem of Huxley College The College is a subsystem of a
state wide network of institutions... Each one of these could be studied
as a system in which smaller units
were the subsystems and the larger
ones the supersystems. The Nature of the Systems: Simple Birnbaum described two systems: And compared their characteristics in terms of 3 elements: Interacting components
Inputs and outputs Interacting Components: Both systems have components that interact:

The pool system: when you strike-the movement of the any of the balls from its initial position at the start of play affects every other ball on the table...

In the school system--the components are
not simple and clearly identifiable objects but rather are 2 complex subsystems:

Technical subsystem:
faculty, department chair, academic freedom policy statements, research labs.
Administrative subsystem:
regulation, department chairs, the dean, budgets, etc. Complex Although these subsystems are different:
technical and administrative --they have
common elements...

ex: the chair department These subsystems can interact with and affect each other:

ex: the development of a new area of study, may lead to change in the administration... Boundaries Both systems have boundaries that delineate them from the larger supersystems of which they are a part of:

The pool system: have clear boundaries

Huxley: the boundaries are not so clear--but we can still identify what is part of the college.

In both cases-- we can identify everything outside the systems boundaries as being part of that system's environment. Inputs and Outputs Systems receive inputs from the environment
--transforms them--
and returns them to the environment Pool system: kinetic energy transferred
from the que stick to the ball, than the other ball -- causing them to move.
By the time all the balls are at rest--
the kinetic energy is dissipated and
returned to the environment.
Has only one major environmental input The school system has many inputs:

ex: Students enter Huxley --
interact with faculty and each other --
than graduate or dropout --
and return to the environment...

continues to effect the environment
as alumni and citizens Types of Systems: Closed systems

Open Systems Closed Systems: Ridged

Limits the kind of interaction
that takes place inside the environment

Input: (tends to be)
somewhat simple

disappears and does not affect
the environment

They are linear

Systems parts do not change

Cause and effect can be predictable Boundaries are permeable

Interactions between environment and systems elements

Input: (tends to be)
more complex
consists of :
people, ideas, tangible resources, involvement with other institutions or systems.

characteristics of the inputs cannot be assessed or controlled
outputs do not disappear like in closed systems, but return to the environment where they become inputs...

They are dynamic and nonlinear

Maze- walls change
clock- time changes
game- rules changes Open System: Is an open system
better than a
closed system? Thinking in Systems and Circles: Tight and Loose Coupling In order to understand how
the various subsystems
and elements interact
with each other,
we must consider
how they are connected
-- or coupled. Output rotor Input rotor Example of 2 systems: On the black box above: if you turn the input rotor one full turn clockwise -- the out put rotor will turn exactly the same way. But if you turn the input on the second box the same way...the output appears to move almost at random...Why? Each rotor is attached to a gear whose teeth match exactly. Tight Coupling Loose Coupling The elements of the system are responsive to each other, but they also preserve their own identity and some logical separateness. However,
describing loose coupling
by using mechanical examples
oversimplifies the concept.

In a social system, not only may there be discontinuities in the way the parts are connected.... but the "parts" (people) themselves have intentions,
and wills that change... Deterministic and Probabilistic Can be differentiated by two (2) criteria:

The extent to which subsystems have common variables between them

The extent to which they share variables that are important to the subsystem If the subsystems have a great many components in common (like the gears in box 1) and if those elements are among the most important in the systems, the systems are likely to be relatively tight coupled. On the other hand, the instructional and administrative subsystems of Huxley have only one elemental in common:
the department chair. If the chair is tightly coupled
with one subsystem, it is
almost certainly loosely
coupled to the other. That is: the chair can be completely responsive to the dean's demands or the faculty's demands:
but not both. Functions and Dysfunctions of Loosely Coupled Systems Loose coupling has often been attacked as merely a slick way to describe waste,
inefficiency, or indecisive leadership ...
a convenient rationale for the crawling pace of organizational change. How do you feel
about this
statement? Do you feel Huxley
should try to run
a tighter ship? Do you think
it's possible? Loose Coupling can be: expensive
programs can respond unwisely to environment stimuli
makes it hard to disregard bad ideas or disseminate good ones through the institution
can make it hard to repair defective subsystems: ex: even though the dean knows that there are significant weakness in the freshman math program -- the number of conflicting internal and external influences on faculty recruitment, curriculum, faculty development is so great that the dean despairs of being able to do much about it... However! Loose coupling has significant advantages:

Having partially independent specialized organizational elements increases Huxley's sensitivity to the environment.
ex: continuing education division

another aspect that benefited Huxley was that its independence or loose coupling made it possible for them to seal off ineffective components so failure remained localized. Coupling and Survival So now we know that Huxley is a system that interacts both among themselves and with the environment.

Each subsystem is relatively loosely or tightly coupled with each other.
depending on the extent to which common organizational elements are shared and are important to the system.

Each subsystem is at the same time relatively loosely or tightly coupled to the environment subsystems -- depending on extent to which they share common and important elements. In an open system everything cannot be tightly coupled to everything else... it would freeze. Loose coupling can be viewed as an adaptive device essential for a system's survival Effective
administrators may depend not on overcoming it, but accepting and understanding it. Contingency Approach Huxley College ( school systems) contains 3 major parts: the environment
the administrative subsystem
the technical subsystem The school system model suggests that at least 2 must be considered in designing an effective administrative system:

the environment
the technical system: because the technical system transforms the input into output (teaching, research and service) These two elements (the technical and environment) pose the greatest degree of uncertainty. Environment of
Colleges and Universities Environment can be stable or turbulent --
some institutions may exist in a world that looks the same year after year -- while others constantly deals with new challenges:
ex: decline on enrollment or external demands for new and costly programs.

Some live in a homogenous world -- others embrace diversity
Change in organizations are being caused more by their environment than by internal forces. Technical Subsystems Can differ in terms of:

Complexity (number of different elements)

Uncertainty and unpredictability (ability to predict outcomes)

Interdependence Technologies are
different in may ways: Teaching:
classroom instruction
student advising
final examinations
communication with colleagues Research:
may require labs
library work Service programs:
uses workshops
extension centers
policy analysis
communication with
community agencies Institutions allocate their work effort differently:

some give primary attention to teaching and secondary to service.

others focus on teaching with emphasis on general education

others emphasize research -with teaching and service being secondary The raw material to be worked on differ, and they affect technologies employed: ex: in undergraduate education, institutions that have an open-door policy may give more attention to remedial education. The people applying the technologies at various institutions differ in terms of their education and skills: ex: some institutions all faculty have doctoral degrees, in others faculty have master's only. Differences in
Institutional Governance and Management Institutions with relatively stable technologies and environments should function effectively using
closed-systems -- systems logic and bureaucratic structures. Complex environments and technologies call for open-system logic. As a general rule: if a college or university is to be effective, the more uncertain the technical core, the looser must be the linkage to the management subsystems and tighter the linkages to the environment Thinking in Circles: Institutional
Prestige Student
Enrollment Financial
Resources + + + Amplifying and Reinforcing
Loop (Named one of the top 25 colleges in the country) Self-correcting and Stabilizing Loop Faculty
morale Sense of
community Student
enrollment Institutional
prestige + + + + Huxley needs both types of loops: The amplifying loop - never stops growing
The stabilizing loop - would never grow Cause Map Shows how they share elements that may become loosely or tightly coupled Institutional
prestige Student
enrollment Faculty
morale Sense of
community Financial
resources Stabilizing Loop Amplifying Loop A Cause Map can help:

identify relevant variables;

the looseness or tightness of
their coupling;

their relative importance So thinking in circles
is not a tool...
but a way to develop a model
of administrative thought. Implications for Administrators Small action may have large consequences...
action A leads to action B
B becomes a new cause which leads to effect C
the greater the separation in time -- the less obvious the cause-and-effect
need for unlearning -- through reflection
one needs to build a new map Weiner, A. S. (2012). Institutionalizing Information Literacy. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, v.38, n.5, pp 287-293. Article No.1 There is increase recognition that information literacy is essential for individual and community empowerment. However, there is a history of difficulty in integrating information literacy with the higher education. This article casts a light on Birnbaum's 4 organizational models, and based on a better understanding these models, one can identify areas where the institutionalizing of information literacy can be implemented effectively. What is information literary? It is the ability to:

determine the extent of information needed
access the needed information effectively and efficiently
evaluate information and its sources critically
incorporate selected information into one's knowledge base
use information effectively to accomplish specific tasks
understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information Differences in institutions of Higher Education based on Birnbaum: Collegial
Organized Anarchy All institutions of higher education have characteristics of each of these models, but one characteristic usually dominates. Institutionalizing Information Literacy adoption: decision to use innovation

diffusion: the process by which innovation is communicated through certain channels over time amongst members of a social group

institutionalizing: the process by which social process, obligations, or actualities come to be taken as rule like status in social thought and action Collegial Model Tends to have emphasis on consensus, shared power, common commitments and aspirations. leadership that emphasizes consultation and collective responsibilities.

technical and administrative subsystems consider themselves as equals

decision making takes time

like a 'Family" Strategies: listen to understand expectations

appeal to norms and values of the institutions

involve key people

use expert power

use influence rather than coercion

use established communication channels

direct rather than sanction or alienate Political Model People are important in institutions with political model because policy occurs through influence and informal process


negotiation and special interest groups influence decision

power is issue-specific = it shifts to different groups or people depending on the issue

conflict is inherent -- tug and pull of power

is like a: "Shifting kaleidoscope of interest groups, changing as issues emerge." Strategies: get agreement on values, than design program consistent with the values

negotiate because conflict and disagreement are normal

realize you may not get all that you want, but can usually get something -- so plan for incremental progress

build coalitions

find common ground and compromise

reduce costs and find incentives

be present because timing is crucial Bureaucratic Model characteristics of the bureaucratic model are clearly defined rules, a systematic division of labor, designation of authority to carry out task

a hierarchical organizational structure

recordings in writing of administrative decisions, acts, and rules

efficient and effective

like a : "Machine" Strategies: locate positions prominently in the organizational chart

use power to reward or punish

issue supervisory directives

make decisions by rational analysis and data

develop and use process and procedures

identify individuals who control specific areas Organized Anarchy Model Institutions that have characteristics of organized anarchy have : multiple and conflicting demands on their attention, priorities and performance.

as organization grows large or complexities increase, units become more independent of each other (more loosely coupled) Strategies: Choose a few important issues on to focus, and spend time to influence decision on those

persist because of abundance of problems competing for attention at any given time

include people with opposing view points in meetings and committees

invoke the institutional history (saga) to build an argument

make small changes that are unlikely to be controversial, but could have substantial effects Aurini, D. A. (2012). Patterns of tight and loose coupling in a competitive marketplace: The case of learning center franchises. Sociology of Education, 85:373-387. Based on ethnographic research of "Ontario Learning Center" franchise this paper looks at tight coupling. Despite the fact that educational materials, and the process monitoring, and instruction being formalized and monitored, the author sees evidence of loose coupling. OLC -- are educational franchises that produce their own curriculum, educational booklets, and training and testing procedures.

$300 per month for 8 hour tutoring

taught and interview (29 centers) included meetings with center owners and managers

patented "OLC Method" -- Standardization of student placement, education material, and instructional methods

"Quality control" -- unifying and regulating physical scape (all centers look the same)

Standardization of student placement, education material, and instructional methods

Managers assess student's progress every 12 weeks -- parent meetings

Despite formalization, evidence of loose coupling in OLC is everywhere.
ex: allowing students to work on their school homework during sessions or allowing play (usually problem students attend centers)
"happy customer" Interesting part... "Ontario Moment" 5 minutes before session ended, instructor helped student summarize what was learned during session...

so when the parent asked:

What did you learn today?
The child was well rehearsed. Spillane, P.J., Parise, M.L., Sherer Z. J. (2010). Organizational routines as coupling mechanisms: Policy, school administrations, and the technical core. American Research Journal, 48:586-619. This article focus on change in institutional environment because of government pressures. The author studied 4 public schools in Chicago to see how coupling organizational routines to technical core would impact student performance, instructional transparency, and standardization. Researchers studies 4 Chicago public schools (grade 1-8)
3 of the schools had been put on probation because of low performance on the IOWA Test of basic Skills, one of the schools wanted to increase scores to be placed amongst top scoring schools.

they spent 50-70 days per school collecting data from 1999 to 2001 The study shows how leaders implemented routines to promote standardization, of technical core, transparency, and monitoring performance. Adams:
"Five Week Assessment" routine -- aligned curriculum with government standards and tests. student were tested every 5 weeks on math, reading and writing.
Principal claimed that routine allowed teachers to see assessment as a tool for letting them know what they needed to work in class. Baxter:
"Grade-level Cycle" routine -- met monthly to allow teachers to plan curriculum together.

"Faculty Leadership Group" routine -- met the chair of each grade-level cycle to discuss progress.

At Baxter, organizational routines were seen as opportunities to engage school staff in diagnosing instructional problems and strategies that were linked to government regulations. Kelly:
"Skill Chart Review" routine -- similar routine of testing and diagnosing as Adams. Kostern:
"Report Card Review" routine -- aligned the curriculum and standardized content coverage, and grading. In order to help assess, making technical core more transparent and subject to monitoring. Routine didn't preserve the status quo as literature suggests --- rather, in theses cases, through reflection and diagnose it broke it down. There is no one particular way to organize, lead, or make decisions Bastedo (2012) said:
"In open systems frameworks, organizations are seen as dependent on their environment for resources, and organizational behavior is shaped by features of the environment" (pp.26). The Structure and Dynamics of Academic Institutions Levitt & Dubner (2005)
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