Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

A Memo from Machiavelli

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

A Memo from Machiavelli

Article excerpt

TO: Presidents, Senior Administrators, and Faculty Leaders Who Would Seek Change

FROM: Niccolo Machiavelli, Former Assistant to Presidents, University of the Medici

Permit me to take a brief moment of your valuable time to introduce myself. I served for years as special assistant to kings, dukes, generals, several popes and, as well, numerous presidents, senior executives and faculty at the University of the Medici. I have significant domestic and international experience - for in this capacity I have also worked with governors, state and national legislators, wealthy donors, foundations, public relations firms, religious societies, city and county officials, law enforcement agencies, and community activists. I have also coordinated activities with ministers of education throughout Europe.

I had the distinct pleasure of hearing your recent address to the Faculty Senate. You spoke of a bold tomorrow, the need for change in your institution, including the manner in which work is accomplished and evaluated. You discussed technology, distance learning, diversity, student services, the need for alternative criteria to evaluate faculty, new relationships with unions, funding, and student and alumni constituencies. You discussed how the role of the university, with the state, the city, and the federal government will change. You cited emerging relationships with the business community and argued persuasively, in my opinion, that unless the academic establishment begins to refocus its priorities, the university, as it once existed, will lose the autonomy and freedom to offer sound educational programs.

I am in no position to quarrel with your premises. (I am unemployed at the moment.) I was impressed with your grasp of fundamental issues facing higher education. I am, however, curious as to how you will implement these new ideas. Because I have advised over one hundred senior executives and faculty on change and implementation strategies, I thought you might appreciate my observations. My comments are based on real experiences. They are offered to you as a gift, yours to keep or discard at your pleasure.

Parenthetically, I do not mean to be presumptuous or overbearing in this letter. University executives and faculty leaders are (on occasion) startled at my directness and characterization of the uses of power and influence. I understand you are a gifted individual and would not hold your position and title unless you possessed exemplary traits. Like most intelligent people with whom I have worked, they appreciate candor. (Please ignore my biases though!) I do not want to sound as though I were sending you into an armed battle. Neither should we pretend, if you are serious about your ideals and goals, that people will simply adopt "your" new vision.

Decision Processes in Professional Organizations: Contemporary Realities

The key to being effective and the ability to make change begins first with an accurate assessment of the type of organization in which you work. Secondly, you must appreciate how decisions are made and who, if anyone, implements them.

Universities and colleges have a number of unique characteristics. Fundamentally, they are people-processing organizations, and, in order to handle that complex and delicate task, they usually have large staffs of highly trained professionals. Because people cannot be divided into segmentalized tasks in the same way that physical products can, professionals with a high level of expertise are needed to deal holistically with clients' needs. Thus it is that the first characteristic of academic organizations is that they are highly professionalized, client-serving systems.

Second, "people-processing" organizations have extremely ambiguous goals, and a list of legitimate activities for a university is extremely long. Because goals are often unclear, almost any activity that serves a "client" may be considered legitimate. …

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