Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

No Rookies on Rookies: Compliance and Opportunism in Policy Implementation

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

No Rookies on Rookies: Compliance and Opportunism in Policy Implementation

Article excerpt

It is common for writers and researchers to note that scrutiny of American higher education institutions has been steadily increasing in recent years. The general public and its elected and bureaucratic representatives are increasingly willing to be pointed and critical of colleges and universities. These external stakeholders are no longer willing to defer to the faculty and institutional administrators as they enforce policies and procedures that some find questionable. One example of this phenomena is the concern of the general public about the quality of undergraduate instruction and the related calls to replace graduate teaching assistants with senior faculty in freshmen-level courses. While the procedures for assigning instructors to first-year classes vary from institution to institution and department to department, in many cases colleges and universities have tried to respond to the public's demands. There have been greater efforts to provide training for graduate teaching assistants and particularl y international teaching assistants. There have also been changes in who shoulders the teaching responsibility for freshmen-level courses.

This study looks at one such effort at Oklahoma State University (OSU). The university is one of two flagship universities in the state system of public higher education and has a Carnegie designation of Research University Extensive. It has proudly retained its traditional landgrant mission and image and is located in a town about 60 miles from the state's two major metropolitan centers, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The main campus, which is the focus of this study, enrolls roughly 20,000 students. At the time of our study, the faculty of almost 1,000 was organized into 58 academic departments arrayed among seven colleges.

In 1994 the new president of the university, James Halligan, made increasing enrollment one goal of his administration, and he immediately began to refocus on student recruitment and retention strategies. In response to students' complaints and public criticism of the university's freshmen-level instruction and after limited and brief discussion within the OSU community, the president announced that inexperienced and international graduate students would no longer be allowed to instruct freshmen-level courses.

The Policy

The policy was labeled "No-Rookies-on-Rookies" (NROR). From its inception, President Halligan had indicated his hope that the NROR program would improve classroom experiences for freshmen. In a memo to department heads and deans, he indicated that they should "develop and implement enhanced procedures to insure experienced teachers who possess effective communication skills are present in our freshmen classes" (Halligan, memo, 1995, p. 2). Although "the policy's fine print remains vague" ("Proposed Policy," 1995, p. 4), reports in the university newspaper based on interviews with the president and provost suggested that collateral goals of the program were to enhance freshmen students' comfort and satisfaction with their experiences at OSU, to increase freshmen retention, and to improve graduate students' preparation for teaching.

The policy was a restrictive mandate to colleges and academic departments, but it was not prescriptive. It told them what not to do, but the policy did not set specific solutions or strategies for implementation. Thus, colleges and academic departments were allowed to formulate their own strategies to compensate for no longer assigning freshmen-level teaching responsibilities to rookie and international graduate students. The policy intent was that rookie graduate students undergo yearlong training programs designed to introduce them to the realities of university-level instruction. OSU's president committed additional funding for the continued employment of rookie and international graduate students in upper-level teaching positions or other duties. Departments devised various solutions for the staffing change based on their differing interpretations of the policy, the nature of the problems the policy created for them, and the alternative uses of graduate students and faculty that fit their circumstances. …

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