Friday, August 15, 2008
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
Gordon Smith has jumped into the fray Bill Henderson created with his deft analysis of the "faculty free agency" issue, since added to by Jim Chen, Mike Madison and Paul Caron. Gordon's focus was on the need to create a sense of of intrinsic value or joy within an institution. (Aside: my own joy right now has a lot to do with the fact that Bill Henderson is a co-editor of this blog!) That was a conclusion I reached, perhaps not as articulately, in a response to Bill's comment on my deconstruction of incentives a couple days ago. But it is buried in the comments, so with the magic of technology and a bit of editing I'm going to repeat it here.
I love Bill's aspiration to create a mission beyond self-interest within a faculty. The wonderful thing about his is this: "an initiative that will add value for students and the institution--e.g., creating skills, building relationship, solving real world problems, etc." So the question is how translate great faculty accomplishments (like the one Bill describes Andy Morriss undertook in Cleveland). The task is to have those accomplishments be seen as capital, and then to do what we can to make them school-specific.
So the way to create school-specific capital is to have evaluators (students, alumni, other faculty) value it as such, and to keep people around long enough to get the programs institutionalized. My point is not to throw cold water on the aspiration, but to suggest: (a) doing that is really aspirational (read: difficult but not impossible); (b) the task is difficult (but not impossible) even where, unlike in law schools, there is a unifying metric (that's the only reason for distinguishing a complex business), and (c) in my experience, contracts are not motivators, they merely legalize a more, how shall we say, emotional commitment.
I truly believe that what inspires people to great performance is a sense of mission, purpose, creation, posterity, whatever, and contracts or other legal or rule-based commitments are the tail of that dog. Cool. Do five year contracts or commitments. But do it within an institution marked by inspired and inspiring leadership.