Book by Adrianna Kezar and Jaime Lester
Review by Ruth O. Bingham
Director, Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Collaboration has risen to prominence among higher education values, showing up everywhere from grant applications and prioritization charts to assessment criteria and budget decisions. Unfortunately, although many collaborative projects are initiated, many flounder, fail, or simply fall apart before realizing any benefits.
Here Kezar and Lester review both collaboration’s benefits and its myriad obstacles, including higher education’s impetus toward “siloed” specialized departments, reward systems that focus on individual achievement, and bureaucratic, hierarchical structures. Those who have attempted to initiate collaboration in higher education are often intimately familiar with such obstacles.
More importantly, Kezar and Lester examined four institutions that have achieved high levels of collaboration and analyzed their “organizational context,” defined as “major structural, process, human, political, and cultural elements” of the campus (pp.34 and 60). While preserving the institutions’ anonymity, they identified seven features they believe to be essential, with the objective of “helping leaders create environments that support collaboration” (p.x).
One chapter is devoted to each of the features: 1) mission, vision, and philosophy; 2) values; 3) social networks; 4) integrating structures such as initiatives, centers, and teams; 5) rewards, including promotion and tenure criteria; 6) external pressures from stakeholders; and 7) learning, referring to “developing an awareness of the benefits of collaboration and acquiring the skills necessary to effectively collaborate” (p.195). Within each chapter, the authors explain the feature’s importance, review its background literature, offer advice, provide examples, point out its challenges, and summarize its key issues.
In the final chapters, Kezar and Lester describe a composite model to demonstrate how features interact and unfold over time in a three-step process. With only a hint of irony, they conclude that collaboration is necessarily a collaborative process: “One of the main lessons learned ... is that this is a collective responsibility. These campuses realize that it is difficult to do on your own and that reaching out to groups and individuals who can support their vision is critical for moving forward.” (p.237).
Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration presents its findings as derived theory, stopping short of closing the research loop, which would entail years of documenting the application of these principles.
The book is well organized and clear but includes a fairly high level of repetition. The chapter on “Mission, Vision, and Educational Philosophy,” for example, enumerates seven effects of “mission” in thirteen iterations, spread in different combinations across five sentences – all on the same page (p.61).
Despite occasional signs of having been published quickly, the book reads smoothly and provides ready access to information and references.
In their Preface, Kezar and Lester, both research educators, establish that their focus is on empowering institutional leaders and change agents. Consequently, they rarely mention academic advising except to give examples of collaborative advising efforts, including team-based advising, integrating academic and student affairs, and increased faculty involvement in advising as a side effect of collaboration. The authors make it easy, however, to see how general principles can be applied to specific activities such as advising.
Academic advisors, operating as they do in the interstices between students, faculty/staff, and administration, are perfectly situated to act as change agents for their campuses. For those who see themselves as change agents, Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration will provide insight into their campus dynamics, tools for fostering successful collaborations, and a path to engaging in the administration of their institutions.
Organizing higher education for collaboration: A guide for campus leaders. (2009). Book by Adrianna Kezar and Jaime Lester. Review by Ruth O. Bingham. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 320 pp. $40.00 (hardback). ISBN # 978-0-470-17936-9