Book by: Brent D Ruben
Review by: Lisa K. Jackson
Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences, Nova Southeastern University. Professor, Miami Dade College.
Professor, South University.
Why isn’t higher education more fully appreciated by the public at large as well as the academy itself? Most of us have reflected upon this question at one point or another. Understanding and responding to the challenges within the realm of higher education has proven difficult for many. Brent Ruben’s book, Pursuing Excellence in Higher Education is helpful in that it provides insight into the importance of higher standards in the service, operation and academic dimensions of the academy. This book offers an in-depth examination of eight major challenges encountered by students, faculty, staff and administrators. The challenges discussed include: broadening public appreciation for the work of the academy; increasing our understanding of the needs of workplaces; becoming more effective learning organizations; integrating assessment; planning, and improvement; enhancing collaboration and community; recognizing that everyone in the institution is a teacher; devoting more attention and resources to leadership and more broadly framing our vision of excellence. Each challenge is followed by a brief narrative by those leading the efforts to address these issues within the academy.
The underlying theme of this book is vision. Author Ruben stresses that” the academy needs a new, more encompassing vision of excellence - a vision that takes account of opposing views of higher education’s purpose and underscores the importance, interdependence and those of service and operational excellence” (p. 28). A central theme addressed in the text is the importance of an academic community’s progression towards a goal of transitioning to a learning organization that adapts to a changing environment. It is vital that staff demonstrate the skills needed to adjust to a new organizational structure and to new working relationships within their units. Staff should see learning as a way to address change and explore new ideas. They must learn to review their assumptions about how the academy functions as well as look for ways to improve the academy by changing whole processes and systems. Phillips (2003) suggests that there is sufficient anecdotal evidence in recent literature to indicate that learning oriented leaders and administrators accept the notion that learning organization principles underlie improved performance and sustainable competitive advantage.
There is much improvement needed in the academy and this book contributes to conversation regarding ways to enhance the work of the academy for a better society. Academic advisors will find that this book along with its narrative is very informative and inspirational.
Phillips, B. (2003). A four-level learning organization benchmark implementation model. The Learning Organization. 10, 98-105.
Pursuing Excellence in Higher Education – Eight Fundamental Challenges. (2004). Book by Brent D Ruben. Review by Lisa Jackson. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 464 pp. Price: $ 26.00. ISBN 0-7879-6204-X.