Embracing the Tiger: The Effectiveness Debate and the Community College. – book reviews - Higher Education
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Embracing the Tiger: The Effectiveness Debate and the Community College. – book reviews

by John Garmon

The two most important words in community college faculty and
administrative lexicons these days are institutional effectiveness.

For more than a decade, pressure for community colleges to prove
their worth has been building among legislators, local governments,
business, industry, community leaders, students, employers of community
college graduates, taxpayers, and the media. This has created a new
approach to leadership.

As Ronald Heifetz explains in Nieman Reports and The Harvard
Business Review, “We put huge pressure on people in positions of
authority to treat adaptive problems as if they were technical, when,
in fact, leadership, in the sense of mobilizing people to tackle tough
problems, often requires raising the tough questions rather than
providing the easy answers.”

Embracing the Tiger, a new book from the American Association of
Community Colleges’ Community College Press, raises the tough questions
about institutional effectiveness and provides a variety of interesting
answers.

This book is the result of a team effort by Dr. John E. Roueche,
Dr. Laurence F. Johnson, Dr. Suanne D. Roueche, and their associates.
They’ve added their voices to those of the leading experimentalists in
the field of community college institutional effectiveness to publish
this collection of research and reports of successful practices. The
essays explain how institutional effectiveness works. Each chapter
shows the leadership principles involved in creating a climate for
documenting institutional accountability.

The future health and security of community colleges depends on
adaptive leadership of the sort described in Embracing the Tiger. As
Ronald Heifetz emphasizes, this leadership “often requires letting
people feel the pinch of reality, rather than protecting them from
change. “

Contributors to the book include: Laurence Johnson, recently of the
League for Innovation in the Community College; Dr. James L. Hudgins,
president of Midlands Technical College in South Carolina; Dr. Byron N.
McClenney, president of the Community College of Denver; Dr. Patrick J.
McAtee, president of Cowley County Community College in Kansas; Dr.
Walter Bumphus, who is leaving his post as president of Brookhaven
College in the Dallas County Community College District, Dr. James
Tschechtelin, president of Baltimore City Community College; Dr. Robert
Gordon, president of Humber College of Applied Arts and Technology in
Ontario, Canada; and Dr. George R. Boggs, president of Palomar College
in California.

Embracing the Tiger should be required reading for all who invest
their daily energies in the community college enterprise. The title is
taken from Winston Churchill’s observation that the world’s dictators
ride tigers — and they are afraid to dismount because the tigers get
hungry. If one substitutes community colleges for dictators, the
picture becomes clear.

“Faced with declining resources, increased demands for services,
and accelerated criticism by policy makers, legislators, students, and
parents, colleges can no longer ignore a very public disaffection.”

An excellent history and overview of institutional effectiveness is
provided in the first chapter, “Focusing on the Problem: Accountability
and Effectiveness in the Community College,” by John Roueche, Katherine
Boswell and Suanne Roueche, of the University of Texas-Austin’s
community college leadership program. For anyone who wants a
comprehensive course that introduces and defines the need for
institutional effectiveness, this chapter is a quick study.

A sobering Chinese proverb introduces the chapter: “He who rides on
a tiger can never dismount.” After reading this book, even people who
resist the idea of assessment and accountability will be given a clear
understanding of the need for institutional effectiveness processes in
all public community colleges.

The second chapter, “Surveying Institutional Effectiveness in North
American Community Colleges,” is the product of wide-ranging research
of the literature and current practices. Johnson deserves high praise
for this exhaustive report, which is — to use a phrase from the book
— an impressive “environmental scan” of the institutional
effectiveness landscape prior to the new millennium.

Much of the information contained in this chapter was gleaned from
responses to a survey of North American colleges; a full text of the
survey is presented as an appendix. Since most states now require — or
are thinking about the need for — some form of assessment to
demonstrate the effectiveness of colleges, Embracing the Tiger is
critical reading for administrators and faculty.

One aspect of the book that warranted more attention is the vital
importance of the role of faculty in the whole institutional
effectiveness endeavor. The survey summary supported this by saying,
“The No. 1 rated issue related to institutional effectiveness for
community colleges was staff commitment and willingness to evaluate
college practices.”

Embracing the Tiger is a book that every serious community college
professional should read. It should be kept on the desks of faculty and
administrators alike, for it provides an excellent grouping of actual
practices that help community colleges to answer the questions that
keep coming: What are we doing?; How do we know?; and How can we be
better, more effective, more student-centered, and more accountable to
our many publics?

If we don’t answer these questions ourselves, there are many
external agents who will answer them for us. We truly are riding the
tiger of public awareness and public scrutiny.

As Jim Hudgins puts it: “We are inspired by our vision, driven by our goals, and measured by our standards.”

If you don’t read Embracing the Tiger, you will be at the mercy of
your lack of knowledge about the two most important words for community
college survival and security as we approach 2000.

This book provides an excellent overview and puts the whole concept into understandable and workable context.

Dr. John Garmon is the vice president or educational programs at Seminole Community College in Sanford, Fla.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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