Graduate and Continuing Education for Community College Leaders: What It Means Today. – book reviews

edited by James C. Palmer and Stephen G. Katsinas Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco, 1996

I had looked forward with considerable anticipation to the
publication of Palmer’s and Katsinas’s Graduate and Continuing
Education for Community College Leaders: What It Means Today.

I know the majority of the authors featured in this publication as
dedicated professionals, sincerely concerned about the future of the
community college and those who will lead it into the next century. It
was my hope this work would offer the first objective and comprehensive
assessment of the twenty-odd graduate programs concentrating on
community college leadership, and that this assessment would form the
basis of an objective discussion of the relevance of these programs now
and in coming decades.

That my hopes would not be fulfilled was evident from the moment I reviewed the work’s table of contents.

Like too many other publications within Jossey-Bass’s New
Directions series, Graduate and Continuing Education for Community
College Leaders is an ensemble work. In keeping with conventional
practice, the work’s two editors, James Palmer and Stephen Katsinas,
assembled a large number of essays — ten in all — apparently with the
objective of providing a wide range of perspectives on the present and
future state of community college graduate programs.

What the reader soon realizes, however, is that inclusion and
diversity have come at the price of an extended and objective
engagement with the subject matter. Because of its highly fragmented
organization and the brevity of each chapter, the overall work favors
description over analysis and superficial treatment over the more
involved process of constructing persuasive arguments. One gets little
sense that the various chapters that make up this work are joined
together by any shared perspective or sense of larger purpose.

The range of topics that the book attempts to cover is really quite
staggering. One chapter, by Raymond Young, attempts to summarize the
history of community college leadership programs. Another, by Katsinas,
argues that leadership programs should take into account the tremendous
diversity of institutional types now clustered under the community
college tent. Yet another, by Berta Laden! describes a number of
continuing education programs offered by community college professional
associations.

Of all, certainly the most unexpected and disheartening chapter is
George Vaughan’s and Barbara Scott’s. This chapter is devoted entirely
to the “problem” of writing proficiency among leadership program
students. That this chapter was even considered for inclusion reveals
volumes about the sad condition of graduate study in America and of the
unwillingness of university faculty to do the one thing that would
prompt students to develop these skills — the denial of admission to
applicants with inadequate writing skills.

Of course, anyone familiar with the history of American higher
education would not at all be surprised that skill-deficient students
have grown more numerous in graduate programs or that university
faculty have failed to take decisive action to correct the problem.
Predications of this problem are virtually as old as the American
university itself.

Early in this century, for example, Abraham Flexner roundly
criticized American education for its preference for enrolling the most
students, rather than the best. He envisioned the day when even the
doctorate would be awarded without regard to competence. Were he alive
today, Flexner would certainly feel a measure of vindication in
Vaughan’s and Scott’s chapter, with its thinly veiled criticism of the
most basic writing skills of students in community college leadership
programs. “Didn’t these students,” Flexner almost certainly would ask,
“learn these skills in high school?”

No less disturbing than the Vaughan and Scott chapter is the
contribution of Barbara Gibson-Berrenger, James Ratcliff and Robert
Rhoads. In an obtuse style reminiscent of John Dewey (whom they quote),
these authors advocate for a new vision of community college
leadership, based on the principles of diversity, discourse and
democracy.

Upon close examination, it is apparent that the authors have done
little more than marry a simplified Hegelian dialectic with the modern
jargon of diversity. As the authors write, the leader becomes a change
agent, no longer “resolving differences, seeking compromise and
minimizing conflict,” but accepting conflict and “acknowledging and
examining differences and embracing diversity as the basis of
empowerment, enterprise, ingenuity and change.”

Admittedly, no one would deny that conflict can produce change, but
it is no less true that conflict is the most inefficient route to
change, and there is never any guarantee that such change will be for
the good. The authors’ position — their presumption that all change,
even if the result of conflict, invariably results in progress — is a
naive and an ill-considered basis for any leadership program.

If ever implemented by program graduates on their campuses, the
authors’ conflict-based model of change would lead to community
colleges fragmented by conflict and incapable of marshaling their
scarce resources to serve vital community needs. Community colleges
simply lack the surplus resources to pay the cost of conflict, whatever
its potential benefits.

But leaving these concerns aside, what is most disheartening about
this work is its apparent unwillingness to address the fundamental
issues that call into question the continued viability of community
college leadership programs. One such issue is whether leadership can
be taught.

If one takes the position that leadership is a quality, present in
some but not in others, there is simply no point in a graduate program
that presents itself as transforming individuals into leaders. It would
seem more sensible for graduate students to enroll in a traditional
academic program with a body of knowledge that can be learned, than to
waste their time and energy seeking a quality that comes by nature, and
not through the classroom.

The second issue, and the one of greatest importance to trustees
and others who must employ senior administrative staff, is whether
leadership program faculty should serve, in the words of Barbara
Townsend, as “gatekeepers” to senior positions in community colleges.

What criteria should be used in accepting or rejecting applicants
and who should decide upon that criteria? It may well be the case that
university faculty in leadership programs are the best positioned to
make such decisions. But, at a minimum, the criteria they utilize
should be made known and subjected to the scrutiny of trustees, state
directors, faculty and staff, and all the other groups with an interest
in who is afforded access to positions of leadership in community
colleges.

Anyone familiar with modern publishing practices recognizes the
impossible deadlines under which editors must work, which all too often
lead to imperfect publications. Possibly today’s academic community
would be better served if authors were to follow the example of
Hastings Rashdall, the great 19th century English scholar, who spent 11
years preparing his multi-volume history of medieval universities — a
work of such power and insight that it laid the foundation for the
study of higher education in the English-speaking world.

By contrast, Graduate and Continuing Education for Community
College Leaders: What it Means Today is both too ambitious in its plan
and too fragmented in its discussion to have the kind of lasting impact
of Rashdall’s history. If the objective of academic publication is the
promotion of meaningful, long-term dialogue within the community of
scholars, it may be time to abandon ensemble scholarship and return to
the less hurried, but more thorough approach of an earlier era.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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