Robert F. Mulligan, Ph.D.
Department of Economics, Finance, & International Business
Advocating Transformation of Higher Education
What characteristics should a university have to lead toward total quality and continuous improvement?  How applicable is W. Edwards Deming's philosophy to higher education?  Here follows a development of the Deming approach applied to an ideal higher education institution, based on his Fourteen Points for the Transformation of Management, his Seven Deadly Diseases, and his Obstacles to Quality.
1. Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service. Quality (and the lack of it) is made by the faculty through their governing body, not in the classroom or the laboratory. The faculty must define worthwhile, long range goals for the university.  The leadership must come from somewhere, and if the faculty governing body does not provide worthwhile goals for the administration to act on, the administration must provide the goals. 

The faculty governing body of a university is not like a labor union.  It does not represent the employees as opposed to management, the administration.  In higher education, the faculty are the university. 

A worthwhile university  is not out to maximize accounting profits or minimize accounting costs, but to benefit humanity by providing a needed product, educated and enlightened adults, of always improving quality. This is the total implication of maximizing economic profits, applied to higher education. 

Educators seek to maximize value added, and they appreciate the non-monetary and non-quantifiable aspects of the productive activity they engage in with their students.

2. Adopt the new philosophy.  Faculty  cannot be half-hearted in adopting the quality management approach. Quality is not a gimmick that can be tried on and discarded like a fad or this year's fashions. Quality requires a permanent commitment.  Continuous improvement is not something for today which can be forgotten tomorrow.  If quality is not permanent, it is not quality.
3. Cease dependence on mass inspection. In manufacturing, inspection is too late. It is not foolproof against shipping out defective pieces to customers. Defects caught by inspection must be discarded and reworked. 

In education, the analogue to inspection is testing and grading.  Faculty should receive encouragement, support, and resources, to design and redesign the learning process to avoid and prevent student failure whenever possible (analagous to manufacturing defects), taking advantage of input from everyone who participates in the process, (e.g., students, support personnel, alumni, employers of alumni.)  The ulimate objective of quality is to render testing and grading superfluous.

We have to recognize, however, that at some point, our responsibility as educators is to assess how well students have learned.  Sometimes our job is to award that richly-deserved F.  When this happens, we have to face and accept that, in a certain sense, we have failed along with the student. 

4. End the practice of awarding business on the price tag alone. American practice is to have a large number of suppliers and to play them off one another for the lowest price. This might be called GIGO management - garbage in, garbage out. Even if the quality is not poor, it is more difficult to get uniformity of inputs from two suppliers than from just one. 

The inputs to the education process include the students and the faculty.  Some American universities depend on part-time, adjunct, and visiting faculty to deliver instructional services.  These faculty do not enjoy academic freedom, and rarely remain at the same institution for more than one year at a time.  The lack of continuity precludes the possibility of delivering quality education. 

Even some of the most prestigious institutions fail to award tenure to many of the most gifted teachers among the tenure-track junior faculty.  This demonstrates teaching and learning are not institutional priorities. 

Research institutions often utilize graduate students as instructors.  Although the apprenticeship aspects of this arrangement facilitate develoment of teaching skills in new scholars, these instructors contribute to the educational chaos of the undergraduate experience. 

A quality institution would also seek uniformity of inputs by maintaining long-term recruiting relationships with specific high schools.  This requires and presupposes job security and decent pay for admissions personnel.  Far from hurting demographic diversity, high schools could easily be selected to improve achievement of the university's diversity goals. 

Money saved through hiring short-time faculty and short-time admissions counsellors, is a false economy.  Every dollar saved here represents many dollars lost in the future, and more importantly, a future long-term structural failure to achieve non-monetary goals of teaching and learning.

5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service. Quality never ends because it can always be improved. A university that institutes a quality program, declares it a success, then goes on the way it was before, thinking all its problems have been solved, has missed the point.  The public relations coup and short-term enrollment spurt merely mask the fact that nothing has changed, except valuable time and energy have been deflected from the real goal of higher education.  Many manufacturing firms have a one-time-only "quality control" seminar run by an outside consultant, and then wonder why quality has not worked.  It's because they haven't tried it.
6. Institute training. Most workers are not formally trained.  Virtually no college professor has ever received any formal training in pedagogical methods.  We receive self-administered OJT, on-the-job-training, i.e., we're put in the classroom, and expected to "pick it up as we go along."

In many manufacturing situations, dramatic gains in productivity can be realized just by explaining to workers what is expected from them.  There is no reason why this shouldn't happen in education. 

Furthermore, students are never taught to function as students, so it is little wonder why they often fail to perform up to faculty expectations.  Dramatic gains in learning can be realized just by explaining to students what is expected from them.

7. Institute leadership. This is the faculty's responsibility. Nothing can relieve them of it. Only the faculty can provide direction to the administration, of what to do, how to do it, and use their intelligence to set attainable, worthwhile goals for the university. 

If the faculty is not adequate here, the university is doomed. 

If the faculty governing body fails to provide clear direction and strong leadership to the administration, the administration will seek direction from within.  Although intelligent, enlightened administrators can do much to fill a vacuum, leadership by administrators is a temporary solution at best.  At its worst, leadership by professional administrators who are not educators, leads to a self-perpetuating bureaucratic morass, and a permanent leadership vacuum.

8. Drive out fear. Employees must not fear for their jobs. If the university doesn't care about them, why should they care about the university? 

Although students are not paid for their work, they work at the university and do the learning, the most important component of the university's activity.  A university without students is worth exactly nothing. 

Faculty, students, and support staff, cannot be told to "shut up and get back to work," when they have a question, a suggestion, or a complaint. A university cannot improve quality without the willing contribution of everyone who works there. 

Everyone should be encouraged to innovate and make suggestions for improving quality. In most cases they are actively discouraged.

9. Break down barriers between staff areas. No one who can improve the education process should feel deterred because something is someone else's area. Virtually everyone has something to contribute, and it should be recognized that everyone has the right and the responsibility to do so. 

This is an essential component of creating a culture of quality management and continuous improvement.

Faculty and students often find themselves saddled with cheap, crummy, or inappropriate facilities and irrelevant or inapplicable technology they can't use to deliver quality education.  Faculty and students should be involved in evaluating different alternatives, and how to make the best use of facilities, technology, personnel, and other available resources.

10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force. These annoyances persuade faculty, staff,  and students the institution isn't serious about producing something worthwhile. They also demonstrate disrespect for faculty, staff, and student intelligence. 

What should faculty and students conclude when the university provides substandard (lowest bidder) technology, no manuals, no training, and no support, and then hires a battery of "institutional cheerleaders" to exhort them to learn and make use of the new technology or new instructional paradigm on their own time to produce high quality output. They think the higher administration is screwed in the head. And they're right. 

What happens if the higher administration sets institutional goals for recruiting, retention, test scores, and academic performance, which are unattainable precisely because the administration imposes an inappropriate allocation of resources on faculty, students and staff? 

How often are faculty, students, and staff asked to assist with improving the allocation of scarce resources?  How often are faculty, students, and staff asked to participate in choosing institutional priorities? 

Who is blamed for the failure to meet the administration's arbitrary and unattainable targets? Students, faculty, and staff.  Who is really to blame? Higher administration.

11. Eliminate numerical quotas. Quotas are the enemy of quality in manufacturing because they can be met by producing defective pieces. Management by objectives is just institutionalized quota setting, often in contexts where it is least appropriate. Better you should produce less output without defects than more output with defects. 

In higher education, management by objectives is generally not practiced directly.  Instead universities employ student evaluations.  Although some institutions do not make inappropriate use of student evaluations, some institutions have dismissed genuine educators for failing to win a popularity contest. 

This is management by objectives at its worst, with the added feature that the higher administration abdicates its evaluative responsibility to the students.

In terms of evaluating student performance, the situation is worse.  No effort is made to see that students are provided a meaningful education, or that the university provides a worthwhile product to its students or the greater society. 

Curricula are designed based on providing turf to each academic department.  Value to the student and society is rarely considered.  In this sphere, the faculty are sometimes our own worst enemy. 

12. Remove barriers to pride of workmanship. Higher administration must tell and encourage faculty to do the best teaching they can.  The faculty must tell and encourage students to do the best learning they can.  Higher administration and the faculty must tell and encourage support staff to produce the best product and service they can. Then let them do it. 

Higher administration becomes the enemy of teaching and learning when it interferes by mandating inefficient, irrelevant, or unproductive procedures, providing low quality or inappropriate technology, training, materials, and tools, and imposing external goals. 

Higher administration has a penchant for blaming faculty for its own failures, just as faculty have a penchant for blaming students for theirs.

13. Institute a vigorous program of education and retraining. Everyone must understand the university is undergoing a sea change transformation and that they each have a vital role to play. Faculty, students, and staff must believe that they have the support of higher administration in making the transition, and the support must be real.
14. Take action to accomplish the transformation. Only the faculty is in the position to provide leadership, institute the new philosophy, and keep it going. That's what we get paid for.  If we take the attitude that we are servants and the higher administration are the masters we serve, the enterprize is futile.  The faculty serve the students and the greater society, not the administration.

The Seven Deadly Diseases

Deming suggested the diseases as serious flaws that need to be attacked aggressively.

1. Lack of constancy of purpose. Just as some companies periodically announce new special programs, universities engage in new initiatives, new priorities (often there are a staggering number), complete with new buzzwords, new "strategic planning" documents, and new "top priorities." What is this university trying to accomplish? No one knows, least of all higher administration.  Although favorable publicity may be generated, nothing real can be accomplished when participants are kept from focusing on a worthwhile, long-range goal.
2. Emphasis on short term profits. Short term decisions often prevent the right long term decisions from being made. As far as possible, the short term should be ignored. The big picture is what counts. A university that wants to do something worthwhile is going to focus on the long haul.  The task of imparting education, critical ability, moral and esthetic sensibility, and intellectual enlightenment to successive generations, is not a short range undertaking.
3. Evaluation by performance, merit rating or annual review of performance. The faculty evaluation problem is that no matter what, half our employees still show below average performance. 

Faculty won't cooperate when they can't be sure they'll be recognized for their own contribution. The university needs faculty, staff, and students to cooperate with each other.  Faculty, staff, and especially students fear receiving poor evaluations. Faculty and students can't produce quality if they are afraid. 

Furthermore, although some faculty, students, and staff may be "pathologically dysfunctional," higher administration, faculty governing bodies, and faculty directly concerned with hiring decisions/recommendations, are all fault because such workers were hired in the first place. The same point applies to admission of non-performing students. 

(Deming suggests that typically, for every bad worker a firm hires, 10-20 good workers have been summarily excluded from consideration for the same job.  This is clearly true for university hiring, and student admissions at the most selective schools.) 

Often performance ratings just shift blame from higher administration, where the true fault lies, to faculty, staff, and students. Higher administration is the leading cause of low productivity in education. Students, faculty, and staff account for five to ten percent.

4. Mobility of management. In industry, the most apparently "successful" (and much admired) executives are gadflies or "corporate whores" who flit from firm to firm for ever higher salaries. In fact, these are the most destructive managers. They are only judged on short run results, because they aren't at one firm long enough to take the blame for long run problems they cause. "Quick results" are rewarded, long term steady performance, which is far more valuable to the company, is ignored. 

In academia, short-sighted administrators and policy-makers have forced a chronic overreliance on term-hire, adjunct, or visiting faculty who do not enjoy academic freedom.  Because they are not permitted to remain at one institution long enough, they are prevented from gaining and using institution-specific human capital.  The contribution they could make is dissipated, and the contribution they actually make is wasted among several institutions.

5. Running a company on visible figures alone. There should be more to running a company than maximizing profit or minimizing cost, particularly short run accounting profit or cost. Creative accounting doesn't make a company a better place for anyone to work.  This applies especially to academia, because the real product of a university transcends quantification.
6. Excessive medical costs for employee health care, which increase the final costs of goods and services. Poorly run universities fail to protect students, faculty, and staff from occupational diseases and hazards. Demoralized faculty and staff without support from higher administration take off more sick days.  So do demoralized students without faculty support.
7. Excessive costs of warranty, fueled by lawyers who work on the basis of contingency fees. Firms that produce junk often get sued for doing so.  Academia feels immune from litigation, except for employment issues. 

It is only a matter of time before a university is successfully prosecuted for federal mail fraud because of irresponsible and fraudulent claims made in student recruiting materials distributed through the mail.  Education fraud costs millions of dollars every year, paid out in financial aid monies from federal and state budgets, scholarship monies from charitible organizations, and most importantly, household savings.  If we don't clean house ourselves, we may not keep a house to clean.

Obstacles to Quality

These are like the diseases, but are less "deadly." They are easier to cure.

"Hope for instant pudding." Providing quality is a long arduous process, especially when you consider what we have to start with.  The magnitude of the problem guarantees there will be no quick fixes.
"The supposition that solving problems, automation, gadgets, [high technology] will transform industry." High technology, in and of itself, can only provide more expensive junk.  Instructional technology is no substitute for content or criticism.
"Search for examples." There is more to quality than imitating other firms or universities.  Each university is unique, with a unique student body and faculty, and higher administration must come to terms with its unique problems and opportunities.
"Our problems are different." Of course they are. But usually this is just an excuse weak management uses to avoid the trauma of change.  Your unique problems do not prevent you from achieving quality.  They challenge you to chart your own unique path to achieving quality.
"This goes against what they taught me in school." Managers have a responsibility to exercise independent, critical judgement. Most of what they taught you in teachers' college or business school was wrong anyway - there is a difference between theory and dogma.
"Our quality control department takes care of all our problems of quality." For quality control department, read computer center, or admissions office, or institutional research office, or academic affairs office.  If they've been taking care of it, why is it still a problem? Quality is (inescapably) the faculty's responsibility.
"The workers are not cooperating." For workers, read students and faculty.  What demands are higher administration making? Are they reasonable demands? Are they rational?  Often they are neither. 

Do faculty and students have support from higher administration, in terms of coherent incentives, empowerment, supervision, (or is higher administration  a "babysitter?") In terms of quality technology? 

If not, how can students, staff, and faculty cooperate? Higher administration isn't cooperating with students, staff, and faculty.

"We inspect 100% of our output." This implies intensive evaluation of student learning, with multiple weeding-out filters.  This does not ensure all students successfully learn. Some make it past graduation without becoming educated adults.

It's better to adapt the teaching and learning process to improve learning outcomes than to hunt for unsuccessful students after you've gone to the trouble and expense of teaching unsuccessfully.

"False starts." Fads (e.g., "quality circles,") are often attractive and sound good, but require long term commitment from faculty, students, and higher administration to provide any benefit.
"The computer tells us the answer." Computers intimidate faculty, staff, and students that aren't properly trained to use them.  They also provide access to large volumes of useless data.  Noise should not be mistaken for information.  The information age has produced the tragedy of subliterates with high computer literacy.
"We met the specifications." But are your graduates any good? More importantly, are your graduates as good as they could be?  Do the "specs," arbitrary quantitative benchmarks,  matter to your alumni, their employers, or the greater society? What does matter to the stakeholders? Involve stakeholders in planning, and in evaluating or constructing quantitative measures.
"The prototype performed well." For prototype, read pilot program.  But will the implementation be comparable? Few students experience the pilot program.  New programs should be designed and made to satisfy student needs, and accommodate student and faculty strengths and weaknesses.
"Anyone who comes to help us with quality must understand everything about our business." Deming notes it is possible to understand everything about a business except how to improve it, which is certainly true for academe - most faculty, students, and administrators are experts about what is wrong with the university.

W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, 1966.