Mission Metamorphosis: Organizational Life Cycles and the Future of Historically Black Colleges and

The missions, populations, and function of colleges and universities have transformed since the founding of Harvard College in 1636 to include an array of institutions. The exponential growth in institutions has led to the development of varied campus contexts, organizational structures, and academic offerings.  At the core of each institution is a panoply of issues endemic to the definition and fulfillment of its mission. The topic of mission is further complicated when the focus shifts to more specialized institutions of higher education like historically black colleges and universities.

While historically black colleges and universities are publicly recognized for carving their niche within the larger higher education system and serving an important function, they are often viewed with a certain level of skepticism.  In a 2003 article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Audrey June refers to historically black colleges as “endangered institutions”.  Embedded at the interplay of these critiques and commentaries are questions about the continued social relevance, academic purpose, and institutional responsiveness of these campuses.

Historic Context and Considerations

Historically, the debates between W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington have been credited with heavily influencing the articulated missions of various historically black college and university campuses. Washington advocated the need for vocational training and suggested that the role of black colleges and universities should be to train individuals to fill the manual labor market. DuBois, on the other hand, argued that black colleges should work toward building an elite group (he termed the “talented tenth”) who could be trained to uplift the black community by becoming lawyers, doctors, teachers, and scholars. Despite their opposing views, the debate between Washington and DuBois established the possibilities of black colleges. Even more, this debate over the mission of historically black colleges forced these institutions to both consider and define their intentions as higher education institutions.

Roebuck and Murty (1993) clearly indicate that the historical context in which these institutions developed is critical to understanding their function in the larger higher education landscape, particularly as it relates to the African American people. Since black colleges formed outside of the traditional system of learning and catered to a population of people who were perpetually denied access to education, the early objectives of these institutions centered on uplifting the condition of the black community. According to Walters (1991), the goals of black colleges include: (a) the maintenance of black historical and cultural tradition; (b) the provision of key leadership in the black community; (c) the development of economic stability in the black community; (d) the presentation of black role models who are able to interpret the way in which political, social, or economic dynamics impact the black community; (e) the production of college graduates equipped with the competence to deal with problems arising between minority and majority populations; and (f) the ability to produce black agents for specialized research, training, and information dissemination (as cited in Roebuck & Murty, 1993).

These historic goals give context to the institutional scope and function during the founding and development era of historically black colleges and universities.  Since their inception, historically black colleges have assumed a dual responsibility with regards to positioning and preparing their students for future success. Notwithstanding, all black colleges are not the same, nor do they serve the same populations (Brown, 2003).  Even more, the effectuation of collegiate desegregation via the United States v. Fordice disestablished any intentionality of historically black colleges or universities to serve as racial enclaves married to this historic mission of educating African Americans.  Brown (1999) argues that the collegiate desegregation mandate particularly requires public historically black colleges to “re-designate the missions and institutional statements” (p.11). While redefinition or reinterpretation of an institutional mission is not singularly sufficient to transform institutional functions, it is the critical step for initiating organizational renewal and transformation.

The Need for Institutional Transformation

Historically black colleges and universities, like all institutions of higher education, must engage the shifting terrain of student enrollment, faculty composition, geographic realities, and political climates on the academic landscape. As the demands of globalization and universal access becomes more pronounced in society, colleges and universities are faced with the imperative to adapt, change, and reconsider.  Greenwood and Hinings (1996) call this “new institutionalism”. They posit that new institutionalism (i.e., neo-institutional theory) will mandate organizational change and modification in order to account for the technological, political, and regulatory realities that are relevant to our institutional contexts. As a result, the normative contexts within colleges and universities will be forced to engage in a metamorphosis.

The term metamorphosis means to change or modify form.  It is derived from the Greek etymology that denotes the process in which an entity develops and matures by altering its structure through some manner of differentiation.  Richard Daft (2010) marries this biological concept to the organizational life cycle.  Asserting that like it organizations must continue to develop in response to changing realities, Daft posits that organizational survival is contingent upon a willingness to choose institutional renewal and revitalization rather than institutional death and decline.  Daft’s principles for the organizational life cycle are an appropriate analog to the birth, growth, and maturity of historically black colleges.  Likewise, extrapolating these principles to historically black colleges proffers behaviors and logic systems that lead to organizational decline and even institutional death.
Like all institutions of higher education, historically black colleges and universities must reconsider what constitutes their institutional boundaries, redefine the parameters of their mission, market their unique niches, and make clear their intentions for innovative participation in the new millennia. While it is important to acknowledge their historic roots and evolution, it is critical that historically black colleges are transformed from monolithic monuments to yesterday and emerge as epigenetic manifestations of multi-layered campuses that are relevant academic enterprises.

In order for historically black colleges and universities to respond to shifting paradigms (Simsek & Louis, 1994), it will be necessary for these institutions to shift from their collegiate origins to a new organizational reality that both considers and captures the contributions and contexts endemic to its constituents, stakeholders, and communities.  Historically black colleges and universities exist in an environment where they are both bounded and unbounded within contexts of structural, political, and symbolic significance (Bowman & Deal, 2003). Mission metamorphosis at historically black colleges and universities involves rearticulating the purpose, role, and function of the institutions in a manner that responds to dynamic contexts and forestalls institutional death or decline.
 

For if in any manner we can stimulate this instinct, new passages are opened for us into nature, the mind flows into and through things hardest and highest, and the metamorphosis is possible.

~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Dr. M. Christopher Brown II is the 18th president of the nation’s first historically black land-grant institution, Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi. He is the former executive vice president and provost at the historic Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he held the rank of university professor.  Prior to this appointment, he served as dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, vice president for Programs and Administration at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, director of Social Justice and Professional Development for the American Educational Research Association (AERA), as well as executive director and chief research scientist of the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute of the United Negro College Fund.  Dr. Brown has held faculty appointments at The Pennsylvania State University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

 

 

Posted: 2/14/2014 2:15 PM
Filed under: Ed, Higher

The missions, populations, and function of colleges and universities have transformed since the founding of Harvard College in 1636 to include an array of institutions. The exponential growth in institutions has led to the development of varied campus contexts, organizational structures, and academic offerings.  At the core of each institution is a panoply of issues endemic to the definition and fulfillment of its mission. The topic of mission is further complicated when the focus shifts to more specialized institutions of higher education like historically black colleges and universities.

While historically black colleges and universities are publicly recognized for carving their niche within the larger higher education system and serving an important function, they are often viewed with a certain level of skepticism.  In a 2003 article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Audrey June refers to historically black colleges as “endangered institutions”.  Embedded at the interplay of these critiques and commentaries are questions about the continued social relevance, academic purpose, and institutional responsiveness of these campuses.

Historic Context and Considerations

Historically, the debates between W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington have been credited with heavily influencing the articulated missions of various historically black college and university campuses. Washington advocated the need for vocational training and suggested that the role of black colleges and universities should be to train individuals to fill the manual labor market. DuBois, on the other hand, argued that black colleges should work toward building an elite group (he termed the “talented tenth”) who could be trained to uplift the black community by becoming lawyers, doctors, teachers, and scholars. Despite their opposing views, the debate between Washington and DuBois established the possibilities of black colleges. Even more, this debate over the mission of historically black colleges forced these institutions to both consider and define their intentions as higher education institutions.

Roebuck and Murty (1993) clearly indicate that the historical context in which these institutions developed is critical to understanding their function in the larger higher education landscape, particularly as it relates to the African American people. Since black colleges formed outside of the traditional system of learning and catered to a population of people who were perpetually denied access to education, the early objectives of these institutions centered on uplifting the condition of the black community. According to Walters (1991), the goals of black colleges include: (a) the maintenance of black historical and cultural tradition; (b) the provision of key leadership in the black community; (c) the development of economic stability in the black community; (d) the presentation of black role models who are able to interpret the way in which political, social, or economic dynamics impact the black community; (e) the production of college graduates equipped with the competence to deal with problems arising between minority and majority populations; and (f) the ability to produce black agents for specialized research, training, and information dissemination (as cited in Roebuck & Murty, 1993).

These historic goals give context to the institutional scope and function during the founding and development era of historically black colleges and universities.  Since their inception, historically black colleges have assumed a dual responsibility with regards to positioning and preparing their students for future success. Notwithstanding, all black colleges are not the same, nor do they serve the same populations (Brown, 2003).  Even more, the effectuation of collegiate desegregation via the United States v. Fordice disestablished any intentionality of historically black colleges or universities to serve as racial enclaves married to this historic mission of educating African Americans.  Brown (1999) argues that the collegiate desegregation mandate particularly requires public historically black colleges to “re-designate the missions and institutional statements” (p.11). While redefinition or reinterpretation of an institutional mission is not singularly sufficient to transform institutional functions, it is the critical step for initiating organizational renewal and transformation.

The Need for Institutional Transformation

Historically black colleges and universities, like all institutions of higher education, must engage the shifting terrain of student enrollment, faculty composition, geographic realities, and political climates on the academic landscape. As the demands of globalization and universal access becomes more pronounced in society, colleges and universities are faced with the imperative to adapt, change, and reconsider.  Greenwood and Hinings (1996) call this “new institutionalism”. They posit that new institutionalism (i.e., neo-institutional theory) will mandate organizational change and modification in order to account for the technological, political, and regulatory realities that are relevant to our institutional contexts. As a result, the normative contexts within colleges and universities will be forced to engage in a metamorphosis.

The term metamorphosis means to change or modify form.  It is derived from the Greek etymology that denotes the process in which an entity develops and matures by altering its structure through some manner of differentiation.  Richard Daft (2010) marries this biological concept to the organizational life cycle.  Asserting that like it organizations must continue to develop in response to changing realities, Daft posits that organizational survival is contingent upon a willingness to choose institutional renewal and revitalization rather than institutional death and decline.  Daft’s principles for the organizational life cycle are an appropriate analog to the birth, growth, and maturity of historically black colleges.  Likewise, extrapolating these principles to historically black colleges proffers behaviors and logic systems that lead to organizational decline and even institutional death.

Like all institutions of higher education, historically black colleges and universities must reconsider what constitutes their institutional boundaries, redefine the parameters of their mission, market their unique niches, and make clear their intentions for innovative participation in the new millennia. While it is important to acknowledge their historic roots and evolution, it is critical that historically black colleges are transformed from monolithic monuments to yesterday and emerge as epigenetic manifestations of multi-layered campuses that are relevant academic enterprises.

In order for historically black colleges and universities to respond to shifting paradigms (Simsek & Louis, 1994), it will be necessary for these institutions to shift from their collegiate origins to a new organizational reality that both considers and captures the contributions and contexts endemic to its constituents, stakeholders, and communities.  Historically black colleges and universities exist in an environment where they are both bounded and unbounded within contexts of structural, political, and symbolic significance (Bowman & Deal, 2003). Mission metamorphosis at historically black colleges and universities involves rearticulating the purpose, role, and function of the institutions in a manner that responds to dynamic contexts and forestalls institutional death or decline.
 

For if in any manner we can stimulate this instinct, new passages are opened for us into nature, the mind flows into and through things hardest and highest, and the metamorphosis is possible.

~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Dr. M. Christopher Brown II is the 18th president of the nation’s first historically black land-grant institution, Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi. He is the former executive vice president and provost at the historic Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he held the rank of university professor.  Prior to this appointment, he served as dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, vice president for Programs and Administration at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, director of Social Justice and Professional Development for the American Educational Research Association (AERA), as well as executive director and chief research scientist of the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute of the United Negro College Fund.  Dr. Brown has held faculty appointments at The Pennsylvania State University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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