There is an important saying in Lean management: “Without standard there can be no continuous improvement.” That saying should be Interpreted as a rule. Standards are important because they establish the “normal” condition – the way the process should be in order to achieve good results in terms of quality, quantity, time, etc.
Lean management uses the term “abnormality” where others would say “problem” or “issue.” The reason why is because an “abnormality” is in relation to the normal condition. When someone says they have a “problem” or “issue,” it is not in relationship to a known standard or “normal” condition. For example, information flow is the normal condition. Anything that disrupts flow is an abnormality. In Lean, we engage in structured problem-solving (the Scientific Method and its derivatives such as kaizen and PDCA) to determine the root cause and identify practical countermeasures. This beings us closer to the normal condition, flow.
What is the normal condition for teaching? What is the normal condition for research? What is the normal condition for service?
Higher education is often seen as status quo oriented. Change does occur, but often discontinuously rather than continuously. That suggests that standards have not been explicitly established. Alternatively, standards are assumed to be high, yet for certain things may be unspecified or not clearly specified. As a result, teaching differs little from one institution to another, whether they are in the top tier or in the third or fourth tier.
For example, what is the standard for the work that faculty do? In some universities, the standard for teaching may be well-defined in terms of faculty qualifications and course load, but poorly defined in terms of quality of instruction. The standard for research and service may also be poorly defined. For example:
- Teaching: Terminal degree, 3 or 4 courses per semester, teaching evaluation score > 0.
- Research: 1 or 2 peer-reviewed publication per year.
- Service : Serve on 2 or 3 committees per year.
These standards do not elevate the work of faculty overall, though in individual cases some faculty will exceed these standards. This indicates that faculty do not possess a shared view of “educational excellence.”
In other universities, the standards for all three components of faculty work are better defined:
- Teaching: Terminal degree, 1 to 3 courses per semester, teaching evaluation scores of ≥ 3.75 (out of 5).
- Research: Externally-funded research, producing 3 or more peer-reviewed publication per year in the top ten journals in the field.
- Service : Serve on 2 or 3 major university-wide committees per year, community engagement, and public intellectual.
These standards elevate the work of faculty overall, though in some cases faculty do not meet these standards and will not receive tenure or promotion. Obviously, the latter standards, over time, results in a university that is higher ranked than former.
In cases where faculty and administration have worked together to establish standards, the result is progress towards the standard or normal condition. In cases where they have not, the university remains low-ranked and will likely struggle for resources.
A question arises as to whether or not faculty labor should be divided. In other words, one faculty member is replaced by two: one who specializes in teaching, given its importance to students and payers, another who specializes in research, and committee work being restricted for both to the vital few that really matter. If that were to happen, then what is the standard, normal condition, for teaching and research? How and to what extent would one inform the other? What is the standard for that?