at the Request of President John Palms, University of South

John V.
Lombardi for TheCenter Staff


The American
public research university is an enduring institution. Subject to
the enthusiasm of the public and its elected representatives,
competitive with the other institutions of its kind for scarce
federal and private dollars, and responsive to the needs of its
many constituencies, the American public research university
nonetheless endures and for the most part prospers. Built into the
core of their state's public services infrastructure, these
institutions in almost all cases can survive any challenge. They
grow and prosper with the fortunes of their states and with the
wisdom of their boards, their faculty, their administrators and
their supporters. They falter when the state's economy falters,
they expand when the state expands, but always they

This endurance
provides an important context for the conversation about
institutional improvement. American public research universities
feel little pressure for substantial improvement. They can exist
and continue with only modest change, flowing with the currents and
fortunes of their state's public enterprises, improving what is
easy to improve, leaving alone what is hard. Over time, the
university will become better than it was, but it will not become
as good as it can be. Because the university does not have to
improve to survive, it requires strong leadership and an effective
plan to move the institution faster than the ordinary flow of
events will take it. It takes strength and commitment for the
university to find the direction for significant improvement and
stay with it long enough to make the changes permanent.

Improvement and Measurement

and change have no meaning without measurement. Much university
conversation in the public sector involves complex, uplifting, and
even entertaining controversy about the values and academic
directions of the institution. Much public conversation turns on
elaborate discussions of accountability and governance. Most of
this is charming, well intentioned, but ultimately ineffective
because it does not start with the measurable things. Universities,
like all enterprises, cannot manage improvement unless they can
measure the improvement. Academic measurement is the simplest of
concepts and the most difficult of enterprises. University people
have an aversion to self-measurement. Experts in the measurement of
every other quantity in the universe from attitudes to behavior,
from physical to cosmological quantities, academics resist the
aggregate measurement of their own work. Committed to the
fundamentally handicraft nature of research and teaching,
individual enterprises with unique results, they suspect the
motives of those who would measure their work in aggregate, and
they fear that the act of measurement itself will change the unique
character of their work into a form of commodity production. Yet,
absent measurement, the institution cannot drive

Improvement and Money

A second
requirement for improvement is money. Academics often feel
uncomfortable speaking in clearly about money (we call it resources
in our embarrassment), but the investment of money makes
improvement possible. If we have no extra money, we will find it
difficult to improve. Some observers misunderstand this fundamental
truth and imagine that we can have our faculty teach more and
better without actually invoking the specter of money. If our
faculty teach more and better, they work harder. If they work
harder, they increase their productivity. If they increase their
productivity, they have generated an internal savings because they
do more with the same money. As a result, we have (hidden from view
perhaps) saved money through increased productivity, and we can
invest this extra money in improved quality. This kind of invisible
transaction often occurs in universities, but because we do not
measure it, we cannot direct it effectively and we cannot gain the
maximum advantage from our innovations and improvements. Sometimes
we improve productivity but because we do not measure the
improvement, the savings disappear into unplanned expenditures or
increased inefficiencies elsewhere in our institution. Money
matters to universities.

relationship between measurement and money is the key dynamic
driving university improvement. If an institution enjoys generous
funding that increases faster than the inflation in the continuing
costs of operating the university, then the need for measurement
declines. Such a fortunate institution can spend the surplus (or
margin) on projects that improve the university. It can hire
superstar faculty, it can buy equipment, and it can build
buildings. Universities have no lack of good ideas that will
improve the quality of the place. Faculty have no lack of superior
projects that will enhance the institution's reputation. What the
university has is a lack of funds to address these opportunities.
If the budget increases and general funding pays the ongoing costs,
pays for whatever inefficiencies are in the university's systems,
and produces a positive margin or surplus for investment in
programs and enhancements, then the university can get better
quickly without worrying too much about measuring things. This is
the ideal world for the American research university. Only a few
universities have enjoyed this luxury.

The classic
case is the institutions of the University of California. Thanks to
an investment minded state, a strong tax structure, and a political
agreement on the division of mission among higher education
institutions, the campuses of the UC system received exceptionally
good funding that they put to good use in building multiple
nationally competitive research institutions. No other state can
compare to California in this commitment to quality in so many of
its state research universities.

universities, however, do not live in the California mode. They
live in states with much less commitment to investment in high
quality education, many fewer tax dollars to spend on public
services, and a highly charged political contest among state
universities over the missions of the various public institutions.
Universities in these states, if they want to improve faster than
the general flow of life, need to engage the issues, measure their
performance and drive improvement.


The top fifty
or so public universities in America do not all have an equal
chance for academic eminence. Those at the top (Michigan, Berkeley,
UCLA, UNC Chapel Hill, Washington, Minnesota) have a commanding
lead in every category. They have better students, better faculty,
better research revenue, larger endowments, more annual giving.
Some have more tuition and fees; some have excellent state support.
Whatever the package, these universities not only are at the top,
they will stay there barring some catastrophe. The size and bulk of
a university have much to do with its success. These institutions
have the base, the traditions of performance, and the faculty
needed to continue to compete at the top level. They will get more
than their share of the best students nationwide, of the federal
dollars, of the private gifts. They set the scale of performance,
and other public universities that aspire to compete, must
recognize these institutions as the competition.

competition is tough, and because universities do not have to
improve to survive and continue forward, many voices will speak
against the need to compete nationally. One technique is to think
that because one university is smaller than another virtue lies in
its smallness. This perhaps is theoretically so, but practically it
is not so. Size is an important determinant of success. The top
public universities are large in number of people, large in budget,
large in grants and contracts, large in the number of merit
scholars, large in any dimension that defines quality in the
university. The size is an advantage, it provides strength, and it
offers a buffer against failure and mistakes. If a university wants
to compete in the league, it must recognize that the competition is
between universities. It is not between university systems, it is
not between departments (although departments do compete), it is
between universities. We measure it by the quantity of quality work

Quantity of
quality work produced is a key element. A good university may well
have a superstar or two, a fine colleague of national stature, a
prize-winning program. The great American public universities have
many superstars, many colleagues of national stature, and many
prize-winning programs. This is the difference between a good
university and a great university.

Measuring and Rewarding Performance

If a good
university chooses to improve, chooses to move its performance to
higher levels in the competition among American public research
universities, then it needs a program. That program, however the
university presents it, requires two fundamental things. It
requires a focus on the money and measurements of productivity and
quality. There is no escape from these imperatives if the
university is to grow and improve faster than the general flow of

First, there
is the money. University money comes into the institution in an
endless variety of ways. From tuition and fees to grants and
contracts, from state subsidies for instruction to state
appropriations for capital, from gifts and endowment to patent and
license fees, all these sources nourish the academic enterprise.
While each source of funds has its restrictions and limitations on
use, an improvement program starts from the assumption that it will
measure the money and reward those units of the university that can
increase the amount of money. If the university becomes lost in a
complex conversation about good money and not so good money, about
restricted and unrestricted money, about state and non-state money,
it will miss the point. All money is good, that is the first
premise. Then, the university can decide how it can increase the
money and reward those who do it. If there is money for more
enrollments, then the university should have a strong enrollment
management plan to take maximum advantage of all the money
available for enrollment. If there is money from gifts and
endowment, the university should reward those units that can
increase these private gifts. If there is money from grants and
contracts, then the university should reward the units that
increase grants and contracts. To do this the institution must
measure the money, allocate the increases to the units, and mange a
reward program.

While the
university wants to get as much increase in dollars as possible, it
also wants to reward the effective use of those dollars. This
requires the measurement of performance in quality and
productivity. Both are required. A small amount of superb quality
at great expense does not make a great university. Neither does a
large amount of poor quality at low expense. The goal is high
quality and high productivity. The university must measure these
things, but measure them in as simple a way possible. The favorite
method for avoiding responsibility in the university is to create
complexity in evaluation of performance. If we accept that every
university product is unique, then each one requires a unique
measurement and the cost of measurement will exceed any benefit it
might produce. Instead, the university needs to pick some simple
surrogates for performance, a task easier done for productivity
than for quality. Nonetheless, the simple measures, if linked to
effective rewards, produce remarkable changes in a very short

Management and Governance

Management is
the final element in this conversation. Universities for the most
part do not have management; they have governance. Governance is
the political process that balances the various competing interests
of the institution though a complicated and lengthy process. The
characteristic of university governance is consensus. Consensus for
a university normally results in modest and superficial change in
the general operations of the institution, especially in terms of
money and incentives. Universities are by nature exceedingly
conservative; the faculty assume the status quo is better than
whatever alternative might appear unless the alternative offers
more money for less work. Universities that are already high
performers benefit from this conservatism. They have a consensus
for high performance and high standards that the conservative
predisposition maintains. Universities that are merely good, have a
consensus for good standards, but not for high standards. The
conservatism will keep them good, but they rarely will make the
considerable and often unpopular effort required to increase their
standards to match those of excellent universities.

To improve,
the university must have management. It must have direction. The
institution must consult, it must meet, it must listen, and it must
respond to all the information, opinion, and advice from its many
constituencies, but it must nonetheless act, and it often must act
without complete consensus. It must choose a direction, it must
discuss this direction with the institution's many constituencies,
and then, after making whatever changes emerge from the discussion,
the university must act to manage the process of improvement. This
process leads to significant institutional improvement has some
important characteristics. Management must drive performance based
on clear, open, and explicit measurements of quality and
productivity. Management must reward improvement with money. Absent
either of these two elements from the management structure, the
improvement will become very difficult to implement.

Finally, the
management must have the support and commitment of its board.
Improvement requires enhanced performance. Enhanced performance
requires that people work harder and better than they did before.
Some of those asked to work harder and better will not do so. Some
of those asked, will. The university must reward those who perform
at significantly levels of quality and productivity. This is true
of groups (colleges and department) and individuals (faculty and
staff). Those who do not work harder or better will find endless
reasons to resist a system that rewards those who do work harder
and better. The university offers a wide range of mechanisms to for
such resistance. If the board does not support the management, then
the system will fail and governance will overwhelm management. When
governance replaces management, the improvement program will slow,
falter, and quietly die.

Many times
boards and administrations engage in a rhetoric that promotes
productivity, quality, and performance, but when the inevitable
resistance appears to a program that actually delivers these
things, the board may discover that it has no appetite for the
controversy that results. If improvement is significant, if rewards
follow performance, then there will be controversy. The board needs
to be sure it approves of the standards and processes, and then it
needs to allow the management to drive the improvement process,
providing no comfort to those for whom increased and measurable
productivity and quality challenge the status quo.

Reality Check on Performance

university performance is a challenging task. Every university has
different strengths it may want to stress and weaknesses it may
want to remedy. If the university's goal is to become a more
effective competitor among America's best public research
universities, then it must begin with some indicators of its
relative position in this group. Attached to this presentation are
data that provide a point of reference for understanding scale and
performance. The context is a group of fifty universities
identified as the top American public universities by virtue of
their performance on nine measures. The Top Public Universities
takes the position that the exact placement of any university in a
ranking scale is of relatively little value. More important is the
grouping of universities, recognizing that the differences among
the universities within each group are small.

The Top
Publics presentation in the attached materials has a built-in
emphasis on research. Of its nine measures, five reflect research
directly, and most of the rest reflect research indirectly. This
emphasis recognizes that the distinguishing characteristic of
America's top public universities resides in the research quality
of the faculty and programs sustained by that university. Although
we might want to believe that undergraduate instructional quality
is an important element in this equation, in fact it is not.
Universities with exceptional research productivity usually have,
in addition, fine undergraduate programs, and universities with
modest research performance have fine undergraduate programs. Small
colleges with almost no research program, have fine undergraduate
programs. Since many universities and colleges deliver fine
undergraduate instruction, the distinguishing characteristic of
America's great public universities is, in fact, research. Research
is a generic term, however, that covers a number of different
institutional characteristics.

The first two
measures of research include both the total research and the
Federal research expenditures of each university. While this
appears to be a quantity measure, it is also a quality measure
since most research, but not all, reflects a peer review process
that judges the quality of work for which funding may be provided.
The reason for including both total research and federal research
is to provide a measure in the first number that includes state
funding for research and a measure in the second number that
clearly identifies the highly competitive federal

The second two
items measure an institution's private funding. Endowment is a
measure of the institution's base private funding that provides a
permanent stream of income. Annual giving is a current measure of
the institution's ability to raise dollars for both today's
expenses and endowment growth. In addition, the second number
identifies institutions that may not have as long a historical
record of successful fundraising (reflected in a smaller endowment)
but currently have a strong competitive fundraising program. Much
private giving, of course, reflects the research programs of the
university that attract endowments and other gifts in support of
that research.

The next two
indicators provide rough surrogate measures of the distinction of
the faculty by counting the number of National Academy members and
the number of Arts and Humanities award recipients among the
faculty. These two also primarily recognize research achievements,
and the second measure identifies strength in the humanities not so
easily reflected in the grant and contract measures.

The indicators
that show Ph.D.s granted and Post-Docs serve as a measure of
graduate intensiveness, another indicator of institutional strength
and an indirect indication of faculty quality. Ph.D.'s includes of
course humanities and social sciences in addition to science
doctorates. Post-Docs provide yet another indirect but useful
indicator of both the quality of the faculty and the research depth
of the institution's science programs.

The final
measure is a surrogate for undergraduate quality. Students
identified as National Merit and National Achievement scholars seek
out institutions with exceptional reputations. The quality of the
student body is one of the major attractions that distinguish the
undergraduate programs of different universities; Merit and
Achievement scholars in the fall class each year gives a useful
surrogate measure of the institution's overall undergraduate

arbitrarily, we decided that the relevant group of top universities
would include 25 institutions. We then counted the number of
measures for which each university fell in the top 25. Those ranked
in the top 25 on all nine measures belong to the top group of
American public research universities. Those in the top 25 on 8
measures, belong in a second group, and so on through those
universities in the top 25 on 5 measures. These universities, with
from 9 to 5 measures in the top 25, form the top tier of American
public research universities. Institutions with 4 to 1 measures in
the top 25 belong to a second tier. The total number of
universities with at least one measure in the top 25 is about 50

The value of
these categories is not so much that they giving bragging rights to
different universities but that they demonstrate the difference
between institutions at the top and those in various stages of
growth and improvement. The very best institutions compete
successfully on all measures; they rank in the top 25 on all
categories. They do not necessarily all rank first on every
measure, but they are at least in the top 25 on every measure. This
means they have competitive balance. Universities that fall father
down the structure usually have some excellent programs, but they
do not have the breadth of strength visible in the top group. This
provides a diagnostic, for it allows institutions the opportunity
to recognize what the best performing universities do, and it
permits any university to make some choices about what it wants to
do to compete.

Some observers
complain that these measurements unfairly benefit the large and
wealthy universities. They are right. Not all large universities,
however, do well; and not all wealthy universities do well.
Nonetheless, the best universities are those who have the scale and
the resources to perform well and who DO perform well. Other
observers complain that these indicators do not show the relative
productivity of the faculty. This is also true. The purpose of
these data is to measure the full power and productivity of
universities. Some universities have many faculty who do not
produce research, and if we divided the amount of research, for
example, by the number of faculty, the rankings would be somewhat
different. Nonetheless, the measurement of faculty productivity is
a different issue. The easiest demonstration of this, of course, is
the hypothetical case of the university with one faculty member who
has a million dollar grant. The faculty productivity of this
institution is surely top of the scale, but no one would recognize
such an institution as a major research university.

The Top Public
Universities project serves not so much to rank institutions as to
identify indicators of institutional performance and to focus
attention on the characteristics that identify high performing
universities. We can imagine other indicators that might do this
task better, but for the most part such data do not exist. These
data represent the best comparable data available, and for this
reason the data offer the possibility of tracking institutional
performance over time.  One of the useful features of this
data set is its clear identification of single university data.
Many institutions report data for several campuses, a practice that
makes useful comparisons difficult. TheCenter adjusts the
data to reflect only the main research campus of the university
(although it includes geographically separated entities when they
function as part of the main campus). TheCenter's website
has data tables for research universities and a complete discussion
of the data adjustments used for every university presented in the
tables. ( "">

The final item
relevant for this presentation is a document that reflects what an
institution can do when it applies data based performance criteria
to the management of the institution. A Decade of Performance, 1990-1999 outlines the change made possible at the University of Florida by
virtue of this form of incentive driven, data based,

University Improvement: The Permanent Challenge