Destroying the University to Save the University

A long and rancorous effort to do away with tenure and run itself more like a business has set the University of Minnesota back for years to come.

By then, Brody had already accepted the offer to become president of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, one of the top two or three medical research institutions in the country. Obviously, his brief, stormy stint in Minnesota had proven an immediate boon to his career. Reached by phone, he demurred from speaking in anything but general terms about his time at the U of M, saying it was "a page passed; I don't want to be rehashing history or undermining what Frank Cerra [the person who succeeded Brody as provost] is doing." But Brody did opine that the U seemed to be on a downward spiral because "it is not willing to stand up and make the tough changes. That would include tenure and re-engineering." And he went on to defend his re-engineering effort as "a faculty-driven process. Our QRTC team was headed up by a professor--Dr. Leo Furcht. Unlike a business, a university is much more bottom-up than top-down. The faculty are the biggest asset and that's why it is so important to get their involvement."

Carol Wells doesn't believe what Brody says. When it was announced that the QRTC process would expand into 10 design teams to implement Phase II of the re-engineering beginning in January 1996, Wells says she "tried passionately to volunteer" but her pleas for input were essentially ignored by the QRTC team. Wells and Frank Cerra had done research together in the past; and when the newly appointed Cerra announced that the AHC was considering volunteers for the design teams, Wells quickly approached him and got a verbal assurance she'd be included. To make sure, she went home and e-mailed Cerra a thank you note, sending a copy to the head of the research design team. In this way, she officially secured a spot on the team.

Except that the team never met. Or, more precisely, the five people listed as being on the team never met. Wells says she kept badgering one of the team's two co-chairs about the lack of meetings, which finally earned her a 45-minute conference over coffee, in which he informed her that the team wasn't convening because they hadn't received a clear charge from Cerra on how to proceed. Wells countered that on the AHC Web page there were weekly reports being issued that indicated that the committee was indeed meeting. She suggested that the co-chair at least convene the committee once, so that it could be explained to everyone why they were not meeting and issue that as a report.

"Of course that never went anywhere," she notes, "except that for the next few weeks after our coffee meeting, it said [on the Web page] 'no report at this time,'" Wells says.

Just a few months ago, Wells received a note from Cerra thanking her for her work on the final report of the QRTC research team. More than a little curious, Wells asked for a copy of the report. Sure enough, a report was issued by a team whose meetings she was never invited to join. Wells sent the report to the two other committee members who weren't co-chairs; they too had never met as part of the group. One Dr. Russell Luepker, the chair of the epidemiology department, fired off an angry letter to Cerra.

Pretending to solicit input when it is the last thing on one's mind may not be illegal behavior, but it certainly seems morally dubious. In that sense, maybe the QRTC members learned a thing or two from the high-priced consultants at CSC Index. In August and September 1995, Business Week alleged in a series of articles that CSC Index and some of its consultants had manipulated purchases of a business book in a manner designed to get it on the best-seller lists at the New York Times and other influential publications. The magazine claims that the two authors of the book The Discipline Of Market Leaders, together with other CSC Index employees, spent at least $250,000 buying more than 10,000 copies of the book in a carefully coordinated fashion that closely resembled the method believed to be used by publications to track demand for a book around the country.

In addition to the $20,000-$30,000 speaking fees the authors suddenly were able to command as a result of their book's apparent success, Business Week noted that the practice was tempting because "[b]est-selling books also have become key marketing tools for consulting firms. They build credibility in the marketplace and popularize a firm's proprietary management concepts and trademark buzzwords." Like "re-engineering," perhaps.

Two weeks after its original story on the subject was published, Business Week wrote an article indicating that Champy himself may have engaged in some manipulations of his own to boost the profile of his sequel to Reengineering the Corporation, this one titled Reengineering Management. According to the magazine, CSC Index purchased about 25,000 copies of this second Champy book, including 7,500 that were purchased at retail bookstores, most of them charged to the accounts of CSC employees. A CSC Index spokesman conceded that "a few hundred of the individual sales" did appear to be "inappropriate." And a week after that, Champy admitted "there was truth" to allegations of CSC Index's manipulation of the Discipline book. He did not speak to the magazine's allegations about his own book.

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