Marty Khan. Access to Higher Education: Leadership Challenges in Florida and South Africa: A Qualitative Enquiry. Lanham: University Press of America, 2005. xiv + 163 pp. $31.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7618-3262-1.
Reviewed by Crain Soudien (School of Education, University of Cape Town)
Published on H-SAfrica (May, 2007)
Leadership Challenges in Improving Access in the United States and South Africa
South Africa and the United States of America present themselves as examples of the world's two major multicultural countries. Their histories, as settler societies in which some of the great dramas of the modern era have played themselves out, such as land dispossession, the subjugation of indigenous peoples, slavery, civil war, and struggles for liberation, make them natural subjects for comparison. Their formal moments of entry into world history begin almost simultaneously, 1488 for South Africa and 1492 for America. Their historical timelines are marked at very similar points by events that are analogous. And yet, the bibliography for this comparison is remarkably slender. In the last fifty years a small number of texts have appeared, notable amongst which have been comparisons by Anthony Marx, George Frederickson, and Colin Bundy. The focus of much of this work, predictably, has been the political. In the field of higher education, the field of Marty Khan's book, only one major collection has appeared in recent times and that is Edgar Beckham's Diversity, Democracy and Higher Education: A View from Three Nations, published in 2000 by the Association of American Universities and Colleges. It is, therefore, something of an occasion when a new book specifically located in the broad field of higher education appears. Marty Khan's Access to Higher Education: Leadership Challenges in Florida and South Africa: A Qualitative Enquiry is a welcome addition to the small corpus on the subject.
Access to Higher Education is an engagement with senior higher education leaders in Florida and South Africa around the issues of access to higher education. It focuses on the attitudes of five leaders in the two countries to new policy developments relating to access. The policy developments in the two places are the One Florida Initiative (OFI) and the South African National Plan for Higher Education (SANPHE). Interestingly, while both are avowedly underpinned by the principles of justice and equality, one, the OFI, abolishes race as an index for facilitating access, while the other, the SANPHE, entrenches race through an affirmative action agenda. What Khan does in this work is probe the approaches of the leaders to these policies as they seek to legislate how access to the university and college is to be managed. Issues that Khan looks at include diversity, decision-making, and affirmative action. The question he poses is essentially that of what the challenges and conflicts are that the leaders confront in implementing the policies they inherit from their governments.
How does Khan manage the subject matter of this study? He begins with a general introduction to the question of access in the two countries. This discussion works with the history of discrimination and the response of the higher education sector. He shows how black people were denied access to higher education and the resultant struggles that took place to reform this situation. In both countries, racism played a powerful role in shaping public attitudes to black people in particular and people of color in general. Khan's discussion provides a useful summary of developments in the United States relating to the opening up of access. It looks at the beginnings of affirmative action in the era of President Kennedy, the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited "discrimination on race, color or national origin in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance" (p. 6). It moves on to review the sequence of court actions around affirmative action, from the landmark Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case in 1978 which ruled that admission quotas were unacceptable but that admission based on race as a factor was, to the 2003 ruling of the Supreme Court on two cases, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, focusing on the admission policies of the University of Michigan and which effectively "endorsed the value of affirmative action, diversity and the need to promote access" (p. 11).
The discussion continues to describe Proposition 209 in California, which led to the abolition of affirmative action and the failed attempt in Florida to have a similar proposition put on its ballot in 2000. It shows how, in the wake of that failure, the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, issued an Executive Order, the OFI, which prohibited the use of race for determining higher education admissions. In the same chapter, Khan tells the story of discrimination in the South African situation, showing how it began with restrictions placed on the entry of black people into the academy, the development of separate ethnic universities, and the legacy left in the country, when the new government came into power in 1994, of poor and inadequate preparation of black people for higher education. The attempts of the new government to address these difficulties are outlined with a focus on the SANPHE and its emphasis on redress and reformation of the higher education sector.
The book moves in the second chapter to look at the literature around access. The emphasis of Khan's discussion is on the use of political power and the definitions of inclusion and exclusion that accompany it. In this discussion he reviews the work of a range of commentators on access and shows how important affirmative action has been for expanding access for people of color, and particularly for African Americans. He also, usefully, provides insight into the discussions that take place in the United States around the challenges and difficulties in implementing access initiatives. A key point to which he draws attention is that administrators who have a concern about maintaining access need to be monitoring on a continuous basis "the factors that influence the demand and supply of education" (p. 43). A comparable discussion is developed for South Africa. This discussion outlines the ameliorative steps the new democratic government took after 1994 to improve access for black people. It looks at the legislative platform of the state and at initiatives taken at key institutions such as the University of the Western Cape and elsewhere. In terms of the latter he describes how the Academic Development Programme at the University of the Western Cape sought to move beyond simply facilitating access but also sought to innovate and transform the curriculum, pedagogical practices and assessment procedures. He makes the point that this experience could provide useful lessons for the United States. Khan uses these parallel discussions to highlight the challenges facing higher education leaders in the two countries and comes to the conclusion that leaders can no longer "afford to lead their institutions in familiar ways and conduct business as useful" (p. 42).
In the substantive sections of the book dealing with the findings, Khan describes how he went about analyzing the OFI and the SANPHE. He explains how he obtained the services of two researcher colleagues who analyzed, through a coding process, the two policy documents. He uses their analyses to make the point that both documents were politically motivated. Broad conclusions which the coders come to are described, namely that the OFI lacked detail and did not do enough to inform groups that had been traditionally discriminated against of their options and that the SANPHE provided good directions but lacked substance for practical implementation. Both documents, they argued, were deliberately befuddled by the policymakers: "Without specific clarity, and a funding mechanism, senior leaders at universities could face difficulties in successfully implementing the policy" (p. 73).
It is these difficulties that Khan then proceeds to extract from his interviews with the five leaders in the two countries. The penultimate section of the book focuses on a description of Khan's discussions with the leaders. These interviews, carried in greater length as appendices in the book, provide a good window into the styles of leadership of the leaders. Evident are the real challenges the leaders face in both countries. In Florida, one sees how the university president has to work with a policy about which he has serious reservations. His response is not to break the law, but to be much more imaginative about how to deal with admissions. Instead of simply abolishing race, as the OFI requires, the university now requires each student to provide a much fuller application which allows the institution to be much more informed as it makes decisions. In the South African case there is evidence from one of the leaders of some discomfort at the policy. While the disagreement is not couched in the same clear terms as the American university president's, it nevertheless comes across clearly that the leader thinks that the SANPHE is an intrusion into the autonomy of the institution.
The study is brought to a close with a review of the similarities and differences in the approaches of the leaders in the two countries. The general conclusions to which Khan comes are six-fold, namely that leaders must have "steadfast philosophical beliefs about the need to broaden access for those who have been historically discriminated against," they must have an awareness of benefits of affirmative action and diversity, that they must all practice a participatory style of leadership, be committed to team work, and, critically, that they reserve the right to "exercise prudent discretion to implant a policy" (pp. 104-106). All these, Khan argues, amount to what he calls a Belief/Action Leadership Effectiveness Model, which is the appropriate style of management for the challenges of the U.S. and South African contexts. In terms of this, leaders must have clear beliefs, must be able to take action in an inclusionary and participatory way but, at the same time, be open to compromise.
This book is a valuable addition to the small body of writing on higher education in South Africa and the United States. Its focus on access is important. It brings together in one place some of the more important developments that have taken shape in the two countries in the last ten years. The interviews are interesting and informative and help one see the kind of leadership challenges at both an individual and a systemic level that arise in the two countries.
There are many weaknesses, however, in the book. There are some minor inaccuracies in the text, such as the reference on page 13 to "Afrikaan-speaking" white people. These are not significant. Much more important is the form of the book. The book does not depart significantly from its origins as a dissertation. Insufficient attention has been paid to making it into a manuscript that is imaginative and lively and provocative. The design and layout of the chapters is particularly uninspiring. An opportunity has been missed here in presenting a text that is alive with example and tension. Instead, it works in a rather pedestrian fashion through the predictable structure of the research problem, the methodology, and the findings. A book that seeks to hold the reader's attention should not be constructed in this way.
An even greater opportunity missed is the engagement with the dramatis personae of the book. The encounter with the leaders is presented in a formalistic and repetitive way. Khan provides the reader with interesting excerpts from the interviews. These are largely repeated in the analysis and then expanded again in the appendix. The one-by-one presentation and working through of these is perhaps hard to avoid, but is not sufficiently imaginative. The consequences of this are evident in the analysis, which appears to miss the grit of the contexts in which these leaders work. Part of the difficulty is the apparent decontextualization of the leaders and their work. Anonymity is important for Khan and he has succeeded nicely in obscuring all the traces and cues which might lead one to identify his informants, but in the process, his subjects lose all their sociological and psychological substance. They emerge as detached and abstracted figures. One has little idea of the kinds of people they are and the nature of their work and the ways in which they deal with their everyday lives. The problem is that their interviews give one a sense that the contextual issues actually have a deep bearing on how they respond to the policies they are expected to implement. This is particularly the case for the South African registrar who invokes the principle of institutional autonomy in expressing his anxiety about the demands that the SANPHE places on him. Bubbling in the background of the interview are the potent factors of race, culture, and social difference. One does not know whether the registrar is white, but elements of his response suggest that this is the case. The book fails to work with this sociology.
If Khan had chosen, methodologically, and explicitly so, not to use racial identifiers in his work, then this would have made the text a provocative one. In not declaring how he intends factoring in or out these important contextual issues, he presents himself as an agnostic on the issue and so lays himself open to the charge that he is underexplaining and underdescribing the real nature of the challenge confronting his leaders. The study employs a bland set of leadership mantras that are useful--the leaders should do this and should do that--but loses the opportunity to take the guts of the leadership challenge really seriously. Imagine how much more powerful this study could have been had it been able to describe much more fully the leaders--who they are and how they have come to be what they are--and shown how they are able to work with their histories in confronting the new challenges of their societies. Out of this might have come the outlines for a much more authentic theory of leadership. It is this that one should be expecting in a work which seeks to help us understand the nature of leadership in the fraught contexts of the access puzzle.
. Anthony W. Marx, Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of South Africa, the United States, and Brazil (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998); George M. Fredrickson, White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), Black Liberation: A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Colin Bundy, "An Image of its Own Past? Towards a Comparison of American and South African Historiography," Radical History Review 46/47 (1990): 117-143.
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