Academic Turnarounds: Restoring Vitality to Challenged American Colleges and Universities

Smith, G. A. (2009). [Review of the book Academic turnarounds: Restoring vitality to challenged American colleges and universities, edited by Terrence MacTaggart]. The Christian Librarian, 52, 121.

Academic Turnarounds: Restoring Vitality to Challenged American Colleges and Universities, edited by Terrence MacTaggart. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007. 129 pp. $44.95; ISBN 978-0-275-98806-7.

Recent economic conditions have provided not-so-gentle reminders that institutions of higher education are fragile. This generalization is perhaps more true of faith-based colleges and universities than their non-religious counterparts. In this context, Terrence MacTaggart’s Academic Turnarounds is timely reading for many Christian institutions. MacTaggart, formerly a university chancellor and currently a higher education consultant, has assembled a collection of original essays that prescribe a course of responsible action for leaders of institutions in distress.

Contrary to what one might think, indicators of distress are not exclusively financial. But whatever the nature of a college or university’s challenges, the turnaround process cannot begin until trustees and executives make a frank admission of the trouble in which their institution finds itself. MacTaggart’s turnaround model proceeds through three stages: financial recovery, marketing and branding, and academic revitalization. Each stage is covered in a separate chapter within the book’s first section. The latter two sections of the book deal with special topics (financial matters; public institutions) and lessons for leaders (agenda for a new president; advice for trustees, donors, and accreditors).

Academic Turnarounds is appropriate reading for college and university leaders—presidents, trustees, senior administrators, and faculty members. With the exception of the technicality inherent to the chapter on finances, it is quite readable. The work contains an index and each chapter concludes with a limited number of bibliographic references. The contributors’ findings and recommendations are based on study of some 40 institutions “that had reputations for having dramatically improved themselves” (p. viii). These institutions represent the diversity of American higher education with the exception of community colleges and for-profit institutions.

This book is highly recommended for those who perceive that their institutions are (or may be) in distress. MacTaggart and his colleagues tackle the subject candidly, having personally observed and participated in institutional turnarounds. Readers who are interested in this book may also consider Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), a longer collection that is less cohesive and readable, but nonetheless offers useful insights.

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