Book By: Peter D. Eckel & Adrianna Kezar
Review By: Kristine Smalcel Pederson
Education Services
British Columbia Open University

In Taking the Reins, Eckel and Kezar conclude that although there are no cookie-cutter solutions to meaningful, in-depth, and comprehensive transformation in higher education, there are some successful approaches that can lead to this change.  Based on a five year research study funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, this engaging tool should assist advising professionals frustrated by a lack of meaningful change in their organizations. 

With our broad educational perspectives, advising professionals keenly recognize that our collective and individual educational environments are changing in response to  numerous internal and external pressures.  Many of us welcome opportunities to participate as our institutions respond to these forces.  What else can we do?  Not much, according to Eckel and Kezar, other than participate whenever possible, influence as we can, and be patient.  The authors maintain that limited influence should be a long-term challenge, not a deterrent.  I would suggest that part of this influence should be recommending this book to upper level administration as well as discussing it in Student Affairs classes and reading groups. 

The authors point out that transformational change takes more than the five years allotted for this study. It requires patience and must include collaboration among all institutional members. Although critical of popular strategic planning initiatives, this book does not advocate the elimination of long-established and often-useful strategic planning methods, nor is it meant to.  Instead, the authors put forward “a competing set of notions” (p. 6) in this thought-provoking addition to the literature.  They provide us with models for how institutions can make deep and meaningful changes including the Mobile Model (Chapter 7) that reflects on the complexity and delicate balance required for transformational change and provides initial steps to help campus leaders launch their efforts.

Taking the Reins is written with alternating statements of theory, general practice and specific (though anonymous) evidence from institutions participating in the research. One of the most interesting facets of the book is how it looks at institutional culture and change (Chapter 6). “Part of the transformation process is determining what elements of an institution’s culture work well, which components should and will remain consistent, and what parts are no longer working well or are preventing more beneficial elements from taking hold” (p. 28). 

Every institution is unique and must choose transformation pathways to meet its individual needs.  However, tools for this quest need not be individual.  Eckel and Kezar’s intriguing approaches to complex and deep change should be considered as a tool of choice for institutional transformation.

Taking the Reins: Institutional Transformation in Higher Education.
(2003). Book by Eckel, Peter D. and Adrianna Kezar. Review by Kristine Smalcel Pederson. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing. 216 pp. Price: $34.95. (Hardcover). ISBN #1-57356-514-8.

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