Traditions of Ideology in Administrative Theory
©1999 Edward G. Rozycki


RETURN
edited 9/10/12
... pointing out the symbolic aspects of management may make those symbolic activities less effective and may indeed call into question the legitimacy of the administrative activity itself, and by extension, its study and teaching.
           --- Jeffrey Pfeffer (in "Management as Symbolic Action: The Creation and Maintenance of Organizational Paradigms" Research in Organizational Behavior Vol. 3 pp.1 - 52 1981, JAI Press.)
Introduction

Ideology transubstantiates reality. It provides conceptual filters that help us reconcile what is to what we wish it were. Ideology provides us symbol where substance is lacking. It is not uncommon to find books on educational administration replete with graphs, charts and formalisms. These lend the impression that administration is founded upon and requires theoretical knowledge of the most abstruse sort. This is misleading and obscures other knowledge important to an understanding of administration. Generations of authors have persisted in representing administration as a quasi-mathematical branch of social engineering. Such hyperbole may impress the shallow reader but ultimately works to undercut legitimate attempts to define a body of knowledge which might support educational administration as a profession.

This essay is based on an examination of three books:

a. Wayne K. Hoy's and Cecil G. Miskel's Educational Administration, Theory, Research and Practice both the 1982 (2nd) and the 1991 (4th) editions, New York : Random House.

b. Jacob W. Getzel's 1968 work, Educational Administration as a Social Process Theory, Research and Practice with James M. Lipham and Roald F. Campbell (New York: Harper Row 1968), and

c. Chester I. Barnard's The Functions of the Executive Cambridge Harvard, 1938.

The reason for this examination is that theoretical frameworks originating with Barnard are accepted by Getzels and passed along to Hoy and Miskel. These frameworks persist unmodified up to the recent past, as evidenced in the 1991 fourth edition of Hoy and Miskell. Options which Barnard studiously seems to have ignored are kept at a safe distance with the conceptual frameworks that Getzels and Hoy and Miskel avail themselves of.

Even a cursory examination of Hoy and Miskel uncovers persistent commonly recognized errors in argument and deduction. That reasonable, intelligent theorists would commit such errors again and again throughout their exposition can be explained by the possibility that ideological constraints have blinded them to obvious options and counterexamples. The question is whether such errors are Hoy's and Miskel's contributions or whether there exists an ideology, a tradition in which certain assumptions are embedded and maintained that press to given conclusions irrespective of the premises from which they are purported to derive.

The following section discusses the parallels between Getzels and Hoy and Miskel. Following that Getzels alone is discussed . It will be shown that his book suffers from three major flaws (all adopted, too, by Hoy and Miskel). that constitute a tradition of hyperbole in administrative theory. The reasons why this tradition persists will be examined.

Traditions of Confusion

...the effectiveness of this symbolic action is enhanced by the confusion of all involved between substantive and symbolic results.(Pfeffer, 47)

Both Hoy and Miskel and Getzels begin their books with reasonable argument about the need for a theoretical perspective. All quote well-known theorists and philosophers of science to underscore the point that there is no choice being theoretical, as opposed, say, to being practical. One merely chooses to be consciously theoretical as contrasted with the so-called "practical" person who, in effect, chooses not to make available for inspection the theories he must rely on for certain kinds of decision.

The promises of these fine beginnings are not fulfilled in what follows. The books are replete with theory, but theory that does not cut, that confuses issues, that holds back from criticism. The real function of this theory seems to be to intimidate the reader or to present him with illusions of special knowledge which might reinforce his claims to professional status. The books provide not so much analyses of theory as a compendium of litanies to be used in a rite of professionalization.

Getzels, et. al. was published fourteen years before Hoy and Miskel. Getzels quotes Dewey, "Theory is in the end... the most practical of all things (p. 22) and cites him in both index and bibliography. Hoy and Miskel merely state, "Theory is eminently practical." (p. 28) Although Dewey's How We Think is alluded to in this context (there is one reference in the 1982 edition, a second one has been added in the 1991 edition), in the last paragraph of their book Hoy and Miskel (1982, p.367; 1991, p.422) adapt a very non-Deweyan position:

increasingly, performance will depend upon organized, formal education, the ability to use concepts, ideas and theories rather than skills acquired through experience.

It is problematic, however, whether Hoy and Miskel distinguish between using concepts and merely invoking terminology.

For whom is a book written that begins a paragraph, "An assumption is a statement that is taken for granted or accepted as true."? (Hoy and Miskel,1982, p.22. Concept and generalization are likewise offered definition. In the 1991 edition this occurs earlier, see pp. 3 through 5) For a novice of some sort it would seem. But, then, why fail to define what the arrow symbols mean in purported "systems" charts, e.g. the Getzels-Guba model (Hoy and Miskel, 1982, p. 58; 1991 p.32) or what the word "function" is supposed to mean -- a difficult concept in either mathematics or sociology?

What does the "x" mean in the formula B = f(RxP)? (Hoy and Misket 1982,p.61; 1991 p.35) All of them have quite important definitions. Yet the reader, while presumed not to know what an assumption is, is supposedly apprised of such esoterica. These are symptoms of deeper problems and they provide the motivation for examining Getzels' book in its own right. A few more criticisms of Hoy and Miskel will lead us to that book.

Quite late in their book Hoy and Miskel (1982 pp. 323-324; cf.1991 p.378) pass on an interesting confusion. They present criticisms of the "system resource model"

The system resource model of organizational effectiveness has several alleged defects, especially when applied to educational organizations. For one thing, by placing too much emphasis on inputs, it may have damaging effects on outcomes ... Critics also allege that since increasing inputs or acquiring resources is an operative goal for the organization, the system model is actually a goal model. (my italics)

Hoy and Miskel reveal their preference for the system resource model, not through open declaration which might invite discussion, but rather through their use of the word "allege" in the above quote. This is a much criticism as they present anywhere. Such criticism is offhanded and surreptitious and reinforces the perception that they either are not in command of the material they present or are incapable of defending their selection at any level more profound than that of taste.

The quote above contains a confusion between using a theory to describe a system and using it to prescribe for a system. Had they observed this distinction they might have spared themselves an exercise of umbrage .

The Hoy and Miskel of 1982 admire Behaviorism. (1982, pp 165 - 171); however by 1991 all references to it have been expunged. In the 1982 edition five of Skinner's works appear in the bibliography, he is cited six times and Behaviorism gets indexed through seven pages of text. By 1991 there is no trace of any of this. Sic transit gloria mundi! How could such promise have come to naught! How will the administrators trained today with Hoy and Miskell deal with the enthusiasms of those who read it back in the eighties! Besides providing no trace of what they once thought was a formidable and relevant body of knowledge for educational administrators, they provide no reason for its disappearance. This indicates the lack of critical functioning that their smorgasbord approach to theory suffers from.

Hoy and Miskel attempt -- it seems -- to adopt a "diplomatic" attitude with respect to theories. They don't say that this or that is a useless or ill-descriptive or problematic theory. Nor do they say that a theory is useful or fruitful. They present theories in an apparently neutral frame of mind and insinuate their position disingenuously. But if one takes the trouble, one can analyze a theory and specify where it is ambiguous, where it admits of empirical testing and where it is confused. Neither Hoy nor Miskel nor Getzels does any of this. Theories out of style disappear. For whom were their books written? And to what purpose? Not -- as the argument to follow shows -- to promote the intelligent use of theory.

See Using Theory

 

Three major criticisms of Hoy and Miskel can be formulated. They espouse certain groups of questionable assumptions and procedures which will be labeled: pluralistic cooptation, functionism, parallelism; supported by vague diagrams and "packed" definitions. They did not invent these. Rather, all of these are found in Getzels' book and are the likely source from which Hoy and Miskel derived them. Thus, in examining these problematic assumptions and procedures we will begin by turning our attention to Getzels.

Pluralistic Cooptation

The terms "pluralistic cooptation" designate not so much a fallacy as a false advertisement. Allowing a pluralism of theories may preempt criticism. Not all theories are alternatives; some may be descriptively or formally more adequate than others. To present as an option what is on good grounds a preferable theory is to undermine the intellectual discipline of theory-making. Merely declaring oneself in favor of a theoretical orientation does not indicate that one employs theoretically legitimate reasons for choosing among theories. And yet, if one does espouse a theory, one way of disarming potential criticism is to insinuate that a choice among theories is a matter of taste, or perhaps, a matter of very individual perception of purpose.

More important than saving one's pet theory, pluralistic cooptation justifies "theory-manipulators" a place in certain organizations, e.g. universities, corporations, think tanks. A theoretical pluralism butresses the status of certain groups against the critical conclusions of theories that might be dangerous if not disarmed as "just another theory". Getzels is not unique in promoting such a pluralism. Richard F. Elmore, ("Organizational Models of Social Program Implementation," Public Policy, 26,2. Spring 1978. 185-228) for example, presents four models of implementation processes. He concedes that one model -- the bargaining and conflict model -- does not require an assumption necessary for the other three, i.e. that parties to the implementation process needn't agree on anything except the necessity to bargain. Yet he is loathe to allow that the models are rivals and that one might be primary. But on the grounds of parsimony alone, the conflict and bargaining model wins out, for the others carry the burden of proof that the consensus they assume actually exists. (Such an "assumption of consensus" is made throughout their writings by Hoy and Miskel and Getzels and Barnard.)

Getzels' chapter two, "The Development of Administrative Theory," gives the reader an uncritical smattering of theorists from Taylor through Barnard to Argyris. It is in this chapter that Getzels misinterprets a distinction by Barnard -- this misinterpretation is picked up in Hoy and Miskel. We will address that error below. Getzels doffs his hat to these inventors of theory and ends the chapter with a quick citation of a statement critical of Talcott Parsons and feigns non-partisanship by stating

This is not the place to attempt any judgment between those for whom Parsonian theory is a "decisive step" and those for whom it is a "costly joke." Whether the work would have advanced farther without the influence of Parsons, as the rabid "antis" contend, is an unanswerable question. (Getzels, et al. p. 50)

The reader of Getzels' book is not informed who is being quoted as to Parson's work being either a "decisive step" or a "costly joke". Furthermore, for "not attempting a judgment," Getzels lets the reader know which side he is on. Neither the criticisms of Parsons nor their rebuttals are presented or cited to enable readers to judge for themselves the merit of Getzels' position.

Functionism

We will use the word "functionism" to identify the assumption that one can say -- unproblematically -- such things as "A is a function of B" allowing A and B to range over any items of interest, i.e. teacher behavior, school structure, culture, etc. Functionism holds that such formulations can be at worst false. That is to say that functionism is a doctrine -- widely espoused if only occasionally articulated -- that it is always meaningful to claim functional relations among purported variables. All that is needed is research to show whether the claimed relationship holds. Getzels writes (81)

A given act is conceived as deriving simultaneously from the normative and personal dimensions, and performance in a social system as a function of the interaction between role and personality. That is to say, a social act may be understood as resulting from the individual's attempts to cope with an environment composed of patterns of expectations for his behavior in ways consistent with his own patterns of needs and dispositions. Thus we may write, by way of a shorthand notation, the general equation B = f(RxP), where B is the observed behavior, R is the given institutional role defined by the expectations attaching to it, and P is the personality of the particular role incumbent defined by his need-dispositions.

If B = f(RxP) is not mathematics, it is worse than useless: it precludes other possibilities of interaction, giving a sense of definiteness unwarranted by theoretical considerations. If B = f(RxP) is mathematics, then it begs the question of whether such variables as B and R and P can be defined consistently and usefully. Getzels (but apparently not Hoy and Miskel who copy it) intends this formula to be understood as mathematics of some sort:

There is a crucial difference between this formulation and the famous equation, to which this one is indebted, given by Lewin...: B = f(PxE), where P is personality and E is environment -- a difference that highlights the character of the framework we are describing. In Lewin's formula P and E are not independent, since one defines the other, environment being defined by the perception of the person. In the present formulation R and P are independent, because P is defined by internal processes within the role incumbent and R is defined by external standards set by others. (81)

Getzels critique of Lewin's variables is mistaken. The independence of supposed variables is not disestablished by considerations of the process which identifies their members, but by showing their definitional overlap. How does perception for Lewin relate to personality? Getzels does not address this; thus, his criticism is gratuitous.

Neither does Getzels establish the independence of his variables by citing disparate procedures for identifying their members. If internal processes and external expectations are not defined as different, the problem of the distinction between variables is not addressed.

Getzels insinuates here that external expectations can somehow be determined apart from what specific groups of people expect. A problem of consensus is finessed by an important reification: external standards are not formulated with respect to others' perceptions. Furthermore, P is not clearly defined in terms of either the incumbent's perceptions or the perceptions of others. The crucial question -- dodged incessantly by Getzels as well as Hoy and Miskel -- is, whose perceptions count in determining that the definitions of relevant variables have been met? Rather than address this question, consensus is assumed.

Let us return, however, to examine the mathematicity of the formula. Getzels continues

In Lewin's formula E represents a personal life space which cannot be specified apart from the personality of the particular perceiver. In our formula R, which is of course E defined in terms of role expectations, must be specified apart from the personality of the particular perceiver. The role expectations are the givens (like the physical arrangements, for example) in the situation prior to any idiosyncratic role perceptions or role behaviors of the actual role incumbents. (81)


It is ironic that Getzels warns earlier

A second concommitant of avoiding theory is the unwarranted respect for the authority of experts, principles and techniques....we must avoid substituting unquestioning reliance on the authoritative statements of experts for the critical enquiry engendered by the hypothetical statements of theory. (17)

Whose perceptions define role expectations? Whose, the personality of the perceiver? To postulate them to be anywhere near the "objectivity" of physical arrangements is to presume the answers to theoretically important issues. On what authority? Does critical enquiry support this? Getzels, having issued his admonitions, promptly forgets them.

The whole point about talking about functions is to insinuate definiteness and control. "A is a function of B" would be of little interest if we were not inclined to jump from the clearly warranted conclusion, "A and B correlate via the function f" to the more seductive and presumptuous "By manipulating B, we can control the values of A". "Function-talk" is often a more modish, apparently less vulnerable form of causal talk.

There are two concerns here: one about form; the other, about content. The standard mathematical form of a function of two variables is B = f(R,P), not B = f(RxP), especially if R and P interact, i.e. R and P are functionally related and are thus a subset of R x P.

RxP is called the Cartesian product of R and P. It is a special set of pairings, (r, p) formed from R and P such that each member of R is paired with each member of P, ,i.e.. R x P defines a zero-correlation between R and P. The interesting claim made by saying that B is a function of R x P is that for each pairing of (r, p) there is a most one associated b. (One would think such a claim, if it dealt with real-world phenomena, would require more than bald assertion to back it up.)

If an interaction between R and P is to be shown then additional equations are needed, e.g. R = g (P), and P = h (R). where g and h are other possible functions. This notational clarification is not mere esotericism. The Getzels-Guba model is constructed on a confused notion of function and arrows are used ambiguously to indicate both constitutive relationships as well as functional relationships among variables, i.e. definitional relations become confused with possible empirical ones. We will return to this below when we discuss vague diagrams.

The problem of content is this: not everything for which there exists a word, or for which a term can be defined yields a variable in the mathematical sense of the term "variable". A variable is a set of theoretically independently distinguishable items -- called the values of the variable. (That Getzels has in mind a mathematical notion of variable is indicated in the quote above in which he discusses the independent specifiability of R and P.) But most of our concepts in daily use do not specify variables. For example, human behavior as we normally understand it is not a mathematical variable because the set of English verbs do not refer to a corresponding set of independently identifiable items. (See Edward G. Rozycki, "Measurability and Educational Concerns" Educational Theory 24, pp.52 - 60 Winter 1974)

What researchers do to define variables is to "clean up" our everyday language categories at the expense of our normal understanding of the words. This is why problems encountered in our daily life, discussed in the richness of our daily language often fall short of solution despite competent research. (See Edward G. Rozycki, "The Functional Analysis of Behavior" Educational Theory 25, pp.278 - 302 (Summer 1975) It is a common experience that researchers operationalize goal statements, for example, only to meet objections that the operationalization "trivializes" what was meant. (See Jerry L Patterson and Theodore J. Czajkowski, "District Needs Assessment: One Avenue to Program Improvement" Phi Delta Kappan 58, 4, pp. 327 - 329. December 1976)

Parallelism

Functionism is a common fallacy; it is not Getzels' peculiar sin. What is his, however, is an assumption of parallelism between individual and social constructs. The Getzels-Guba model (Getzels, p.81 fig.4) shown below in figure 1., postulates interactions at parallel levels between individuals and institutions

Getzels (56) explains

For general analytic purposes, and more especially for the analysis of administrative processes, we may conceive of the social systems involving two classes of phenomena which are at once conceptually independent and phenomenally interactive: : (1) the institutions, with certain roles and expectations, that will fulfill the goals of the system; and (2) the individuals, with certain personalities and dispositions inhabiting the system, whose observed interactions comprise what we call social behavior. We shall assert that this behavior may be understood as a function of these major elements: institution, role, and expectation, ... and individual, personality and need-disposition. (my italics)

Getzels asserts that the two classes of phenomena are conceptually independent. What could warrant such an assertion? A theoretical decision not to count anything that belongs to one group as a member of the other. This is an easy armchair exercise. Getzels also asserts that these two classes of phenomena are phenomenally interactive. What could warrant such an assertion? Lots of careful research. This is lacking.

Getzels asserts that behavior, B, is a function of the interaction of role and personality. Standard linear graph representation of a functional representation is

(See Arthur Stinchcombe, Constructing Social Theories (New York: Harcourt, 1968) pp. 130 - 148) Thus we can show Getzels' equation in graphic form by graphing together the three equations,

B = f (P,R), P = g (R), and R = h (P)

of which -- let us allow -- it is an abbreviation. Our graph looks like this:

What is then perplexing is how we are to relate institution and expectation to role, and individual and need-disposition to personality. It is important to understand how strong the assertion of functional relation is. For example, "Behavior is a function of Personality" is to be understood as " Specific and unique behavior-types are determined by various, i.e. not necessarily unique, personality-types." The plausibility of such an assertion can be judged by considering a realistic example. Suppose someone named Harry says, "Shh!". If that saying "Shh!" is considered to be a behavior type, then it is determined by Harry's personality, presumably also typable. If B is a function of P and R and P is a function of R, then B is ultimately a function of R and P drops out, so to speak. (If B = f(R, P) and R = g (P), then B = f(g(P),P), e.g. B = h(P))

How does Getzels justify maintaining as separate variables, variables which are functions of each other? By virtue of the way -- he might say -- they are identified, e.g. P by internal processes of the role incumbent and R by the expectations of external observers. But he provides no such definitions.

The Getzels-Guba model says the following --if we interpret the arrows to be function graphs --

a. Behavior is a function of Need-disposition and Expectation, which are functions of each other;

b. Expectation is a function of Role which is a function of Institution which is a function of Social System;

c. Need-Disposition is a function of Personality which is a function of Individual which is a function of Social System;

d. Personality and Role are functions of each other;

e. Individual and Institution are functions of each other.

Three immediate points can be made:

1. Getzels may not intend to indicate functions with all his arrows;

2. This interpretation is not compatible with B = f(P x R);

3. That, correspondingly, Institution and Individual, Role and Personality, and Expectation and Need-Disposition are functions of each other (i.e. interact) is an empirical claim unsupported anywhere by Getzels.

But we encounter still more problems. If Getzels -- albeit by fiat rather than evidence -- wishes to assert the functional relations mentioned in 3. immediately above, the arrows in his "model" must be function arrows, in which case, for example, Role is a function of Institution (or Personality, a function of Individual). Now, it makes sense to say things like, "Role is a function of Institution" if what we mean is that specific roles are determined by the institution one selects, e.g. you pick an institution and you thereby determine a unique role. It makes sense, only it is generally false, because for a given institution a set of roles may be specified. If so, Role is not a function of Institution alone, but requires some other variable to determine its particular unique value.

Getzels (59), however, characterizes "Role" as "the most important analytic unit of the institution." Previously, he had written that institutions were one class of phenomena and individuals, another, which together, comprise -- in some manner -- the social system. Institutions exist. "with certain roles and expectation" (59) and individuals exist "with certain personalities and dispositions"(59). Their observed interactions comprise what we call social behavior. It is mysterious how these "analytic units" are supposed to relate to variables or as variables in functional relation.

Getzels appears to conceive Institution, I, and Individual, i, to be the variables and (Social). Behavior, B, to be their resultant, i.e.

B = f (I, i)

This is science manque: a semblance of clarity that covers over ambiguity and ill definition. Is the formula testable? Perhaps, if we knew what constituted types of institution and types of individual. Otherwise, the plausibility of the formula is depends on the obvious platitude that how a person behaves will depend upon the kind of person she is and the circumstances in which she finds herself.

The important criticism of the Getzels-Guba model is that it unwarrantedly asserts an interactive parallelism between Institution and Individual, Role and. Personality, and Expectation and Need-Disposition. The only parallel to be found is that the "nomothetic" dimension has three items associated with it, as does the "idiographic. If we could be clear as to which of these were to be taken as variables, we might still wonder what evidence precludes any two of them, or any group of them from interacting. Why not a model that looks like figure 2?

One might well wonder how such diagrams as the Getzels-Guba model and the many others that one encounters in the literature of educational administration are supposed to inform and enlighten. Considering their vagueness and ambiguity it would seem that a careful researcher might eschew what has become a tradition in the field. But that may be to misunderstand how such diagrams function. They may be the tokens of initiation into a discipline whose manifestations are as importantly ritual as they are haphazardly causal.

Barnard's Legacy: the Organization as Super-Being

Hoy and Miskel repeat Getzels misunderstanding of Chester I. Barnard's definitions of "efficient" and "effective." Barnard himself, as we will see below, contributes little but confusion by taking a perfectly clear distinction and muddling it.

"An action", write Hoy and Miskel, "is effective if it accomplishes its specific objective and efficient if it satisfies the motives underlying the immediate objective."(1982,67: 1991, 47) Getzels writes of Barnard that he "... make(s) a significant distinction between the concepts of effectiveness and efficiency. The former refers to the accomplishment of cooperative purpose... the latter to the satisfaction of individual motives."(41)

One wonders about the practicality of muddling a distinction between effectiveness, generally taken to be a judgment about whether results occur, and efficiency, which is a cost measure on effectiveness. In common parlance, as well in many engineering uses, individuals as well as groups can be effective or not, and if effective, efficient or not. Such a judgment need not rest upon the motives of the individuals in the group.

Barnard, speaking "only as respects personal action", says that if a specific desired end is attained, an action is "effective". He implicitly appeals to a notion of cost in defining efficiency:


When the unsought consequences of the action are more important than the attainment of the desired end and are dissatisfactory, effective action we shall say is "inefficient". (19)

When the purpose of a system of cooperation is attained, that cooperation, says Barnard, is also "efficient". But if an individual finds a cooperative system inefficient, i.e. not satisfying his motives -- one may take this to mean "his judgment of cost" -- then that cooperative system is inefficient.

The total motivation of a cooperative system ... hence the efficiency of a cooperative effort is dependent upon the efficiency of the marginal contribution, or is determined by the marginal contributor. This means that the only measure of the efficiency of a cooperative system is its capacity to survive. (44)

(The marginal contributor is most likely to leave the organization thus his judgment of efficiency must be lowest. The organization survives to the extent that marginal contributors remain. But what about coercion? Would an organization that survived -- whatever that means -- by coercing large numbers of marginal contributors to remain still be efficient as measured by the efficiency of any marginal contributor?)

Clearly, Getzels has oversimply stated Barnard's distinction. Furthermore, Barnard's distinction would fail to explain the useful distinction one might make between low-efficiency and high-efficiency home appliances. Certainly, this can be done with no reference to any particular individual's motives.

The real function of this distinction can be gotten at by considering that Barnard takes survival to be an indicator -- indeed, the sole indicator -- of the efficiency of a cooperative system. Thus, he can argue that from knowing that a cooperative system has survived one knows that the unsought consequences of attaining the purposes of the system are unimportant or trivial to the individuals participating in it. Barnard (43) insists that the purpose of a cooperative system cannot possibly be that of an individual. (i.e. dictatorships are illusory?) He packs his definitions so that he may reach certain conclusions by apparently logical argument. Thus, to press the argument, we can deduce, from institutional survival, the fact that individuals participating suffer only trivial costs, e.g. the maimed of a surviving army find their disabilities inconsequential.

We see here the reification of group goals despite an apparent concession to the role of individual motive. Barnard is clearly not a theorist of conflict and bargaining: cooperative groups have purposes above and different from those who participate in them; and the mere fact of group survival attests to the triviality of the costs of participation.

The system is reified for the purported purpose of becoming a possible object of science; a science which would enhance the attainment of systemic goals. Thus Getzels,

Clearly, the business or educational administrator('s) ... dominance is based on superior knowledge and technical competence in a particular element in the division of labor. The administrator's claim to obedience ... finds its root in rationality. He has the technical training ... required for attaining the goals of the system. ... If (his) claim to obedience ... is not grounded in rational considerations, then it can be grounded in little else. ... Neither the administrator nor the administered may readily relinquish his professional prerogative to recognition in his own field without serious loss of face and prestige. (135)


The crucial connection Getzels makes is from science to obedience to administration.. Both Getzels and Barnard push to the insinuation that to reject the reification of the system is to reject science. This is a clever ideological stratagem, but it is a false proposition. Indeed, there is a persistent identification in administrative literature of the organizations and systems of our everyday experience as examples of the concept of system as presented in theory. That is, the assumption is made that what we call a "system" in our practical affairs would meet the definitional requirements of systems theory. This is a big assumption, probably generally false, and it any case seldom demonstrated to be even plausible.

A system is a set of interrelated variables (See Ludwig von Bertallanfy, General System Theory New York: Braziller, 1968 pp.54 - 79.) Organizations as we know them in everyday life are not. One sees here the ideological value of Functionism: assumptions are made about the feasibility of cooking down organizational processes into mathematical form, so that system theory may be invoked to justify decisions and so that those who have a speaking acquaintance with it may have a "claim to obedience." Systems theory is not used by administrators for understanding, but to reinforce their authority: it is valued not for its substance, but for its symbolic value.

(Pfeffer (47) worries that the comparative empirical study of the symbolic aspects of the management process might "call into question ideologies which are held with almost religious fervor and which legitimate the very position of management scholars." But there is not a little bizarre in a scholar's worry that knowledge would delegitimize its own pursuit. Certainly, such a worry seems to indicate that management scholarship lacks internal standards of legitimation and looks instead to external ideologies to support it.)

Conceptual Ambiguities in "System" and "Function"

Besides insinuating that systems analysis as a mathematical discipline is generally applicable to those organizations we encounter in our everyday experience, Barnard, Getzels and Hoy and Miskel champion a more serious confusion. They conflate how a system functions with how it ought to function. More precisely, the treat as equivalent how a mathematical system of variables functions with how a "real-life" system ought to function. Note Getzels' talk about attaining "the goals of the system". This is ambiguity piled upon ambiguity. Systems may have functions, but talk of "goals" is definite anthropomorphism. Any system produces a variety of effects and focussing on a few of these as goals is not possible on scientific grounds alone.

It is important to lay out clearly the variety of meanings that the ideological use of system theory muddles. We will subscript like terms to indicate their systems theoretic use (s) as opposed to their common use (c). The distinctions that must be observed are:

a. systems -- a set of interacting variables (See Von Bertalanffy, p.56 A set of variables is in systemic relation to the degree that their first derivatives with respect to time are functions of all the members of the set.)

b. systemc -- a group of items related in various ways, e.g. law, economic transaction, exchange of messages, rules and regulations, etc..

c. functions1 -- a special set-theoretic relationship (Rozycki, 1975)

d. functions2 --. an equilibrium value in a variable (See Stinchcombe, 80 - 82 and von Bertalanffy, 131 - 134)

e. functionc -- use or goal served.

A host of plausible yet highly ambiguous statements can be made that play on variations in the meanings of these terms. For example one might say "The function of the school system is to educate children." What this is generally used to mean is

a. The functionc of the school systemc is to educate children; or

b. The functionc of the school systemc should be to educate children.

Whether it makes sense to substitute any of the other meanings of the terms "function" and "system" is a point to be investigated. It is not clear, however, what the import might be of

c. The functions2 of the school systems should be to educate children.

Even more problematic would be a statement

d. Administrators should endeavor to achieve the functions2 of the school systems.

To begin, it is doubtful whether something like a school systems exists, considering the literature on "loose coupling," specifically, or institutionalization, in general. There are no doubt school systemsc but they are not school systemss. Secondly, it is not clear how one would prescribe functionss2 for a systems, because such functionss2 are in a sense characteristics of the systems. To bring about different functionss2 -- were it possible --would be to change the systems significantly.

(See, for specific example, Karl Weick," Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems." Administrative Science Quarterly 23. (December 1978) pp.541 - 52. For a recent general overview, see Walter W. Powell and Paul J. DiMaggio (eds.) The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis .Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1991)

The administrator's claim to obedience, according to Getzels (135), derives from the fact that "he has the technical training required.. for attaining the goals of the system." But "the goals of the system" is a highly ambiguous phrase. If we specify its several meanings, we might get a different perspective on the technical skills of administrators and what claims to obedience they warrant.

"The goals of the system" might mean any of the following:

a. the functionsc of the systemc;

b. the functionsc of the systems

c. the functionss of the systemc, or

d. the functionss of the systems.

Now, if we use the common, everyday meanings of "function" and "system" as in example a the functionsc of the systemc, then knowing things of the sort Barnard and Getzels and Hoy and Miskel offer does not provide special skills which warrant any claims to obedience. In fact, administrators do come to know much about organizations through experience: what we might call the "culture" of the school. This is important knowledge but is nowhere treated by our authors. Perhaps they ignore it because it is both technically less fearsome and politically more controversial than the mathematical potpourri they offer.

Example b. the functionsc of the systems is a pointless anthropomorphism. Systemss are sets of variables; they have no functionsc, i.e. goals or uses. ...This is an ambiguity which authors such as Getzels play on to make their case.

Example c. the functions of the systemc is a misapplication of technical criteria to informal items, e.g. systems defined by legal criteria may not be analyzable into interrelating variables. This is a kind of rhetoric that relies on Functionism to maintain its plausibility.

Example d. the functions of the systems makes technical sense but is in reality seldom investigated. No doubt the ambiguity of the general formulation either discourages research or supports the illusion it is unnecessary.

Related article: What is a system?

Symbolic Behavior and Authority

Pfeffer has suggested that persistent management behavior that is ineffective in pursuing stated organizational goals is best understood as "symbolic" behavior. Such behavior, he theorizes, is a major part of management yet he fears its effectiveness rest importantly upon its covertness. The understanding a scholar seeks may work to undermine management effectiveness. Thus, research into symbolic behavior may threaten the very scholarship that pursues it. Given the academic and industrial structures that support such research, there may be some economic wisdom behind this worry.

There is another way to look at this. So-called "symbolic" behavior may be behavior whose main purpose is to reinforce the power relationships within an organization. It is ineffective to pursuing purported organizational goals because its point is to maintain structures of authority. The boss can waste everyone's valuable time with useless or redundant speechifying because he is boss. So-called "symbolic" behavior provides the occasion for reinforcing customs of deference within groups. Customs of deference are the first line of defense for the authority structure of the group and the relations of power within it. Pfeffer's theory of "symbolic" behavior may be little more than an apologetic for the status quo.

The real point of the ideological bias found in the authors discussed may be not to promote a profession, but rather to preserve a particular organizational model, i.e. the school as a Nineteenth-Century industrial plant. Perhaps educational administrators under such a model have to demand obedience and employ whatever scientistic rhetoric hoodwinks their subordinates into according it to them. On the other hand, it is more than clear that schools are neither Victorian industrial plants, nor do they function well as a result of being made to mimic such.

Getzels moves too easily from authority to obedience. A strongly collegial model of schooling need not require obedience to preserve authority. Such authority derives mainly from those traditions that define knowledge in a discipline. Clearly, Getzels' claim that authority in educational administration derives solely from knowledge overlooks a blatant fact: that in the industrial model that most schools mimic, authority derives almost exclusively from power. This power is often specified by the rules that constitute the bureaucracy of the schools, in its "roles", etc. Few people are naive enough to believe that mere knowledge has much effect, if any, in bringing about redefinition of organizational roles.

Perhaps developing educational professions will undermine present divisions of labor based on the outmoded model surreptitiously supported by Getzels and company. Certainly, neither intellectual clarity nor educational efficiency recommends their position.

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