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Journal cover: International Journal of Educational Management

International Journal of Educational Management

ISSN: 0951-354X

Online from: 1987

Subject Area: Education

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The Academic Organization's Definition and Assumptions: A Basis for Developing Reasonable Access to Discipline Actions

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DOI (Permanent URL): 10.1108/09513549410069149

Article citation: R. Eugene Hughes, Joseph M. Tomkiewicz, (1994) "The Academic Organization's Definition and Assumptions: A Basis for Developing Reasonable Access to Discipline Actions", International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 8 Iss: 6, pp.4 - 8




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A Basis for Developing Reasonable Access to Discipline Actions

The Authors

R. Eugene Hughes, Professor in the Department of Management, School of Business, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.

Joseph M. Tomkiewicz, Professor in the Department of Management, School of Business, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.


Efforts to apply discipline in an academic organization are difficult at best, and seemingly impossible in situations where the impetus for a discipline response is unnacceptable performance. It is often postulated that tenure represents a significant barrier to the application of discipline in an academic organization. Reasonable access to discipline actions cannot, however, be viewed as an independent aspect of the academic organization. Rather, such access must be viewed as one of the many interactive attributes that, in total, serve to define the organization. Justifiable access to discipline actions can be expected only as the academic organization begins to meld these many and often disparate attributes into a cohesive statement of the organization′s definition and role. Identifies underlying assumptions necessary for the development of such strategies.

Article Type:

Conceptual Paper


Attitudes; Discipline; Individual behaviour; Models; Performance; Policy; Universities.


International Journal of Educational Management









Copyright ©





Reasonable and well-intended efforts to discuss discipline are often distorted by the argument that discipline is punishment and punishment is discipline. It must be admitted that many writers, even in the recent past, have addressed this topic by developing discussions based on placing punishment juxtaposed to rewards (e.g. Podsakoff[1]). In contrast, the recent literature[2,3] represents discipline as a useful and positive tool in the behavioural modification process.

The results of a number of studies directed at the application of discipline support its positive value in behaviour modification. In fact, the authors of one study[4] indicate that the effective management of subordinates′ attitudes requires the leader to exhibit, in a suitable balance, both reward and discipline behaviour. Expanding even further the traditional view of discipline, it has been suggested that a leader′s failure to apply appropriate and deserved discipline may be considered to be a reward by the involved person but can be assessed by the non-involved members of the group as punishment directed at them[5].

It seems reasonable to conclude from the recent literature that the application of discipline is not necessarily burdened with the negative consequences historically thought to accompany its application[6] and may, realistically, represent a requisite dimension of leader behaviour[4,5]. Accepting that punishment of any type in a learning environment might be considered as antithetical concepts, the constructive attributes ascribed to discipline by the recent literature suggest a positive basis for an assessment of the discipline process in academic organizations.

Tenure and Discipline

Discipline and the discipline process in academic organizations are, with one recognized exception, not greatly different from those found in other organizations. While the one exception is limited to faculty described as tenured or on the tenure-track, these faculty and positions are central to the mission of academic organizations. The present discussion of discipline will, therefore, focus on tenure and tenure-track positions because of the critical nature of the positions and the rather unique personnel policies that govern the administration and management of individuals in those positions.

The unique nature of tenure-based personnel policies is thought by some to be so restrictive that the application of discipline may be frustrated. Obviously, such policies do not prohibit the application of discipline; however, systemic characteristics (e.g. contracts, due process, grievance process, etc.) do represent possible barriers in the discipline process[7]. The general acceptance and strong adherence of academic organizations to these system characteristics may lead some to conclude that the system does, in fact, prohibit the application of discipline.

The present article will not offer a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the tenure system. It is apparent, however, that among faculty, tenure is considered to be a necessary, and probably an inviolate, attribute of a career in academe. Accepting this position as an indication of rational and intransigent resistance to changes in the tenure process, any discussion of discipline in the academic organization must recognize that tenure cannot, and probably should not, be eliminated. The goal of the present article is, therefore, a discussion of discipline in the academic organization with the explicit recognition of tenure.

It is also recognized in the following discussion that faculty who are on the tenure-track have the full protection provided by tenure. The one exception to the protection of tenure for tenure-track faculty is that they are reviewed, generally on an annual basis, for the purpose of retention. Tenure-track faculty can, therefore, be terminated, with appropriate notice, on the basis of the review for retention and, of course, based on the review for awarding tenure.

Barriers to Discipline Actions

A lengthy discussion will not be developed here to describe the wide range of possible discipline actions that may be available to the academic organization and the barriers to access that are represented by a variety of organizational procedures and processes. Rather, and because of the availability of such a discussion[7], only a brief summary of theses relations will be presented here.

The authors[7] note, in a non-exhaustive listing, 12 specific discipline actions[8] to illustrate the range of viable responses to unsatisfactory performance. These 12 discipline actions range from “take no action” to “terminate”, with intermediated discipline actions that can be categorized as detailed in Table I.

It must be recognized that while these and other discipline actions may be available to the academic organization, access to the actions may be restricted or, even, prohibited. These prohibitions and restrictions reflect practicality, contractual obligations and faculty participation in the governance of the institution.

Do nothing has few, if any, easily and immediately observable barriers. The greatest barrier is the possible long-term negative outcomes that can influence the efficiency and effectiveness of the academic organization.

Observe/encourage activities can be limited by the extent to which shared governance allows such observation actions. Even encouragement actions may be constrained if there is reason to believe such actions might be used as the basis for an appeal following some future negative personnel action such as non-renewal of the faculty member′s employment contract, the denial of promotion or the refusal to grant tenure.

Instruct/training actions may not be reasonable responses because the institution, for any number of reasons, cannot or will not budget for faculty development. Even with a budget allocation, the duties of the faculty-in-training must be met by the remaining faculty or a temporary hire. Both responses create such practical problems as scheduling and educational consistency.

Reprimand/decrease pay, as disciplinary actions, must be considered as extremely difficult, if not impossible, to impose because, whether written or verbal, such reprimands must adhere to due process requirements. In some institutions, due process requirements and procedures (e.g. internal hearings at several organizational levels and the associated appeals of hearing outcomes) are so cumbersome and time-intense that anticipated behavioural change cannot be expected.

Faculty are customarily employed on the basis of a binding employment contract for one or more years. One specification included in the contract is the annual pay for the contract period; thus, a decreasing pay action may be prohibited by contract law. Since there are generally no provisions in such contracts for reducing the faculty member′s pay, changes in pay would require both parties to agree to the change. Otherwise, unilateral changes in the contract will be governed by contract law.

Termination, as a final discipline action, is governed by such factors as contract provisions (e.g. the employment period is specified), terms of notice requirements (i.e. after a set number of years, the faculty is generally provided a minimum termination notice of one year) and due process requirements as noted above. It must also be recognized that some termination efforts may eventually become legal questions, which represent significant potential barriers to the use of this discipline action.

The difficulties or barriers discussed above are generally well known. In some academic organizations these barriers may be so significant that they intimidate potential users. The result, unfortunately, can be the selection of a discipline action based, not on the appropriateness of the discipline action in response to unacceptable performance behaviour, but rather the discipline action that represents the fewest or smallest barriers to implementation.

Academic organizations searching for the discipline action with few or no barriers may identify “take no action” as the most appropriate response to unsatisfactory performance by tenured faculty. Recognizing the possible negative outcomes associated with this response, these same academic organizations may decide that “termination”, during the annual review for contract renewal, is an appropriate response for questionable performance by tenure-track faculty. This decision is likely to be accompanied by arbitrary increases in the performance necessary for retention and the awarding of tenure. In addition, even minor deviations early in the probationary period may result in non-renewal of the faculty′s contract.

The Academic Organization′s Strategic Model

The academic organization′s strategic model encompasses those sub-strategies and plans necessary to define or attain the organization′s identity or role in its competitive environment. In general, it can be assumed that organizational plans specify or, in general, describe the necessary actions or behaviours of organizational members required to fulfil the organization′s identified role.

Underlying the strategic model are the many attributes that an academic organization may reasonably expect to be useful in defining itself. A list of such attributes can include everything from academic programmes to faculty competence and from food service to tuition. The question of which attributes, among all those possible, are to be included in the strategic model is of critical importance to the definition of the academic organization. Equally important, however, is the necessity that the strategic model exhibits a high level of internal consistency. The requisite level of internal consistency is attained through the consistency of the relations among the included attributes.

A primary goal of internal consistency is the avoidance of mixed or ambiguous perceptions of the academic organization by its members or other identifiable constituency. For instance, an academic organization′s stated purpose of providing a very high-quality educational opportunity coupled with a selective admissions programme conveys a very clear message to both members of the organization (e.g. faculty, staff, students) and outside constituencies (e.g. parents, student and faculty applicants, employers).

The complexity and interactive nature of an academic organization′s strategic model and the need for internal consistency of the model preclude modification of any one attribute without considering the effects of the change on other included attributes. It would be unreasonable to assume, therefore, that attributes in the strategic model thought directly to affect the academic organization′s access to discipline actions could be changed without also considering the effects of the anticipated change on other attributes in the strategic model. Nor should such changes be attempted without the identification of attributes that must be changed to enhance, through barrier removal or change facilitation, the possibilities of success of the intended change in the strategic model.

Assumptions, Attitudes and Values that Support the Strategic Model

The interactive nature of the separate attributes included in the strategic model represents a recognizable and understandable obstacle to change. Less obvious, however, is the substantial change obstacle represented by the assumptions, attitudes and values (assumptions will be used in the remainder of this article to represent assumptions, attitudes and values) of those individuals and groups affected directly by the intended change. It must also be recognized that other constituents (e.g. members of the academy, supporters of the institution, law makers) can be affected or have an interest in the planned change. While not discussed here, it is to be expected that these individuals and groups may also attempt to affect the change effort.

It must also be recognized that the existing strategic model is supported by these collective assumptions. In fact, it might be accepted that these assumptions are implicitly, if not explicity, included in the strategic model. An example of this inclusion is that set of assumptions which allows the academic organization to mandate codes of conduct for students, staff and faculty.

A successful change effort must, therefore, explicity include change efforts directed at the relevant assumptions. It is reasonable to suggest that an examination of the assumptions necessary to support the planned change is an appropriate first step in the change process. The following discussion will, therefore, focus on organizational assumptions that must be considered before change efforts are directed at gaining reasonable access to discipline actions by changing the academic organization′s strategic model.

A number of assumptions might be identified as the basis for discipline plans. It is suggested here, however, that two major, and possibly central, assumptions underlying discipline plans in academic organizations can be labelled as responsibility and accommodation. While these labels convey some information, both assumptions are complex in that each represents the outcome of internal deliberations regarding the organization′s expectations of itself and of its faculty. These expectations also encompass consideration of the organization′s responsibility to its students and other constituencies.

Responsibility refers to the degree to which the individual faculty or the academic organization is held accountable for building or maintaining faculty competence. This consideration of responsibility explicity recognizes that unacceptable performance by faculty may be associated with the faculty members′ efforts and opportunities to: remain current in their field; renew or enhance existing skills in their field; or build competence in a new field.

Academic institutions may well define their responsibilities based on their mission, but it must be recognized that units within the institution may have different missions. That is, an academic unit with a primary teaching mission may simply assume and expect that faculty are responsible for remaining current in their field. It is not uncommon for such academic units to extend this assumption by offering few, if any, true opportunities for faculty development.

Other units within the same institution may have a primary research mission and, as a consequence, assume some responsibility for providing opportunities for faculty development. Certainly, these opportunities can exhibit a wide range of possibilities (e.g. paid sabbatical to specialized in-house training), again depending on the organization′s philosophies.

Accommodation, the second dimension, refers to the flexibility the academic unit thinks it must exhibit to “maintain-in-good-standing” faculty who have not remained current in their field. To “maintain-in-good-standing” requires that the faculty′s intra-unit professional status not be compromised and that, within reasonable boundaries, the faculty′s work be perceived as of value both by members of the academic unit and other responsible members of the academic organization.

To “maintain-in-good-standing” does not require that faculty retain their historical instructional duties. Rather, instructional duties might be modified in order to take advantage of a faculty member′s unique or specific skill. Transfers of faculty to other instructional units or dual appointments also represent appropriate utilization of a faculty member′s unique or specific skills.

Organizational flexibility in the use of available faculty skills must be considered a major component of the accommodation dimension. Such flexibility does not, however, extend to the curriculum. That is, based on the assumption of an academically responsible curriculum, an instructional unit′s curriculum must not be changed to fit the skills of the faculty.

Responsibility and accommodation, viewed only as they relate to the academic organization′s relationship with its faculty, allow the dimensions to be represented by the 2 x 2 matrix shown in Figure 1. The matrix can serve as a fundamental guide to academic organizations as they evaluate their existing discipline plans. Also, it can serve to help organizations identify basic assumptions that must be changed if the organization wishes to remove barriers to discipline actions.

The arrow connecting cells 1 and 4 indicates a normative position that an academic organization might assume in evaluating its current or future discipline strategies. The arrow is also meant to indicate that all connections between the four cells are by a continuum; thus, the cells should not be interpreted as discrete classifications.

An academic organization might well assume that if it accepts high responsibility by providing appropriate resources and opportunities for faculty performance, development and growth, it should be expected to make few or no accommodations (low accommodations) for faculty who exhibit unsatisfactory performance. Assuming an objective performance evaluation process, it would seem reasonable that such academic organizations should not be intimidated either in their access to or use of non-training-based discipline actions. It should also be noted that while continued unsatisfactory performance may not result in termination, the conditions associated with retention would not be expected to meet the accommodation criteria.

A second normative position can be described for academic organizations that exhibit or provide few, if any, of the high responsibility characteristics discussed above (e.g. resources and opportunities for faculty development and growth, etc.). The low responsibility decision carries with it requisite high accommodation, indicating that skills-based unsatisfactory performance might be observed, which would require the organization to respond with training-based discipline. Further, it can be expected that such academic organizations would, only with great reluctance, attempt to implement the more severe discipline actions. It can be expected, therefore, that continued unsatisfactory performance will not result in termination and the conditions of retention would conform to the accommodation criteria.

The relation between responsibility and accommodation reflected in both cells 2 and 3 may, from the normative view discussed above, be considered as somewhat illogical. This may be especially true considering the high responsibility/high accommodation observed in cell 2. Such a position suggests that appropriate opportunities for faculty development, growth and performance have been provided. When faced with continued unsatisfactory performance, however, the organization avoids the more severe discipline actions with a focus on internal modifications to best utilize faculty.

The relations shown in cell 3 also seem to represent an illogical relation based on the above normative relation. This academic organization not only provides few or none of the attributes associated with organizational responsibility, the situation is then compounded by the organization′s lack of accommodation in the face of expected or anticipated unsatisfactory performance. It is not unreasonable to expect that these organizations will attempt to access the more severe discipline actions and to encourage, through informal means, voluntary termination.

Summary and Conclusions

It is proposed here that an academic organization′s access to discipline actions is determined by that organization′s efforts to define its position in its competitive environment. Since an academic organization′s primary competitive tool is its faculty, a significant part of the academic organization′s competitive ability will be determined by its assumptions regarding its relations with its faculty.

Consideration of the organization/faculty relation is defined for the purposes of the present article in terms of responsibility and accommodation. A normative model was presented that suggests a negative relation between responsibility and accommodation. Based on the academic organization′s position in the 2 x 2 matrix, an organization can begin to establish defensible access to all or a defined range of discipline actions.

It is posited here, therefore, that access to discipline actions is determined by the defined and accepted responsibility of the academic organization to the faculty.

The possible range of responsibility defines the academic organization′s requisite accommodation to faculty who exhibit skill-based unsatisfactory performance. An agreement as to both dimensions will help define, to a great degree, the extent to which discipline actions will and should be available to the academic organization.

It can be concluded that an academic organization′s access to discipline actions is not automatic. Rather, it is the result of strategic definition and the development of plans regarding responsibility and accommodation that justify the academic organization accessing discipline actions.

Image. Categorization of Discipline Actions
Table I. Categorization of Discipline Actions

Image. Proposed Relation between Organizational Responsibility and
Figure 1. Proposed Relation between Organizational Responsibility and Accommodation


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