This is a fundamentally unserious book that avoids major issues driving up the cost of higher education. You will look in vain for any sustained discussion of athletics programs and their massive deficits; bloated administrations that continue to bloat even more; increased numbers of non-academic staff; borrow-and-spend binges to create luxury dorms, expensive student unions, 5-star fitness centers, elaborate landscaping rivaling the gardens of Versailles, frequently remodeled and plush administrative offices, etc.; staggering tuition discounts, especially at private institutions; and, of course, the use of expensive consultants, of which Dickeson is certainly one, rather than hiring competent administrators who actually know how to perform their jobs from the outset. Some of these issues are mentioned in a perfunctory manner, concealing what major problems they have become. The pretense here throughout is that higher education's problems are primarily the fault of those pointy-headed proffies.
The process Dickeson prescribes is a one-size-fits-all program in which academic programs are slotted into five categories, essentially winners to losers, with the losers slated for elimination or consolidation. The numbers going into each category are supposed to be approximately equal, so that, even if only 5% of the programs are really problematic, another 15% must be tossed into the lowest category, regardless of their real situation. Other than Dickeson's astoundingly crude categories, obviously cribbed from the so-called "vitality curves" or "rank-and-yank" practices of some large corporations, there is really nothing original or striking here: universities can and should be constantly evaluating their programs, trimming those which no longer attract students and have no likely prospect of doing so in the future, creating new programs, etc. This is the kind of process a senior university administrator should know how to lead without having his or her hand held by an extremely expensive consulting firm. At the end of the day, Dickeson short-circuits his entire tough-guy schtick by saying that only the governing boards should have authority to close programs (p. 103), which is the situation nearly everywhere at present. This continues to allow trustees or regents, many of whom have very particular interests indeed, to swoop in and rescue their beloved programs--of which, by the way, athletics is often the focus--regardless of data concerning cost, reasonable future prospects, or the results of the actual prioritization study. If Dickeson were serious, which he most certainly is not, he would have provided an extended discussion of how many of the most non-viable programs remain in existence precisely because they are supported by senior administrators and trustees against all reason. He knows perfectly well who writes the big checks to his firm, after all. In my many years in higher education, I have yet to see a faculty line advertised without the authorization of a senior administrator, typically the president of an institution, a paycheck bearing the signature of one of those rank-and-file pointy-heads, or a new program created without the approval of the board.
The intention of mechanically slotting 40% of an institution's programs into "eliminate/consolidate" or "reduce support" categories is simply to scatter the attention of faculty and students between so many threatened programs that effective resistance becomes impossible. Departments with perfectly healthy programs by any reasonable standard are compelled to spend time defending themselves and their students' educations rather than responding to unreasonable threats to other programs. The more or less inevitable consequence of Dickeson's approach is a "bunkered" institution, in which other departments are seen not as potential partners, but outright adversaries.
Dickeson, like many consultants and administrators, is fond of evaluating outcomes, as opposed to inputs. Surprisingly, however, he offers absolutely no empirical evidence that his approach has measurably improved actual academic outcomes anywhere. One would think that by now, Dickeson, who has been flogging his approach for a long time, would be able to point to dozens of studies establishing a direct link between his prioritization process and positive gains in measurable student learning outcomes. Of course, he cannot.
After his presidency ended at Northern Colorado, during which time his unjustified firing of many faculty landed that institution on the AAUP's "Censured Institutions" list, Dickeson did not obtain further employment as a university president. Despite his flackery about his experience, the reality is that he has not held a line management position in an institution of higher education for over 20 years. He has spent the rest of his career attacking university faculty as lazy, disinterested in the viability of their institutions, and wholly resistant to change. His caricatures of faculty members bear as much resemblance to reality as some faculty members' opinions about administrators, who of course come in competent, so-so, and incompetent flavors. Readers should understand that this book is essentially an advertisement for his expensive consulting firm's services. It is written to appeal to politicians, board members, and in-over-their-heads administrators, using the very short sections and numbered/bulleted lists that are typical of this genre of management manual.