1. Introduction The concept of accountability, with regards to higher education, is one that has myriad different meanings. Traditional ways of accountability include accreditation reviews and actuarial data, that shows the percentage of students graduating, etc…
Because the legislators are mandating these measures, and, as such, has the means for enforcing the measure, this would be considered to be legal accountability. This is in contrast to constitutional accountability, which means that the higher education institutions are not only accountable to the legislature and courts but also to myriad stakeholders who enforce accountability. The constitutionally accountable higher education institutions tend to have more autonomy from state legislatures than the legally accountable institutions. This paper will focus mainly on the legal aspects of accountability, and how this impacts higher education. 2. What is accountability? To understand how accountability occurs, in general, in a higher education setting, first the standard definition must be examined. According to Burke (2005), accountability is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions” (Burke, 2005, p. 2). Burke also said that the term accountability places six different demands on the higher education institution. The first demand is that the institution can show that their powers were properly used. The second demand is that the institution can show that it is working to achieve the priorities that are set by the organization. The third demand involves transparency, in that the institution must report on its performance. The fourth demand involves efficiency and effectiveness, in that the organization must demonstrate that they can account for the resources that they use and the outcomes that they create. Fifth, the university must account for the quality of the programs and services that it produces. Sixth, and last, the university must demonstrate that it caters to the public needs (Burke, 2005, p. 2). So, generally, a university is held accountable by being transparent with its mission, goals and effectiveness, and must answer to a variety of stakeholders, including the public and the student body. Similarly, Leveille (2005) states that accountability has three prongs. The first is performance. This simply means results, with absolute performance as a benchmark for accountability. The second is transparency. For Leveille, this means that the public is made aware of the university and college performances, and the way that these institutions do business is similarly subject to public scrutiny. This enables key stakeholders to ascertain how well a certain institution of higher education is doing, and how their business is conducted. The third prong of accountability, according to Leveille, is culture of evidence. This simply means that the higher education institutions consider routine evidence at all levels when contemplating and planning action. Thus, the culture of evidence prong is satisfied when an university uses its accountability practices to learn about itself, its strengths and weaknesses, and uses this knowledge to improve itself and its operations, taking its mission and stakeholder values into account (Leveille, 2005, pp. 9-10). 3. The concept of legal accountability Mortimer (1972) states that there should be a delineation between legal accountability and constitutional accountability. Legal accountability means that accountability is enforced through legal means – the courts and disciplinary control of departments. On the other hand, constitutional accountability means that universities and colleges are not necessarily only beholden ...
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