This is a strange book that should be five stars, given the distinguished authors, topic and promise to offer recommendations for radical innovation at the DNA level of universities. It doesn't deliver on any of these promises. It's bewilderingly weak and in many areas misleading. I've struggled to come up with strong points in order to give it a fair review and not to let my own views and experiences get in the way of trying to help you decide if this is a book for you. The three stars is largely to acknowledge that there is nothing "bad" about it and it's a responsible effort.
The major strength of the book is the track record and credibility of the authors. Christiansen's concept of disruptive innovation is well-regarded and influential in business circles and he has a stellar reputation as a teacher. As the foreword makes clear, the finished book itself is mainly the product of Henry Eyring, who worked with Kim Clark at Brigham Young; Clark is the well-respected former Dean from the Harvard Business School, where Christiansen has spent his academic career. Christiansen suffered a severe stroke that meant that his contribution to the book was constrained but his name is the primary attraction for readers. It was exactly that for me and much of my disappointment and frustration is that so little of the verve and crystalline clarity of his Creative Disruption comes through; his sad illness accounts for much of that.
The other strength is the shared experience and leadership of Kim Clark who took on the challenge of the presidency of Brigham Young and Feyring's helping turn around BYU-Idaho's low-ranked and ever lower business school as a moral mission experience and commitment as a leader. Both he, Clark and Christiansen are devout Mormons and everything I know of them is of three truly first-rate people. Together, the book draws on the intellectual power of Christiansen, the academic leadership experience of Clark and management/academic track record of Eyring. This gives the book credibility and reflects a true commitment to the essence of education.
That may be enough to attract you as a reader. It is definitely a worthy piece of work. It's cumbersomely structured and a little labored in its style. It has very much the flavor and article in a policy journal, such as Foreign Affairs, where the presentation is serious and aims at communicating substance rather than being a fun read or trying to sell some new idea.
Now for the weaknesses. Time for a quick Truth In Reviewing note; I was on the faculty of the Harvard Business School an aeon or so ago, got my masters and doctorate there, have been a professor at MIT, Stanford and comparable foreign universities. I know the territory well. I just don't recognize it from this book. It is very much the view from a school that is unique (HBS) within a unversity that is almost unique (Harvard -- it is very comparable to my alma mater Oxford University -- historic, central to many social and political issues and suffering from a syndrome of Very Important to itself and its alumni ). Far too much of the first 140 pages is the Harvard story. Harvard is not in any way representative of colleges and their challenges any more than, say, the last fifty years experiences of Duke University college basketball is of high school basketball -- same game, entirely different issues. HBS is in another sport -- Formula One car racing perhaps. The book again and again ignores a massive range of issues that don't matter for HBS/Harvard but absolutely dominate across the university landscape. There is just a short chapter on the tenure process, acknowledged as somewhat tough and distorting both research and teaching but very detached and abstract. You cannot understand anything about a college, department, or individual professor if you don't have fairly in-depth insight into the tenure track, tenure decisions, journal rankings, research funding, etc., etc. It's core to the DNA of universities and many times more complex and even more consequential than public school teacher unions and teacher accountability.
Another topic entirely omitted is the administrative burden of colleges. The issue of tuition increases is well-understood but the major problem is that administrative costs are typically over 40% of total income. State funding is being cut by as much as 20% across the board. One impact is that fewer students are being tiaght by tenure track professors. In some schools, as much as 75% of the teaching is done by adjuncts paid by the course. The fee is around $3,000, so that any adjunct carrying a full teaching load can expect to earn about $20,000 a year!!! None of this is even hinted at in the view from HBS, where the revenues are high, professors do not have to tread the academic journal mill to get tenure (to my knowledge, Christiansen has no academic publications), students are taught by real professors, and administration is first-rate. There is surprisingly little coverage from a BYU perspective. I don't recall a single sentence on either adjuncts or admin. The coverage of the book is so off base that it undermines the entire thrust and promise of its subtitle "Changing the DNA of higher education from the inside out." In terms of relevance and accuracy this is a one-star book.
The recommendations are broad and fuzzy. The authors accept that whatever the positive future turns out to be, it will increasingly exploit online learning. This should be given the 140 pages of indepth coverage, but looking forward instead of back, that is devoted to Harvard College/HBS history. There is not a single interesting or original comment about the practicalities of moving online. This is the true disruptive innovation where Phoenix has been a pace-setter, more and more colleges offering online MBAs, business shifting its inhouse training onto the Web, social networking, e-books, and many other foreces swirling around in a turbulent millstream of transition. This book talks at the level of "The Internet is really important and will play a big role in education. You will be able to get your degree....."
I'll end my review here without going into detail. I do want to help you make your own decision but for me personally this is a one-star book, if that, and I could write a dozen pages on where for me it entirely misses its targets. But it's a worthy effort by admirable people whose experience is broad and commitment deep. I can't recommend it to any audience. If you know the field, this is offbase and adds nothing new. If you are a general reader concerned about the decline of education in so many areas, it's misleading and doesn't offer more than bland general ideas and recommendations. If you are a professor at a state university, a dean or a n administrator, there's nothing new and much that I think you'd see as missing the point.