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Abstract

Political scientists have not devoted much attention to the politics of higher education. Their reluctance is hard to explain since the material for study is close at hand and the subject offers ample research opportunities. The search for a chancellor conducted by the Massachusetts Board of Regents in 1986 aroused considerable public attention and controversy. This case study examines that controversy along with the tensions that arise when academic and political forces collide. Few searches in academia are perfect and none is a morality play. This one proved to be no exception. This article is an attempt to reconstruct the controversy and explain its causes and consequences.

Trying to keep education free of politics is a favorite theme of reformers. In exploring this central theme, the author finds that theory often crumbles in the face of unpredictable events. He emphasizes the hard choices that the participants had to make amidst their continuous efforts to resolve dilemmas. The underlying argument that higher education is so technical and professional that only a professional educator can manage it is also examined.

As an independent agency in state government, the Board of Regents — like any other actor in the political game — has to concern itself with political realities. If the governor has political power, the agency may "knuckle under" to him; if he lacks power, the agency will probably turn elsewhere to seek the support it needs to sustain itself in the competitive world of budgets and patronage and the authority to expand operations or to grow in personnel and importance. Better communication between the Regents and the political leadership is necessary to avoid the repetition of such conflict.

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