University of Michigan, the Organized Anarchy

Blog Post#4

Section 10

Between it’s graduate and undergraduate programs The University of Michigan consists of nineteen different schools and colleges.Each school consists of different departments, and each department has several instructors. Each instructor has many students. We can go further and further down the list but the point I am attempting to make is that the university consists of many different entities. Each individual party has their own goals. These goals can be vastly different, ranging from a professor attempting to make new revelations in the medical field, to a freshman just hoping to find his niche. So my question is how is this possible? How is it that in a university with so many different parties, both intertwined, and yet at the same time disconnected, able to function?

I was first posed this question in a lecture in organizational studies about two weeks ago. James Duderstadt, former president of the University, came in and spoke to us about the complexity of this great organization. He informed us of the university’s nine billion dollar endowment and how managing all these resources can be difficult. After Duderstadt spoke to us, my professor presented us with the question listed above. Students raised their hand and began to describe what I now know as the concept of organized anarchy. The premise of organized anarchy is an organization that seems as if it is composed of many different motives but when you take a further look you can begin to see that each of the goals result in a common desire. The University of Michigan is just that. Each department may have different goals of how to make their individual program stronger, but by making their program better they are in turn making Michigan as a whole a better place for students to learn and prosper.

James Duderstadt, at the Duderstadt Center on North Campus

When Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote The Social Contract and Discourses, he may not have realized it but he was essentially advocating for organizational anarchy. “For since men cannot engender new forces, but merely unite and direct existing ones, they have no other means of maintaining themselves but to form by aggregation a sum of forces…” Rousseau goes on to say that we as a society must come together to form social contracts and that those who violate these contracts are subject to being treated in a similar fashion. In essence, Rousseau is saying that we are stronger as a collective unit, however we must still respect each other’s individual boundaries and failure to do so could result in our own boundaries being crossed. Rousseau’s thesis is comparable to an organized anarchy in that he believes we as a society need a collective force, however we should be able to maintain our individual freedoms.

In an organized anarchy like a university, each department, professor, and student have their own motives and freedoms that contribute to the overall goals of the university. As Rousseau claims in his writings, in a society we need to come together as a collective unit. Hans Siggaard Jensen of the University of Aarhus, speaks of this dynamic at universities. “One institute contributes, along with other institutes, to a single education programme, or to a range of education programmes. One institute may also provide several different education programmes.” Jensen is referring to the idea that at a university the many different parties are in mutually beneficial relationships. The students need their professors to teach them well in order to be better educated, and the professors need the students to listen and put effort in, in order to best educate them. The athletic department may have extremely different goals from the academic side of the school, but in reality they need each other. The better an academic school Michigan is, the more likely it is coaches can recruit top players.

Although the many different entities at a university need to be bounded together they also do need to keep their independence. Rousseau acknowledges this need when he discusses that if we break our social contracts we are subject to consequences, and as a result few will do so. Whether we realize it or not, at a university we too are bounded by social contracts that keep our goals in check. If a student is caught cheating to better his own grade, he will make the professor and department look poorly. In order to prevent this, professors put rules in place where students will face charges of academic integrity and risk a poor grade in the class. This social contract detracts students from hindering the integrity and pride of the professors.

Organized anarchy sounds like a oxymoron, however it is indeed quite brilliant. Rousseau’s writing may have been written many years ago, but the concepts are still relevant today. This concept is so powerful that it can bring together the thousands and thousands of people that make up the University of Michigan.


3 thoughts on “University of Michigan, the Organized Anarchy

  1. I really enjoyed your blog post, and how you used Rousseau’s social contracts in correlation with the University of Michigan. This post cleared up some of my questions with Rousseau’s ideas. The idea of Michigan being so large, with so many departments, astonishes me everyday. The idea of “organized anarchy” truly show how many things can contribute to an overall whole. Overall, this blog taught me more about Rousseau’s ideas and how it connects to the university. This powerful idea truly shows how thousands of people need to work together to make this university run smoothly.


  2. This blog post was really interesting. I’ve never heard of ‘organized anarchy’ before and I think your application of it both to Rousseau and the University of Michigan is very well-developed.
    In general, I think this idea of several bodies within one larger institution working independently and yet in some form of beneficial symbiosis can be applied to most large universities like ours. They all rely on the appeal of having several options (educational departments) as well as the reputations of being great schools overall in order to gain students, and thus they all rely on this organized anarchy you speak of.
    I’ll be honest, I sort of had trouble applying Rousseau’s social contract theory outside of his reading and this blog post helped me out with that, so thank you!


  3. Ksinetar,

    This blog post was extremely informative and got me thinking about something that I have never thought of. I always pictured Michigan as such a large institution and how it can run so smoothly and you certainly clarify that. In regards to Rousseau, I think you do a good job in making a connection between his views on social contracts and how those social contracts apply to the University of Michigan. I now know what an organized anarchy is and realize that there are certain entities that make up a larger institution. I think that this blog could be written for a business as well because some businesses are even bigger than Michigan and probably have more social contracts than a university. Overall, a great blog, that taught me something about this school and its connection to Rousseau.



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