University Academic Leadership – Complexities, Complications, and Conundrums

Year: 2016

Author: Scott, Shelleyann, Scott, Donald, Dudar, Linda, Anne, Abdoulaye

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This research is part of the International Study of Leadership Development in Higher Education (ISLDHE – ) which focuses on exploring the effectiveness of leadership development for formal academic leaders in universities. This paper is the literature review upon which we are underpinning our findings from later phases.Decanal leadership is important for change, navigating organisational politics, and managing labour relations; but unfortunately, the literature also abounds with critiques of poor leadership and advocacy for more effective leadership. Themes included: contextual complexities; increased accountability from government and other stakeholders; fiscal acuity; navigating the quality agenda including tensions surrounding research and teaching, workload concerns, and the casualization of academia; and gender issues all emerged as significant complexities, complications, and conundrums for university leaders. While many authors called for the establishment of leadership development there were few papers which overtly examined or presented leadership development content or reviewed existing programs. Additionally, while there was a surge of interest in decanal leadership in the 1990-2000 period, this appears to have waned resulting in little current literature on this topic. This paper was designed to establish the “knowledge base” for our wider ISLDHE study.Literature ThemesThere were many and varied themes within the literature about leading in universities. It was clear that the university context worldwide is highly complex, full of contention, and a difficult environment for any leader. Broad themes that emerged around the notion of context included: the increased accountability and market competition which has given rise to university ranking systems designed to encapsulate conceptualisations of quality. Similarly this competitiveness is exacerbated by governments reducing the funding to universities which has given rise to the international student market, pressures to attain research monies, and increased casualization of the academic workforce. Within organisations there is increased emphasis for leaders to demonstrate emotional intelligence and relational acumen in order to ameliorate labour relation issues, while simultaneously leading change in terms of enhanced output of high quality research and teaching. Some authors strongly advocated for different forms of leadership such as transformational or authentic with the view to leading change but doing so by engaging their faculty and staff in more genuine and transparent ways that builds productive cultures of trust. It was clear that there was considerable interest and research at the turn of the millennium and in the previous decade however this appears to have declined since this time. There were few papers that focused on specifics of leadership development other than advocacy for these.Significance of the StudyLeadership in universities is challenging so few are aspiring for leadership. therefore leadership development is crucial to support our current leaders and to grow the next generation for this important role.