Middle Level Academic Leadership has Changed Dramatically over the Past Decade: Insights from Senior University Leaders

Year: 2016

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

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores the insights of senior university leaders, including associate vice provosts, provosts, heads of teaching and learning centres, and heads of human resources, about their institutions’ expectations on deans, what leadership development support is available to their deans, and how the role has changed over the past decade. This research emerged from phase 3 of the Canadian component of the International Study of Leadership Development in Higher Education (ISLDHE - www.ucalgary.ca/isldhe). There were 26 universities included in this phase encompassing 13 top-ranked research intensive and 13 comprehensive universities across Canada. This study is aligned with the pragmatic paradigm and utlises mixed methdology. In this phase Interviews were conducted with 21 leaders. Findings indicated that much has changed in the institutional expectations and the nature of the role of faculty dean. Traditional conceptualisations of the dean as faculty/school manager and administrator has morphed into greater emphasis on community and professional partnerships, fiscal entrepreneurship, and leader of people and cultures. Much of the administrative work has been pushed down the line to the secondary middle level leaders – associate deans and heads of department – who have greater responsibilities but lesser authority. A conundrum articulated by many was the need to select deans based upon their research prowess to provide leadership credibility but the decanal responsibilities were far greater than simply leading research. There was considerable interest expressed in the ISLDHE findings as the majority of participants were grappling with the need to provide more effective leadership development to their middle level leaders but they did not know what to provide, how to provide it, and were faced with the dilemma of whether to tailor-make programs to fit the institution or to send out leaders to external programs which would present different advantages and disadvantages. There were few coherent or systematic offerings of leadership development available for deans. Most of the programming targeted secondary middle level leaders, that is associate deans and heads of department. This paper will discuss the institutional expectations, interesting conflicts, and the implications for leadership development.