The im/possibilities of imagining future academic leadership

Year: 2012

Author: Blackmore, Jill, Sawers, Naarah

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Organisational studies indicate that the characteristics of the postmodern workplace are those of ambiguity, contradiction and ambivalence. While university academics express similar feelings, particularly when in positions of leadership, their concerns arise from dilemmas not just about the changing nature of academic work and leadership but also the repositioning and changing the role of universities in globalised economies. This paper draws from ARC interview data collected in an Australian university about what these changes mean from different standpoints within the academy- executive, equal opportunity, aspirant and practising middle managers and leaders. Academics when considering the nature of university leadership and what it promises for themselves in terms of career or their own teaching and research found it difficult to imagine themselves outside the box of performance culture of entrepreneurial universities, more homo economicus than homo academicus (Henkel 2000). Whereas imagination can be understood as a source of innovation and creativity, in that sense liberating, it can also be a source of control when nation states need to link knowledge production more closely to economies (Appadurai 2001). Imagining being in leadership and as leaders imagining the future of universities was constrained by contemporary policy discourses: being marketable to 'consumers' (students, industry, NGOs, government), being useful (in the short term applied research and employability outcomes), being flexible (time/space) and being at the cutting edge (gaining and maintaining comparative advantage) and being transparent and accountable (Shore and Wright 2000).What does this mean for the future of more inclusive leadership in universities with more diverse student and academic populations?