Reluctant to lead? Perspectives on academic educational leadership in a research intensive university
Burkill, Susan Margaret
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
My research explores the leadership challenge faced by contemporary higher education institutions. Globally, the need for high quality academic leadership has never been greater. Yet growing evidence suggests few academics are keen to engage. In this study, I investigate academic educational leadership (AEL) at the University of Exeter (UoE) from organisational and academic perspectives. My purposes are to clarify early career academics’ (ECAs) attitudes and stances towards AEL, what may lie behind these and to make recommendations about how to nurture their future interest in AEL. My study adopts a theoretical and methodological pluralistic approach. Theoretically, I draw on the leadership research of Mats Alvesson and Richard Bolden, relating to organisational culture and structure. In particular, I adapt Alvesson’s model of ‘multiple cultural configurations’. I also draw on the socio-cultural theories of Margaret Archer relating to ‘agentic reflexivity’. Methodologically, I adopt the role of ‘bricoleur’ (Kincheloe, 2001), drawing on an eclectic range of perspectives and principles derived from pragmatism and applied critical realism. By synthesising these, I create a ‘personal enquiry paradigm’. My theoretical research outcomes add to growing evidence about academic ‘defensive routines’ (Martin, 1999). I suggest that ECAs adopt diverse and nuanced attitudes and stances towards AEL, summarized in a ‘reluctance to lead’ typology. I identify a wide range of influential mechanisms and causal powers (M&CPs) which I summarise in an elaborated three dimensional framework. Influential M&CPs include attitudinal dissonance and misalignment between institutional strategies and processes which help explain reluctance. I argue that nurturing future AELs needs to reflect more closely the priorities of ECAs, set in a wider context of institutional cultural reconciliation and strategic realignment. Adopting a normative stance, I provide an example of how this might be possible. My methodological contribution develops through a series of three dimensional frameworks that suggest that multiple configurations of influences operate at different levels and through time at UoE. Overall, my research contributes strongly to the growing body of theories and methodologies investigating higher education cultures. Whilst the case study findings may not be generalizable, other institutions might benefit from some of the insights provided.
PhD in Education