Post-secondary institutions need leaders who have a deep and first hand understanding of the core mission of universities. Only good scholars can create the right conditions under which other researchers and teachers will thrive. Unfortunately, the pipeline of potential applicants among top scholars is thin.
This is a follow-up to a previous post about university leadership. I argue here that the self-serving myth perpetuated by certain captains of industry and politicians that academics are incapable of managing and leading, needs to be dispelled once and for all.
Indeed, research conducted and reported by Amanda Goodall has found that not only do scholar-leaders outperform those who are non-academics, but they also do better than their fellow academics who gave up research and teaching early in their careers. This applies to every administrative position within a university, ranging from head of a department to the presidency itself.
Leaders who have demonstrated deep commitment to academe by paying their dues to scholarly activities are more likely to protect universities. Top post-secondary institutions cannot afford to have “average” academics at their helm. Only leaders who acquire a high academic standing prior to becoming senior administrators are in a good position to protect the institution and its values, especially during negotiations with powerful bodies, such as those in government or in the corporate world.
The hiring of professional managers to run our universities could create an irreversible change of culture within these institutions. Humans have tendencies to trust and hire others who look like themselves, and studies show that professional managers often create working conditions that will require the hiring of other managers. In other words, recruit an executive from Wal-Mart and the odds are high for having hordes of Wal-Mart employees joining the same institution.
While the university mandate for teaching and training may be well understood by professional managers, the role of the universities in supporting fundamental research is less understood outside the academic realm. Non-academic managers run the risk of underestimating the role of university based research, and consequently of treating it as a strain on the institution’s resources.
As said above, the pipeline of potential applicants among good scholars is unfortunately too thin. Why?
It is a fact that we do not value our colleagues who elect to move up the administration ladder. Most faculty have an ambivalent attitude vis-a-vis leadership. They think that the university can and should run itself without administrators, which is of course ridiculous.
The long hours (often spent in boring social events and long winded meetings) and the general unpleasantness of the job (a direct result of the nature of university governance structure) add to the gloomy prospect. Goodall reminds us that “any economist would argue that people should be paid for what they don’t enjoy. Unquestionably, what academics enjoy is research – which is why so few want to go into administration, even with a higher level of pay.”
From my current position, I can appreciate how the job of university leader is far more demanding than many of us have acknowledged. I say we should recognize and reward those who are willing to take on the responsibility accordingly.
We should also nurture the leadership talent within our professorial ranks. Otherwise, we might one day see the likes of Donald Trump doing the hiring and firing in our universities.