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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Dilemma of Leadership in Research Universities

  • Author(s): Drange, Susan Maria
  • Advisor(s): Chang, Mitchell J
  • et al.

Leaders of universities in the U.S. are experiencing increased pressures from internal and external constituencies to meet changing expectations. At the same time as leadership jobs are becoming more difficult, academic leaders are aging and it is uncertain if there will be enough future leaders who are ready, willing and prepared to take on these challenging roles. Yet higher education is doing little to intentionally prepare new leaders. Research exists detailing formal career paths, and the roles and tasks of academic leaders, but little research exists on the developmental experiences that prepare academics for leadership roles.

The purpose of this study was to deepen understanding of career experiences that prepare academics for leadership positions within research universities and identify those experiences that would enhance the preparation of future leaders. Career patterns were examined through content analysis of 41 curriculum vitae (CV) of academic deans, vice provosts, vice chancellors, chief academic officers (CAO)/provosts and chancellors within the University of California system. Patterns of formal jobs, professional service, scholarship and professional development were identified and quantified. Interviews with 13 academic deans from the CV study, and 4 CAO/provosts from within the university system identified career experiences that were most beneficial for leader development. An integrated theory of leader development was used to analyze and understand the data.

Findings pointed to the value for leader development of serving as a department chair, director, Chair of the Academic Senate, leading campus-wide committees, leading professional associations and receiving mentoring. A model of the existing academic leader development process was identified and improvements to the model were proposed, including the addition of more developmental feedback and encouragement, professional development, and support for scholarship while participating in lower-level leadership positions earlier in the career. This study identified several dilemmas of leadership in research universities, including pressure for high scholarship interfering with leader development, problems with development of professional identity as a leader, and not enough support for leadership development of academics. Recommendations were made to help institutions and current leaders enable both scholarship and leader development in the research university.

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