The Future of Leadership in Public Universities: Is Shared Leadership the Answer?

Date01 July 2018
Published date01 July 2018
640 Public Administration Review July | A ugus t 201 8
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 4, pp. 640–644. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12938.
The Future of Leadership in Public Universities:
Is Shared Leadership the Answer?
Abstract: Leadership of public universities has come under fire—from scandals, from funding, from students, from
every direction. Top-down leadership of institutions of higher education has been described as a “disease.” Shared
governance—a mechanism of faculty representation in the leadership and decision-making processes—a seeming
alternative, has been described as “a recipe for paralysis.” In this article, the authors proffer shared leadership as a
potential elixir for leading public institutions of higher learning, unleashing creative potential, focusing on pressing
strategic imperatives, and enabling sustainable systems that leverage true talent to maximum effect. It is time to move
beyond the moribund myth of top-down heroic leadership and beyond the bureaucratic, political quagmire of the
current state of affairs in shared governance. Is shared leadership the answer?
Leaders of public universities are under fire—
from scandals (e.g., Luca, Rooney and Smith
2016), from funding (e.g., Condrey and
Battaglio 2007), from students (e.g., Jones 2006),
seemingly from all directions. Concomitantly, very
few faculty desire taking on leadership positions,
and faculty largely characterize administration as
“the dark side” (Bradshaw 2015). At the same time,
public university administrative roles have become
increasingly demanding, adding development,
fundraising, and novel tuition-generating activities,
to name a few, to already overbusy administrative
assignments. Faculty want administrators to deliver
resources that, for the most part, they do not have
the authority to give. Is it any wonder that job
dissatisfaction has led to a continuing decrease in the
average tenure of senior administrators? (Bradshaw
2015; June 2017). The future of university leadership
appears challenging, at best: “people who are called
upon to lead universities in the twenty-first century
face difficult tasks for which they are, in general,
unprepared” (Altbach 2011, 1).
A Core Problem (and Resource) for
University Leaders. . . The Faculty
The problem between faculty and university
administrators is deep. On the one hand, we, as
faculty, claim that we want bold visionaries to lead
us into intellectual and educational breakthroughs
(to be honest, most of us really want administrators
to come up with money), and on the other hand,
we want to be the sole genesis of all changes or, at a
minimum, to be consulted on everything—and we do
mean everything—before any action is taken (Pardun
2013). What are administrators to do?
To answer this question, we must first ask, who are
the leaders in universities? The reality is that every
single faculty member is a leader in his or her own
right. Scholars are knowledge workers (Drucker 1969;
Evans 2017), and knowledge workers are leaders
of themselves (Manz 1986); they provide thought
leadership for others in their respective fields—just
ask them. With so many leaders running around, it is
no wonder that the state of affairs is a bit confusing
regarding university leadership.
The Crestfallen Myth of Top-Down, Heroic
University Leadership
Research-based advice for senior administrators is
clear: they need to enable organizational vision;
they need to be fair; and they need to be inclusive
(Berson, Waldman and Pearce 2016; Gigliotti
2017). These imperatives are especially salient in the
university context (Altbach 2011). Public university
administrators who violate any of these imperatives
are at extreme risk of failure. Yet the pressures on these
leaders are significant. They are pushed for evermore
results in a constantly changing environmental
landscape (Bradshaw 2015; Pfeffer and Fong 2002).
It is easy to succumb to these pressures for results and
slip into strong top-down leadership. Science shows
this is true: “Tough times make tough bosses” (Scully
et al. 1994, 59). In academia, this type of top-down
leadership has been described as a disease (Bedeian
Craig L. Pearce
Bob G. Wood
Christina L. Wassenaar
University of South Alabama
Bob G. Wood is dean of the Mitchell
College of Business at the University of
South Alabama. Previously, he served as
dean of the Perdue School of Business at
Salisbury University, where he received
the Beta Alpha Psi 2014 Outstanding
Dean Award. Before that, he was Heidke
Professor of Finance at Tennessee Tech
University. He has experience in the private
sector in the financial and pharmaceutical
Christina L. Wassenaar is assistant
professor in the Mitchell College of Business
at the University of South Alabama. She
spent five years as academic director for
the Drucker School of Management at
Claremont Graduate University. She is an
international consultant with expertise
in leadership, strategy, and program
development. She has taught in the United
States and internationally in academic
and corporate settings. Her research
focuses on shared leadership, corporate
social responsibility, and international
Craig L. Pearce is Ben May
Distinguished Professor at the University of
South Alabama. He was previously Dean of
the Business School and Interim Dean of
Arts and Sciences at American University
of Nigeria. He is best known for his work
on shared leadership theory and practice.
He has received many awards for his work,
including the Pennsylvania State University
Alumni Fellow Award. His latest book is
entitled Twisted Leadership (Maven
House Press, 2018). He is a popular keynote
speaker and organizational consultant.
Stephen E. Condrey,
Associate Editor

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT