Sub-theme 71: The Corporatization of Academic Leadership

Lars Engwall
Uppsala University, Sweden
Georg Krücken
University of Kassel, Germany
Christine Musselin
Sciences Po, France

Call for Papers

Universities as an organizational form has been quite successful since the early foundations in Medieval Italy to the present day, particularly after Second World War with a large number of new foundations all over the world. Traditionally, universities were typically collegial organizations, in which faculty members managed their institutions together. Professors took turns each semester or academic year to be the primus inter pares. By the passage of time, with increasing external demands and internal complexity, this system was replaced by one where one of the professors was elected to lead the university for a longer period. However, in recent decades also this system has been questioned. As large corporations, through their high visibility in modern society, have become the role model for other organizations there have been increasing pressures that also universities should follow their way of management. Some countries abandoned the elective system and introduced appointments for the designation of presidents. Others, and sometimes the same, allowed presidents to be chosen outside the faculty of the concerned university or even outside academia.
Consequently, a job market for university presidents (and in some cases even for deans) has developed, often with the aid of search consultants. Even a very old university like Oxford thus turned outside the university when electing John Hood as Vice-Chancellor in 2004, a break of a nine-hundred-year tradition. These new recruitment patterns have evoked the question to which extent outsiders can be good leaders in an institution like a university, where tacit knowledge is particularly significant for the handling of creative individuals. Another issue has to do with the supply of candidates, since administrative careers, particularly in modern times, imply that a scholarly career has to be given up. As a result, there may be difficulties in the future, in contrast to what has been the case earlier in top universities, to recruit top scholars as university presidents. This may be problematic since former presidents testify that internal and external legitimacy are key factors for a successful university president. In addition, there has been a growing critique concerning the lack of inclusiveness when the demography of university presidents and related selection procedures are considered, pointing to an underrepresentation of women, ethnic minorities, and international candidates.
Irrespective how university leaders are selected, there is also an issue of their power. Thus, a number of universities have senates with faculty representation in order to strike a balance between the president, the board and faculty members. In addition, when deans are elected, they may act as counter-powers in relation to the presidential team. The power of university presidents may also be hampered by the resource allocation system. Thus, the more external grants that are allocated to individual faculty members and research groups, the less power for the leader. On top of that, empirical studies have shown that leaders of organizations, not only universities, have difficulties to control their agenda. They would like to work strategically and long-term but are often dragged into short-term problems and representative duties. As for the latter, it is also an observation that external activities, particularly fund-raising, have become the major task for university presidents.
The increased external demands on universities and university leaders to show performance, have also had the effect that the top administration of universities is growing fast. More and more experts are hired to deal with communication, human relations, legal issues, quality assessments, etc., and universities are even following corporations by hiring managing consultants. Obviously, this development is draining the resources for education and research.

Against the above backdrop, the sub-theme aims to shed light on the leadership of universities in general, and the selection and work of university leaders, and presidents in particular, by inviting both conceptual and empirical papers. We, particularly but not only, welcome submissions that examine:

  • The development over time and space for the selection of university leaders

  • The power relations between university presidents, boards, university administration, deans and faculty members

  • The diversity of university presidents in an inclusive society

  • The actual work of university presidents

  • The development of top university administration

  • The tendency for universities to use consultants

  • The particular problems of leadership in professional organizations

Lars Engwall is Professor Emeritus of Business Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden. He has published widely on institutional change and the diffusion of management ideas, in particular the role of management education and of the media. Lars’ most recent books are “Defining Management: Business Schools, Consultants, Media” (Routledge 2016, with Matthias Kipping & Behlül Üsdiken) and “Corporate Governance in Action: Regulators, Market Actors and Scrutinizers” (Routledge 2018).
Georg Krücken is Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Research Kassel and Professor of Sociology and Higher Education Research at the University of Kassel, Germany. His research interests include science studies, organizational studies, the management of higher education, and neo-institutional theory. Georg’s most recent books are “New Themes in Institutional Analysis. Topics and Issues from European Research” (Edward Elgar 2017, with Carmelo Mazza, Renate E. Meyer & Peter Walgenbach) and “Higher Education in Germany: Recent Developments in an International Perspective” (Springer 2018).
Christine Musselin is former Dean for Research at Sciences Po and a member of the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, Paris, France. She leads comparative studies on university governance, public policies in higher education and research, state-universities relationships and academic labour markets, and has published several monographs on these topics. Christine’s most recent books are “La Grande course des universités” (Presses de Sciences Po 2017) and “Propositions d’une chercheuse pour l’Université” (Presses de Sciences Po, 2019).