Sunday, October 25, 2015

Careerism, academia, and leadership

Mediocrity and the race to leadership

Globally, the crisis of academic leadership is a phenomenon felt across University campuses, especially as campuses struggle to find the anchors on which they can overlay their vision and mission.

One of the problems across these University campuses is the rise of the mediocre careerist that is all too hungry for power.

Leadership, rather than emerging as a response to a calling, has become a product of strategizing, planning, and mapping. Leadership, rather than being a function of integrity and ethics, has been turned into a well practiced ritual of sycophancy.

As a result, what you get in many leadership positions on University campuses today are mediocre academics who are unsuccessful in their academic pursuits, have poor CVs, but have figured out very well how to network, understand the organizational culture, and speak to the right person at the right time.

For these careerists, the way to power is their cultural capital in the academic organization.

They have learned the skill sets to identify the sites of power, and the language needed to speak to these sites of power. Having rehearsed all too well the games of performing efficiency, they are all too eager to implement the standards of efficiency.

Having figured out the "game of sucking up" then, for these aspiring mediocre underlings, the career path to leadership is one of getting to know the right person at the right time, about appearing to be efficient, and about carrying on the show of competence, often hiding the very incompetence that lies an inch below the surface. A close look at the vita and the charade typically starts falling off.

So leadership in academia in this sense is no longer about leadership, it is about learning to play a game of mediocrity, decorated with all the bells and whistles of a good show. It is also about the performance of the power suits, pearl necklaces, and paraphernalia of power.

So what are the threats to academe posed by the rising aspirations of careerists who have poor understanding of the academic process and who are poor academics to begin with?

When academic institutions are run not by leaders, but by mediocre careerists, these institutions quickly devolve into metrics, indicators, and scales. Mediocre academics, needing to find jobs to justify their existence, are set with the task of coming up with ever new metrics and ways of measuring their performance. Universities as institutions dedicate resources to new lines of administrative underlings who have very little real work to do, and thus must create ever-new metrics.

Universities thus are bombarded with new benchmarks and metrics, new initiatives, and new assessment scales, with very little time for academics to do actually what they are meant to do, to teach and to participate in the ever-inviting process of discovery.

The neoliberalization of academia across the globe has meant that more and more academics are held hostage to the career aspirations of these mediocre academics who otherwise would not make it through the academic ranks.

One way to counter this race to the bottom across Universities globally is to drastically cut down on the number of lines dedicated to leadership.

Another way is to push for global standards in leadership. To even be considered to be a potential leader, an academic would have to first demonstrate that they are competent as an academic.

Setting up processes to select quality academics for leadership roles would be a good start.

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