22 SES 05 D, Leadership in Academia
Distributed leadership accentuates the collective dynamics of leadership instead of focusing on the actions of appointed leaders. It offers a non-individualistic, post-heroic alternative to discuss leadership by shifting the lense from the hierarchical leader-follower relationship to the collective and context-specific processes of various actors (Bolden, 2011; Jones, 2014; Thorpe, 2010). The ideas of distributed leadership have been much discussed by school management researchers and practitioners for over a decade (eg. Harris, 2008; Tian, Risku & Collin, 2015). Although the emphasis on the collective dynamics of management could offer a welcome counterbalancing perspective against the managerialist and leaderist discourses in academia (Crevani et al., 2015; Kezar & Lester, 2011) higher education researchers have been less eager to rely on the value of distributed leadership with notable exceptions (Bolden, Petrov & Gosling, 2008; Jones et al., 2012, 2014).
One reason for the less eager adoption of distributed leadership as a framework for the study higher education leadership might be its limited ability to offer novel insights into higher education leadership due to the close similarity of its principles with the tradition of shared governance in higher education (Burke, 2010; Kezar & Lester, 2011). Moreover, the conceptual development of distributed leadership has resulted in multiple analytic models and overlapping use of terminology. No universally accepted definition of distributed leadership can be found (Thorpe, 2010). Instead, a researcher searching for non-individualistic frameworks for the study of leadership needs to clarify the differences between ‘distributed’, ‘distributive’ (Creanor, 2014; Keppel et al., 2010), ‘shared leadership’ (Fletcher & Käufer, 2003; Pearce 2004) and 'hybrid configurations' of leadership (Bolden & Petrov, 2014; Gronn, 2009).
Gosling, Bolden and Petrov (2009) argue that distributed leadership does not necessarily work as an analytic framework in higher education but serves as a rhetorical tool by highlighting what is being aspired. In so doing, however, it might blur the actual power dynamics of a higher education institution. Also Kezar and Lester (2011), suggest that shared (distributed) leadership actually serves the interests of management while the rest of the actors in higher education institution have a role of implementers of the agenda the management has set.
In order to contribute to the discussion on the merits of distributed leadership in higher education this paper intends to present an in-depth case study of an academic community that has gone through a major change and created a context specific working culture of its own. Through qualitative research this paper aims to give a thick description of how the processes of distributed leadership were enacted in constructing a new campus community and identity. Arguing that distributed leadership is not only a rhetoric but also a tool to make change in a higher education institution the paper gives voice to the community members as they share their accounts of how they participated in the planning process of the construction of a new campus building, their present views on the campus identity and their collective plans for the future.
The campus has over thousand bachelor-level students and 60 staff members of two different Finnish universities of applied sciences. The campus also has an office for local city administration. It is located in a small historic town (`Pittoresqueville’) approximately 50 km from the main campuses. There are no other higher education institutions in that area. Before the campus building was built in 2010 higher education was offered in three separate places in Pittoresqueville.
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