22 SES 03 C, Paper Session
On the background of changes within higher education, such as increased marketization, constant assessment, and performance pressures, academic middle managers need to deal with increasing bureaucratic and managerial workload. Such development is deemed to be harmful to their academic career (Floyd, 2012). Floyd and Dimmock (2011) further explain that on the background of current performance criteria in academia, often strongly based on research output, academic middle managers are risking their academic career capital. Such trends contribute to the perception that academic middle management positions are deemed rather unattractive among academics, who were and remain a primary group from which these managers are recruited. The need for management of strong professional groups gives rise to a demand to adapt professionals as managers who can thus engage in the effective management of their subordinates, professionals themselves (Pekkola et. al. 2018). Thus, in the situation where increased demands on both quality and quantity of academic performance require strong academic middle management, it is crucial to understand their experience, understand the motives why they eventually become managers, what demands the role brings, and how they evaluate its impact on the career.
We have already indicated that the routes to managerial positions, such as heads of departments, are not lined with enthusiasm and motivation. Deem, Hillyard, and Reed (2007) observed three major paths: career track manager, reluctant leader, good citizen approach. First, there was a career track manager, who often accepted managerial role early in their career, aimed at higher positions, and typically were found in post-1992 universities (former polytechnics). Second, reluctant managers, typically represented by heads of departments at pre-1992 universities, were serving a fixed term in the position. In the majority, these academic leaders were planning to resume their research careers after they have served in the role. And thirdly, there was the good citizen approach, more often associated with those academics with an already advanced academic career, found in both types of institutions. Let us illustrate with the quote (Deem, Hillyard, Reed, 2007, pg. 135, the respondent is male dean, science, pre-1992 institution): And secondly, I knew that if I turned it down that a younger colleague whose career should not be burdened at this stage by being a Dean would have been asked, and would perhaps have been lent on heavily. And this is an individual whose research career is blossoming at the moment and I simply didn’t want that to be invaded in any way.
In this presentation, we will provide some insight into the lived experience of academic middle managers in the role of heads of departments. The narratives evolve from issues such as circumstances of the decision to become an academic manager, how that feeds into increased demands of the academic middle manager role, and finally, we provide a brief evaluation of the career impact at the moment of the interview. This presentation is built on the data collected in 2015-2016, and currently, we are planning a follow-up study with the same set of respondents.
The study is based on 32 semi-structured interviews with academic middle managers (heads of departments), most of them were tied with their department for a longer period (average 11 years, ranging from 1 year to 26, but most between 10-15), the shortest experience in the managerial position was 1 year, longest 17 years, most typically they were determined to serve for a limited period, which would range around 4-6 years. In our sample 7 respondents achieved the academic raking of professor, 9 of docent, 19 were with Ph.D. (however some already started a habilitation procedure). It indicates that our sample tended to consist of academics at earlier stages in their career. Most of the departments would be under 30 staff members. All departments were placed at public research-intensive universities. Interviews typically lasted 60-90 minutes and followed a structured list of open-ended questions. The questions included three focal areas: HoDs’ perceptions of their leadership roles, job satisfaction, and perceptions of the current transformation of the Czech higher educational system. The interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim by a professional transcriber and analysis was facilitated by MAXQDA software. The analysis method was thematic analysis (Braun, Clarke, 2013).
We present the three themes: a) professionalism over managerialism b) demands of the academic middle management c) impact on an academic career. In the first theme, we cover a variety of personal and situational factors that lead mostly reluctant academics to accept managerial positions. We demonstrate the decision-making factor is the opportunity to do good to the academic profession (eg. improve the scientific output of the department, secure good working relationships, open the department to new project ideas). The motivation is not to manage per se. Only a few were motivated for higher ranking managerial positions, none was ready to give up teaching and research. The second theme explores the incredible amount of demands directed towards the middle managers. In their position pressure comes both from above and below. Both operational and strategic duties are linked with the position. Commonly, managerial duties are an additional layer put on academic duties. Partially due to the limits of the institutions (not able to provide full-time managerial position) but also because academic managers tend to hold on to their academic roles. The third theme embraces the impact of the managerial role on a further academic career. The generally accepted benefit brought more insight into institutional politics. Further, for senior academics, managerial role tended to cement their respected position. For junior HOD’s the impact varied: The most frequent put their academic career on hold: demands of the managerial role left little space for own research. In some cases, managerial positions brought a sharp blow, for instance, they missed the opportunity to work abroad, a highly valued asset of current academics. However, in a rare case taking up the position accelerated the career –the department chair was expected to be a senior academic, thus were required to quickly achieve higher academic ranks.
Braun, V., Clarke, V. (2013). Successful Qualitative Research. SAGE. Deem, R., Hillyard, S., Reed, M. (2007). Knowledge, Higher Education, and the New Managerialism. Oxford University Press. Floyd, A. (2012). ‘Turning points’: The Personal and Professional Circumstances That Lead Academics to Become Middle Managers. Educational Management Administration & Leadership 40(2): 272-284. Floyd, A., Dimmock, C. (2011). ‘Jugglers’, ‘Copers’ and ‘Strugglers’: Academics’ perceptions of being a head of department in a post-1992 UK university and how it influences their future careers. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 33(4): 387-399. Pekkola, E., Siekkinen, T., Kivistö, J., Lyytinen, A. (2018). Management and academic profession: comparing the Finnish professors with and without management positions. Studies in Higher Education 43(11): 1949-1963.
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