Are higher education institutions and their leadership needs unique? The vertical versus horizontal perspective
Friday, 1 September 2017 | Admin
by Brent D Ruben and Ralph A Gigliotti (Rutgers University, US)
In what was characterized by many journalists and political pundits as the ‘age’ or ‘year of the outsider’ (Brooks, 2015; Fehrnstrom, 2015; Sexton, 2015) there was widespread interest in US presidential candidates with a diverse set of professional experiences and affiliations, including some with no experience in the political sector. At the same time, a number of institutions of higher education have both hired and in some cases subsequently terminated senior leaders with ‘outsider’ credentials. Twenty percent of college presidents in the United States now come from fields outside academia, an increase from 13 percent just six years ago (Cook, 2012). The attraction of ‘outsider’ candidates for senior leadership positions may be inspired by the distinguished personal characteristics of a candidate, a perceived need for change within an institution or sector, or the emergence of a more generic view as to the nature of competencies required for outstanding leadership. Whatever the motivations and rationale underpinning such decisions, these actions raise interesting questions about the extent to which particular sectors and institutions within them, along with the set of competencies required to lead them, are truly unique. Considering these issues from the perspective of higher education, two questions are considered in this conceptual article: (1) are colleges and universities unique as organizations as has long been a widely-held view within the academy; and (2) to what extent are the capabilities that are necessary for effective leadership in higher education unique?