THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

February 16, 2012

"Academics make the best university leaders," proclaims the subheading of a post by Paul Greatrix, registrar at the University of Nottingham, on his Registrarism blog.

"Or do they?" he immediately questions. He concedes that this is a difficult view to contest, and cites Amanda Goodall, senior research associate at the IZA Institute for the Study of Labor, Bonn. She has said: "Where expert knowledge is the key factor that characterises an organisation's core business, it is expert knowledge that should also be key in the selection of its leader."

However, Dr Greatrix characterises this position as one that accepts that it is "sufficient simply to appoint a top academic". There is a belief that "everything will come good if only the university can find the right leader, someone with the strongest academic credentials, with the most citations", he adds.

Dr Goodall insists that academic leaders have a keen understanding of the "core business" and are therefore more likely to "create the right conditions under which other scholars will thrive", rather than institutions "beset with burdensome managerial processes" that hinder research productivity.

Although Dr Greatrix agrees, he says that while a scholar can create the proper conditions, they are not a guarantee of excellent research. If universities do not invest in administration to support world-leading research, he adds, they will be left with "disorganised, chaotic and expensive processes which hinder rather than help".

"In the best institutions, [managers'] primary concern is to support and encourage the best academics to do what they do best, to minimise the distractions and to reduce the unwelcome and bureaucratic incursions of the state into academic life," Dr Greatrix writes. "Leaders need to be free to lead and therefore need to focus on the core business...To enable this to happen, the management needs to be strong, supportive and effective. Not dominant but a key element of the infrastructure for success."

He concludes: "Universities may well often best be led by leading academics, but no one individual, whatever their background, is going to be able to do everything on their own. Universities are just too big, complex and diverse."

Meanwhile, Dame Athene Donald talks about the idea of "impostor syndrome" in a post on her Occam's Typewriter blog. "Impostor syndrome...is that feeling that you don't belong, that you are only where you are through some clerical or other error and that one day...you will be FOUND OUT," she writes. "The reality seems to be that impostor syndrome is very common. It is important that early career researchers know this, so that they do not let it take over their lives."

By describing her own and four eminent female scientists' anxieties, she hopes to alleviate others' fears.

"We all feel...this need to be honest about these fears. I know, because many younger women have said so to me after my own talks, that it is very powerful to hear us express these fears, that it empowers them because they realise that what they themselves feel can be lived with and need not lead to paralysis through the exercise of this fear."

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to john.elmes@tsleducation.com.

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