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Divided Conversations

Identities, Leadership, and Change in Public Higher Education

Kristin G. Esterberg

Publication Year: 2013

Through their interviews with faculty and administrators (from department chairs and deans to provosts and presidents) from a sample of eight public universities in the Northeast and their own experiences in both worlds, the authors provide a unique window into the life experiences and identities of those who struggle to make universities work. The book examines the culture of academic institutions and attempts to understand why change in public higher education is so difficult to accomplish.

Many faculty believe that one of their own who becomes an administrator has gone over to "the dark side." One provost recalled going for a beer with a faculty colleague and hearing the colleague complain about the latest memo "from the administration." He had to remind his friend of many years that he was the author of the offending document. Now he was "the administration." He realized that former colleagues now appeared in his office wearing suits and ties and referring to him by his title rather than his first name.

The disciplines serve as the tribes into which individual scholars are organized; the discipline is where a faculty member finds his community and identity. Administrators, on the other hand, identify with each other in trying to get the tribes to work together. Though most administrators came from the faculty ranks, their career paths take a different shape, especially in terms of mobility to another institution. It's not surprising that the two groups talk past each other.

A chapter is devoted to chairs of departments, who occupy an interesting middle ground. To their faculty, they can come across as a nurturing parent or a petty bureaucrat. The authors recommend training for chairs and administrative internships offered by the American Council on Education and other organizations.

The men and women on the campuses of the public universities described in the book make clear the challenges that universities face in terms of budgets, legislative politics, collective bargaining, rankings, and control of academic programs. If public institutions are truly to serve a public purpose, faculty and administrators must find ways to engage each other in shared conversation and management and find ways of engaging the university with the community.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-5


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pp. vi-7


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pp. vii-xxi

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pp. xxii-xxiv

The acknowledgments section is one of the most gratifying sections of a book to write. There are so many people who have supported our work, and it’s a pleasure to be able to thank them publicly. We are grateful to many colleagues at UMass for their friendship, their leadership, and their insight. To Bill Hogan, former chancellor of UMass Lowell, we give wholehearted thanks for giving both...

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1. Divided Conversations and Pathways of Connection

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pp. 1-30

As any number of analysts of higher education have noted, American academic communities are notably fractured places with “tribes” and “territories” (Adams 1988; Becher 1989) and unruly forms of governance (Eckel and Kezar 2006). Some characterize academe as a culture of complaint, one in which we can’t “just get along” (Frazee 2008). The cultures on our campuses too often frustrate...

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2. Learning the Language: Faculty Beliefs, Values, and Identities

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pp. 31-68

For students, graduate school is all about competition: competing to get into the best program, competing to gain funding, competing for advisers, competing to be the best student in the class. Some programs are more or less structured to intensify competitive pressures on students. As Paul, a senior faculty member in the social sciences at Small Rural Flagship recalled, his master’s program...

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3. On Becoming an Administrator

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pp. 69-80

Universities must adapt to changing environments, but it is typically university administrators much more often than faculty who lead demands for change. Faculty, however, are often the innovators on a campus and look to administrators for support and to create the space for worthwhile innovations to grow. Working with and sometimes against faculty, many administrators seek to change...

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4. Disciplines, Departments, and Chairs

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pp. 81-104

If colleges and universities are like a conglomeration of tribal communities organized into villages and hamlets, then the disciplines serve as the tribes into which individual scholars are organized. It is the discipline in which faculty find others engaged with their specialized intellectual interests: the community of scholars. It is this tribe—the discipline— with which most faculty members are primarily identified, and for good reason. Faculty members...

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5. Cultivating the Communal and Administering the Campus

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pp. 105-134

Some cynical faculty might argue that administrators do not do much, that they are overpaid overlords who inundate faculty with endless memos and requests, strategic plans, half-thought-out ideas about “rationalizing” programs, and ridiculous new initiatives, often doing these things in dictatorial and secretive ways. Some faculty view administrators as a necessary evil: someone has to make...

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6. Purpose, Power, and Innovation: Some Pathways to Change

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pp. 135-164

We believe that the essence of public higher education lies in our ability to serve our students and our communities by providing education that develops thoughtful, tolerant, and creative young people and by engaging in scholarship, research, and creative activities that promote the public good. In light of that belief, our goal in writing this book was to use our experience as both faculty...


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pp. 163-164


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pp. 165-172


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pp. 173-179

E-ISBN-13: 9780826519009
E-ISBN-10: 0826519008
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826518989

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013