Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

Connecting Philosophic and Scholarly Traditions with Change in Higher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

Connecting Philosophic and Scholarly Traditions with Change in Higher Education

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Stimulated by experiences associated with the Kellogg Foundation's "Leadership for Institutional Change" (LINC) initiative, the authors argue for expanding the conventional notion of leadership required for higher education change. In addition to competently envisioning, organizing, and enacting change, we believe that change agents must become more familiar with the philosophical and scholarly traditions associated with the substance of intended change. We make our case by considering two contemporary change platforms in American higher education: the shift from teaching to learning in undergraduate education, and the quest to make colleges and universities more "engaged" (with society) institutions. Understanding the Academy as a tapestry of scholarly traditions--with distinct philosophical roots and conceptual frames of reference--night stimulate more academic change agents to reframe leadership and change in postmodern terms. Doing that will offer change platforms that are more embracing than declarative, more inviting than directive, and more connecting than restrictive.


The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) invests significantly in developing the leadership qualities necessary for reforming and transforming higher education. There are numerous examples of how the Foundation--in practical and compelling ways--is working diligently to enhance higher education's understanding of change, the change process, and the leadership required to "make a difference." (i)

This commitment is certainly reflected in WKKF's Leadership for Institutional Change (LINC) program. LINC is associated with the Foundation's multifaceted Food and Society initiative. (ii) LINC fosters innovative forms of leadership development and supports institutional change efforts in public higher education across the United States. LINC's distinguishing feature is the quest for discovering and developing context-relevant, inspiring, and connected models of leadership and change in public higher education. Special emphasis is placed on efforts that, in theory and practice, result in collaborative leadership and encourage the development of "engaged institutions." Toward those ends, all LINC projects nurture the capacity of faculty, students, staff, and administrators to discover new ways of working together and working collaboratively with external partners for the good of society. (iii)

LINC project directors come together regularly, sharing what they are learning and delving more deeply into the nuances, complexities, and paradox associated with their work as higher education change agents. Conducted as conversations, the atmosphere resembles an "ecology of thought" (Isaacs, 1999, p. 35)--always involving reflective dialogue, sometimes giving way to generative dialogue. Reflective dialogue "explores underlying causes, rules, and assumptions to get to deeper questions and framing of problems." (Isaccs, 1999, p. 41) Narratives offer a frame of reference for reflective dialogue. "Stories of inspiration" are conceived, written, and shared about people--on campus and off--who have been `touched' by LINC. Generative dialogue "invents possibilities" as participants re-frame and consider issues in fresh ways.

Recently, discussion of a LINC narrative revealed that a project director faced a particularly thorny set of issues. As the conversation ensued, the issues were reenvisioned--not as problems, but as outcomes typically associated with the creation of "alternative settings." (iv) Generative dialogue revealed a literature heretofore unknown to a LINC colleague--a potential vista of understanding, offering a vocabulary and potential solutions to the challenges this change agent faces in context. For example, research on alternative settings can inform this campus change agent about the factors associated with sustaining these delicate organizational forms, including how to artfully nurture connections between the alternative setting and the broader institutional environment. …

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