Academic journal article Journal of Positive Management

Positive Management of the University

Academic journal article Journal of Positive Management

Positive Management of the University

Article excerpt

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function"

F. Scott Fitzgerald

1. Introduction

While considering whether the essence of positive psychology (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) and positive management (Nowe trendy, 2006; Cameron et al., 2009) may be related to the realities of contemporary universities, it may be reasonable to ask whether a university can be managed. This question is far from trivial in view of the multiplicity of decision centres in a university [1], collegiality (Clark, 2001), primacy of scholars' knowledge, as well as the autonomy of organisational units within the university. These determinants are well known and researched.

While seeking solutions to problems concerning university organisation and management, one usually comes up against legal determinants (overregulation); once these stumbling blocks are successfully overcome, arrival at the final decision is time-consuming or becomes paralysed due to collegiality or multiplicity of decision centres. Not without reason, one of the metaphors describing a contemporary university is organised anarchy, whereas the decision-making process is represented by the garbage can model (Cohen et al., 1972).

The question arises how to break this vicious circle and manage the university in an efficient manner. The author of this study perceives such a possibility, identifying strategic paradoxes (tensions) (De Witt and Meyer, 2005) in a university and attempting to manage them (Lewis, 2000). To make this happen, it is necessary to refrain from treating paradoxes in terms of "tyranny of the or" and to make efforts to realise two seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time ("genius of the And"). It seems appropriate to quote the opinion expressed by Paul Polman (CEO, Unilever): "The difference between average and outstanding firms is an 'AND Mentality'. We must find and create tensions - force people into different space for thinking... This is not just a performance issue but a survival issue, because managing paradox helps foster creativity and high performance" (Lewis et al., 2014). Believing that this opinion may be related to the tertiary education institution, the author of this article sets out to demonstrate that contemporary universities may be improved by synthesis of strategic antinomies, i.e. seeking the possibility of combining opposite approaches to solving problems concerning university organization and management. In practice, this means making an attempt to describe the management processes in a university using the language of strategic paradoxes and identifying the possible tension synergies. These considerations will be preceded by a short description of a contemporary university, largely based on Polish experiences.

2. Description of a contemporary (Polish) university

The acronym VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), used by managers with respect to business ventures, may well be used to describe a contemporary university. That is because volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are features defining the world of organisations regardless of the type of ownership, thus also including universities. Hence, it is a challenge of the present times to look for new, accelerative methods of management of these organisations. Volatility refers to, inter alia, the expected decrease in the population of studying-age individuals in the EU27 countries by nearly a quarter between 2005 and 2050, and by nearly 60% in Poland and Bulgaria (Ritzen, 2010). In these circumstances, petrification of university reality means looking back, since development of a university requires projection, rather than only retrospection.

Uncertainty arises from an overregulated and rapidly changing legal system, at both the tertiary education system level and the institution level, as well as the absence of core budgets of public universities financed from public funds. …

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