Academic journal article Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management

Hunting the Snark or Leading with Purpose? Managing the Enterprise University

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management

Hunting the Snark or Leading with Purpose? Managing the Enterprise University

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In Lewis Carroll's classic poem, 'The Hunting of the Snark', there is little understanding about what a 'Snark' actually might be. There is similar disagreement about the ways in which contemporary universities should be led and managed, and few writers move beyond broad generalisations for action. This is particularly true for writers analysing higher education from the perspectives of sociological analyses (eg. Meek & Wood 1997) political economy, and institutional theory perspectives (eg. Marginson & Considine 2000). Building on recent research by Poole (2000, 2001a), the paper charts current understandings of university governance and leadership, identifies research gaps, and begins to explore how apparently dichotomous managerial choices may be reconciled by university leaders confronting the complexities of managing the enterprise university.

To seek it with thimbles, to seek it with care

To pursue it with forks and hope

To threaten its life with a railway-share

To charm it with smiles and soap!

For the Snark's a peculiar creature that won't

Be caught in a commonplace way.

Do all that you know, and try all that you don't:

Not a chance must be wasted today!

(Carroll 1973)

INTRODUCTION

In Lewis Carroll's classic poem 'The Hunting of the Snark', first penned in 1891, a bellman, bootmaker, bonnet maker, billiard maker, banker, broker, baker and beaver search for a creature characterised by a 'meagre and hollow, but crisp' taste; a 'fondness for bathing-machines'; ambition; and a 'habit of getting up late'. What the snark becomes for each hunter is, simply, a fictitious creature of their own imaginations and fears.

There is similar disagreement about the ways in which contemporary universities should be led and managed, and few writers move beyond broad generalisations for action. This is particularly true for writers analysing higher education from sociological (eg. Meek & Wood 1997), institutional theory, and political economy perspectives (eg. Marginson & Considine 2000). A view of universities as 'loosely-coupled, organised-anarchical professional bureaucracies', to paraphrase Weick (1976), Cohen and March (1974), and Mintzberg and Quinn (1988), can too quickly lead to a sense of learned helplessness on the part of administrators, senior executives and academic managers, since such perspectives view the potential for proactivity in management and leadership as severely limited (Mignot-Gérard 2003, p. 140).

A more positive response, however, is to manage and lead the 21st century university in a purposeful manner rather than with an overwhelming sense of purposelessness. While there are no simple recipes for success, the core assumption of this paper is that it is often possible to adopt a more proactive stance than is currently occurring in many institutions, and that developing a fuller understanding of the experiences of others in managing and leading the contemporary university can provide a more comprehensive analytical frame through which other institutions may be viewed. In exploring this assumption, the paper considers the nature of contemporary universities and the tensions and issues which arise from their management, before considering how such tensions may be reconciled.

These tensions figure prominently in the popular media and, in our view, integrate the concerns of many academics across the Australian higher education sector. These are broad issues, often given little consideration from the perspective of management theory. They represent fertile ground for future management research projects, and a real challenge to those whose research has lain in other sectors. Some view the tension as akin to irresolvable 'wicked' problems, however we do not believe that all are equally important for all institutions, their existence gives rise to undercurrents of concern in most universities, and it is time that they faced more focused attention from the management research community. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.