Not Obligated to Be Obliging: A Case Study of Jamaican and South Carolinian Educational Leaders

By Boyce, Travis D.; Chunnu-Brayda, Winsome | Journal of Pan African Studies, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Not Obligated to Be Obliging: A Case Study of Jamaican and South Carolinian Educational Leaders


Boyce, Travis D., Chunnu-Brayda, Winsome, Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

This article looks at the leadership styles of two highly influential educational administrators: Benner C. Turner, president of South Carolina State College (SCSC) from 1950 to 1967, and Mavis Gilmour, minister of education of Jamaica from 1980 to 1984. They were in important positions at times of considerable social upheaval and change. History has viewed these leaders' styles solely as autocratic, paternalistic, and transactional. However, research data suggest that these two leaders' methods also had transformational qualities, which led to progress.

Turner, a 1930 Harvard law school graduate, was selected as president by an all-White board in the office of Governor Strom Thurmond. They believed that he would not challenge the racial status quo of the school (Grose, 2006; Hine, 1992, 1996). During his tenure, Turner faced student unrest because the country was in turmoil about civil rights. Turner expelled students and dismissed faculty members who were viewed as threatening to the school's reputation and to the progress of the school. Although Turner significantly improved the school's academic structure, physical plant, and quality of the faculty, by the time he retired in 1967, his reputation was that of an autocratic leader who did not care about civil rights (Grose, 2006; Hine, 1996; Potts, 1978). In contrast to Benner Turner's privileged upbringing, Mavis Gilmour was born and raised in rural Jamaica. During the 1930s and 1940s, she attended a rural primary school headed by a woman who became her role model:

She gave me the impetus to do the best always with whatever I was doing. [Gilmour, personal communication (PC), June 30, 200]

Gilmour graduated with a BS in 1947 and with a doctorate in medicine in 1951. She was the first female surgeon specialist in the Caribbean. She noted that her entrance into politics was driven by a desire to serve in a larger capacity:

I looked at what I was doing on the operating table: I was looking after one person. If I could sit down and make a decision, I could influence the whole society. Therefore, I changed and entered into politics. (Gilmour, PC, June 30, 2008)

Gilmour served for four years in the early 1980s as the education minister for Jamaica. After her term, Gilmour's critics said that her goals to upgrade the system had not been met. They said that her autocratic style detracted from the achievement of these goals.

Statement of the Problem and Study Purpose

The effectiveness of historical leaders can be evaluated in respect to the climate of their era. To do so, it is useful to examine them by leadership theories. Such theories allow us to evaluate them objectively to see if they were productive. This study evaluates the leadership tasks of Turner and Gilmour, in light of their times.

History currently views college presidents such as Turner as authoritarian collaborators who aimed to please their White boards (Fairclough, 2007). For example, they harshly punished any student or faculty member involved in insurrection against the school (Ellison, 1953; Gasman, 2007; Williamson, 2008). Similarly, some critics have panned Gilmour's effort to upgrade education in Jamaica and viewed her personality as contentious. This study evaluates the leadership styles of Turner and Gilmour, focusing on policies that they implemented during their administrations that reflect characteristics of transactional and transformational leadership.

Significance of the Study

No prior study incorporates leadership theory in relation to Turner's administration (Grose, 2006; Hine, 1992, 1996). Further, this study covers the first time that Jamaica had ever focused its policies on primary education. Gilmour, who articulated these policies, was the first woman to serve as minister of education (Lee, 1977).

Review of Significant Literature

In Leadership, Burns (1978) examines two management styles, transactional and transformational. …

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