Modern Practice, Pragmatism, Philosophy in Higher Education Administration: Knowledge Leadership of the Chief Academic Officer

By Stevenson, Joseph Martin | College Student Journal, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Modern Practice, Pragmatism, Philosophy in Higher Education Administration: Knowledge Leadership of the Chief Academic Officer


Stevenson, Joseph Martin, College Student Journal


This essay elaborates on an earlier essay published in Education entitled, "The Modern Provost," which advocates the concept of knowledge management and systems to college and university chief academic officers. Although flamed for CAOs, this is published in the College Student Journal to stimulate interest among students as knowledge managers. Knowledge management is a new strategy used in the private sector to leverage intellectual capital in the modern learning organizations. The essay can serve as a prescriptive and reflective precis for current and prospective CAOs who are seeking a transformational ideology for renewed professional growth.

It was renowned educator Clark Kerr who said that "the university is the main instrument of society for the most widely ranging, most constant pursuit of knowledge." Most recently, the international section of the Chronicle of Higher Education promulgated the headline, "Switching From Sheep to Computers, New Zealand Seeks a Knowledge Economy: A New Government Tries to Place More Emphasis on Higher Education." Indeed, "knowledge" has, and continues to be, the thematic foundation for the mission of higher education throughout the U.S. and abroad. The conventional academic enterprise is organized around matrix relationships that are political, bureaucratic, collegial--and increasingly economic. Peter Drucker suggests that knowledge has become the key economic resource in contemporary companies as learning organizations. But very seldom do we bridge the theme of our mission with the ways we manage our institutions, or refer to higher education as a learning stratum with knowledge "brokerage" at the center of organizational management approach and the core of administrative leadership delivery. And this is especially pressing for chief academic officers who have "become increasingly the internal leaders of the nation's campuses," stresses Robert Dickerson head the of USA Group, a foundation dedicated to improving higher education. For purposes of clarity, this author uses the definitions of John Kotter (1990) in A Force for Change for management and leadership. Management, is defined as planning, organizing and controlling in an organization; and leadership is interpreted as the establishing of direction, and motivating and aligning of people. Academia will continue to recruit and retain provosts, deans, academic vice presidents, and other chief academic officers who are charged and challenged with leading the staff with centralized student support services and the faculty with decentralized curriculum development and academic program planning; setting the professorial direction for the triangular applications of teaching, scholarship and service; understanding the educational mission and the interdisciplinary relationships of the arts, sciences, and the professions; overseeing all learning repositories and resources, ranging from academic libraries to scientific and technological laboratories; working collaboratively with campus constituencies whose participatory contributions provide the vehicle and viaduct for authentic academic dialogue; and facilitating the development of an administrative infrastructure that combines strategic budgeting with the academic management of programs and services. The role of the chief academic officer has evolved since the introduction of models and recommendations in the 1984 publication of David Brown's Leadership Role of Chief Academic Officers for the Jossey-Bass Series of New Directions for Higher Education. Modern academic officers, particularly those who are in chief roles, should now consider the emerging role of the chief knowledge officer (CKO) as a model for modern leadership in higher education. Knowledge management (KM) is a relatively new strategy for leveraging the intellectual capital in the modern learning organization, most notably characterized over a decade ago by Peter Senge (1990) in The Fifth Discipline. An excellent reference for organizational learning is work by Anthony DiBella and his colleagues at MIT. …

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