Higher Education Organizational Theory and Leadership
The following briefing paper has been prepared to assist you in preparing your speech to the local chamber of commerce. The topic you have been asked to speak on is outlining the differences in leading an institution of higher education as opposed to running a for-profit business. The briefing highlights key points from three oft-referenced scholarly articles on the topic of higher education organizational theory and leadership. These points explain higher education structures and the differences between higher education organization and leadership and what your audience might be accustomed to. I have included references for your aid.
Introduction. Higher education and private business have much in common. They use resources to produce a product for a defined client base. They are led by individuals with vision, passion, and leadership for their organizations. At their heart are dedicated people that make up the organization. However, there are also many differences, especially in making these organizations work well.
The Complex Structure of Higher Education. The university is a complex organization. Baldridge, Curtis, Ecker and Riley (1982) found that colleges and universities have characteristics that distinguish them from private enterprises as well as other government organizations. They describe the higher education environment as one where resources allow individuals within the organization room to grow in different directions without the tight restraints seen in other types of environments. They go on to describe the role of the president and other university leaders as catalysts or facilitators rather than the “my way or the highway” mentality of some private CEOs. Baldridge et al. describe this environment as “organized anarchy” where this facilitation role, also described as collegial decision making, leads to an environment where decisions “happen” rather than are “made.” Politically, this environment tends to be mostly inactive with very fluid, fragmented participation. The president assumes the role as “first among equals”, a mediator between power blocs on campus. This is very different in all but a few private corporations.
Loosely Coupled Systems. Weick (1976) takes a very similar view of this organizational theory but from a slightly different perspective. He writes of the higher education institution as a “loosely coupled system”, a system that differs markedly from the organization system of a private enterprise. The basic theory is that, unlike the militaristic ideal of the “tight ship” that many private organizations have adopted, loosely coupled systems have “softer” linkages between each unit of the organization.