University leadership: why I`m not good at it

In the recent past I was proposed for leadership position in an academic institution. The proposal came from colleagues and the actual leader of that group, therefore I felt honored. Below I mention the main arguments used by colleagues to convince me to accept the invitation, and also my responses to them for why I will not accept it. I share them here with the hope that these can be helpful to someone, in whichever sense.

Argument 1.’ You have many publications therefore you know how science works.’

My reaction: Having several scientific papers is not a guarantee for good leadership (I am tall but am not a good basketball player).
Within the Romanian academic context, having a formal leadership position such as being department director or dean or similar, requires an increased administrative activity. For example if I am in an administrative type of meeting I loose the ‘strain’ of discussed things just in 5 minutes, the whole meeting being perceived as a monotonous boring noise (very honest and deep respect for those persons who can follow them and see and follow the meaning of these). On the contrary, I enjoy following for hours inspiring and creative talks and meetings. Administration is about linear ‘things’ and linear actions, without genuine possibilities to have ‘halt and reflect’ type of stops and genuine creative moments every week. In these creative silent moments I put together my thoughts, I review manuscripts and enjoy manuscript development. I cannot cope with things without having such periods, and I am not prepared to change my identity by abandoning them while still being sane. Obviously some people can cope with such duties better than others. I can, if needed, assist and inspire others if they want to learn more about how to publish, how to cope with the ‘publish or perish’ system, how to cope with manuscript rejections and what to research in order to be ‘relevant’ (in sustainability).

Argument 2. ‘You could change the system because you have a vision and people like you’

My reaction: (This was a very nice feedback and I am grateful to it. One may think that saying still ‘no’ after this support is a sign of irresponsibility.) For me it is very clear that it is the science and science communication (whether to students or the broad community) the way how I would like to contribute to a better world. It is also clear that I want to do this while being in Romania and more specifically Transylvania (no offense: this is the region [more exactly the Saxon cultural region from Southern Transylvania]) where I formed culturally, I know and understand, first of all). No matter where I work, I try to do my best to help that ‘small world’ being better. I helped several project developments and can add a good dose of creativity to projects if needed. I did this as teacher in high school, as researcher in Germany and Romania as well as associate professor, NGO person, project leader in my host institutions from Romania. One key condition for this is to keep my identity, and be allowed to do what I feel I am entitled and prepared to do. The system will start to improve, I guess, when people start to settle in the places they deserve and to which they belong, and where they are functional, whatever this might mean. Academic visions are not only about the vision itself, it is also about the people as key capital to reach the vision. Grand visions cannot be set, nor achieved, with a team which is split in small pieces. I think that the system will improve not when we replace few people, but when we replace people and change the core principles and rules governing the system. This is a hard job and I don’t have the profile to do that. Even if people generally accept me, this does not mean that I can confront them, if needed, and manage those types of conflicts which comes from deep differences in views and temperaments. If needed, I can contribute to vision forming and selecting good people for academic jobs and can motivate them. Although I am not good in a large number of ‘things’, I feel that I have a broad understanding about the various skills needed to be a good and competitive academic. I would use these to improve my institution.

Argument 3‘You have a huge network’
My reaction: Indeed, I have a capacity to form networks around me, probably because I can be enthusiastic and I believe in what I ‘preach’. I also searched for making my network useful for the institutions where I work, from the perspective of science projects and international visits of well established academics. Social network is a huge capital, but it can be also a pain (including me pain for network members e.g. when I’m not reliable nor communicative) if not managed well. Taking huge administrative loads as department director or dean, within the Romanian University context and my own personal capacities will mean dramatic trade-off of my network as well. I can, if needed, help others with teaching them about the basics of networking.

Conclusions

Within the Romanian context I feel that having good academic skills, even being excellent research project leader, does not automatically mean that the person can cope well with being formal university leader (eg dean, director of catedra etc). These are different human dimensions, and dynamics, including capacity to cope with administrative duties and bridging diverging perspectives, healing human aggression and conflicts. I am able to successfully manage a project when the people working with me are under my ‘control’ (ie I chose them, therefore I determine the start point of the whole thing). A department / faculty is not a research team.

Even without administrative works, I am in a constant struggle to harmonize teaching quality, scientific contributions, contact with ‘stakeholders’ (I work a lot with local communities, this is an extra task), other university duties and being parent in a genuine way. I think I can be a great asset for institutions working in knowledge generation, dissemination and teaching. I would prefer to be respected as such and not in other ways. I cannot help a system against my own identity. That`s it, shortly from my side. I may be alone or not in this, but I cannot speak for others.

Overall, I feel privileged to be an academic in Romania. Lots of good things to do. Academia is the avant garde of social value change, this is my belief and this is what I want to contribute.

Deepest respect for those academics who can cope with the challenges of being excellent academic institution leaders in the Eastern European context. If on the top of this they are even highly productive from a scientific point of view, they are “bright spots” worth to be researched as role models :).

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