Date of Award

8-2015

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Laura Lindenfeld

Second Committee Member

Bridie McGreavy

Third Committee Member

Nathan Stormer

Abstract

Today, many institutions of higher education struggle to maintain their social relevance and keep pace with increasing rates of change in their local and global contexts. The exploratory research presented in this thesis examines faculty leadership and change agency in institutions of higher education. The theory of action behind these two chapters is that to help institutions of higher education become more socially relevant and able to adapt to changing conditions, we must first understand how academic ecosystems function. These two chapters contribute to this understanding through their focus on faculty identity and experiences as leaders and change agents in their campus communities. We consider these concepts through a communication lens, and focus on a qualitative case study of faculty in a pilot professional development program to enhance their communication and leadership skills. This research was inspired by the identified need to surmount communication barriers between institutions of higher education and external stakeholders. There are also many communication barriers between members within academic communities, and to help universities make the shifts required to keep up with swiftly changing circumstances and high uncertainty, academic community members must also breach these internal barriers to create more resilient, interconnected, and innovative campus communities.

In Chapter One of this case study, faculty’s location in the ecotone of power systems in institutions of higher education is explicated through their understandings of leadership, as shared in semi-structured interviews. Using Giddens’s theory of structuration as a sensitizing device (1984), along with leadership literature and theories of communication as constitutive of organizations and power from Mumby (2001) and Castells (2009), the first chapter presents a thematic analysis of the interviews. It explores faculty understandings of leadership and how these understandings reflect faculty’s position within the academic ecosystem, at the intersection of the authoritative, hierarchical structure and the anarchical professional structure. Participants blended concepts from hierarchical understandings of leadership with those from newer concepts of leadership-as-process in a very fluid way, without seeming to realize they were doing so. Given faculty’s unique position within the organizational structures of institutions of higher education, this research also investigates how these agents thrive in the ecotone of power in academia. The second chapter presents exploratory findings, rooted in a modified grounded theory approach, that indicate three critical characteristics allowing faculty participants to thrive in the changing environmental conditions of the academic ecotone: (i) a collaborative interdisciplinary disposition, (ii) optimism, (iii) humility.

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