Ethics of Academic Leadership: Guiding Learning and Teaching
Authors: Alison Cook-Sather and Peter Felten
Cosmopolitan Perspectives on Academic Leadership in Higher Education, edited by Feng Su and Margaret Wood, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.
Both ‘leadership’ and ‘ethics’ are complex phenomena. Leadership can be conceptualized as an individual directing or controlling movement towards a goal, as a practice of organizing for movement in a given direction that focuses on responding and facilitating rather than commanding and controlling or as a sharing of the responsibilities for choosing a direction and pursuing it. Any conception of leadership evokes, and either reinforces or complicates, standard notions of position, power and responsibility. How those notions play out takes us into the realm of ethics: the values, ideals and standards that inform ideas and practices. In this chapter, we focus on academic leadership in higher education. We define academic leadership as any effort to enrich and improve teaching and learning undertaken by an individual (such as a staff member or student) or a programme (such as an academic development unit). We argue for academic leadership that embraces an ethic o f reciprocity and the practice of partnership in learning and teaching, and we suggest that such an approach might serve as a bridge between dominant, neoliberal values and what Jon Nixon (2012a, p. 134) has called ‘an ethics of connectivity’. Striving for the inclusivity but wary of the assumption of shared values espoused by some claims of cosmopolitansm, we draw on Appiah’s (2005) argument for ‘rooted cosmopolitanism’ and Hansen’s (2014) discussion of ‘embodied cosmopolitanism’ to propose that the fundamental work of academic leadership is not to aim for universally shared values, but rather to cultivate practices that can be widely embraced by a diversity of people (Appiah, 2006) and that recognize the contributions of differently positioned people.