Stories of Faculty who Served as Academic Administrators: Career-Life Experiences and Academic Identities of five Associate Deans

  • Author / Creator
    Stovin, Derek
  • Deans, chairs, associate deans, and associate chairs are, as academic administrators, at the nexus of the university organization. Much has been written on educational leadership theory and practice and on organizational theory, management, and behaviour. I have come to wonder, though, what the experience of becoming and being an academic administrator is like for specific people who have taken on the role at specific times. What do we know of them as individuals, of their values and beliefs, and of their formative experiences? Have they changed fundamentally as part of having taken on these roles? How do they view and construe their roles and their social milieus? And how can we understand their values, beliefs, and thoughts in relation to their decisions and actions?
    The purpose of this research was two-fold: First, my intent was to improve my understanding of specific individuals’ experiences of becoming and being an associate dean through their narratives; second, I intended to improve my understanding of how these same individuals construed their surrounding social milieu(s) and approached their various roles. Narrative and interpretive inquiry can foster learning about both individuals and their related social milieus. It was, therefore, ideally suited to the two-pronged nature of this research. I called the particular type of narrative inquiry used for this research a narrative aggregate inquiry because my method involved first developing, or co-constructing, individuals’ narrative accounts with each one being a narrative analysis in itself. It then involved looking across the individual narratives for common themes and meanings, which is often called an analysis of narratives.
    An important component of the construction of individual narratives for this research was the use of pre-interview activities (PIAs), as developed and encouraged by Ellis (2006). Participants were asked to create images prior to the conducting of each interview related to the topic or time period that would be discussed. The PIAs combined with the open and conversational approach to the interviews to produce well-constructed narratives that convey the career-life experiences, values, thoughts, and beliefs of the participants. Scholars of higher education working within the interpretive tradition will, hopefully, find useful insight from, or affinity or resonance with, the narratives and the big ideas each contains. Practitioners of higher educational administration may also find the narratives useful as they engage in reflective practice.
    Beyond each individual narrative analysis, the analysis of narratives component also makes contributions to the field of higher educational organization and leadership. More specifically, the examination of associate deans’ narratives revealed three thematic areas that revolved around community, relationships, and commitments. These were, respectively: 1) Attending to local organizational and broader cultural environments; 2) Fostering relationships with others; and 3) Commitments to ideals and ideas. A number of career-life experiences were also found to be shared among the participants. Some of these key common experiences were: Curiosity and a “need for more” during early professional work; a rewarding graduate student experience; international work and travel broadening horizons; attaining balance; a supportive early home life; being “invited in” to academic administration; a significant focus on program development or implementation; extreme busyness, especially as related to administrative tasks; isolation and loneliness; insider versus outsider differences; and happenstance.
    Some implications from the findings of the research are that: Academic identity is an important driver of associate deans’ perspectives on their organizational social milieu, approaches to their role, and decision-making processes; academic identity appears to be well-established prior to coming into an associate dean appointment; associate deans may tend to privilege the cultural view that universities are institutionalized organizations and a cultural approach to leadership focusing on the fostering of relationships; and associate deans need dedicated time for structural-functional learnings but, more importantly, they need time and space to maintain their academic identities.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.