Aesthetic Dimensions of Educational Administration and Leadership by Eugenie A. Samier and Richard J. Bates

Book Info

Title: Aesthetic Dimensions of Educational Administration and Leadership
Author(s): Eugenie A. Samier and Richard J. Bates with Adam Stanley
Publisher: Routledge
Publishing Date: March 2012

Synopsis

In their book Aesthetic Dimensions of Educational Administration and Leadership, Eugenie A. Samier, Richard J. Bates (2006) et al., have made a significant contribution to a critical body of literature, which suggests that an aesthetic theoretical framework is an alternative lens through which we can better know and understand the field of educational administration and leadership. Samier and Bates posit that a discussion of aesthetics as it relates to educational administration has been limited to a consideration of aesthetics as only a mechanism through which the effectiveness of administration could be improved. Each chapter of this book provides a useful perspective that contributes to a broader discussion of aesthetics, which represents a significant departure from the conventional, mechanistic approaches to educational administration and leadership.

Divided into three parts, this book begins by examining the various philosophical traditions of aesthetics as they relate to educational administration, focusing on the philosophical writings of Kant, Nietzsche, Collingwood, Habermas, and Dewey, among others. Part two explores architecture, literature, film, and movement as aesthetic sources for administrative critique and part three focuses on some of the implied problems of charisma, heroism, and authority. This book concludes with an analysis of politics and power within the context of contemporary educational administration and leadership theory. Samier and Bates note that this book is written primarily for current and aspiring school administrators and leaders, and it has significant implications for the future of educational administration and leadership studies.

Commentary & Views

The aesthetic framework presented by the contributing authors conceive of a new form of administration: one that is not consumed by empirical conceptions of leadership. An aesthetic administration embraces beauty and the unknown, re-imagines educative spaces as places for possibility and creativity, and interrupts the "technocratic project" of educational administration. This book is especially notable for its specific recommendations on embracing an aesthetic perspective. I particularly agree with Milley's recommendation that academic preparation programmes are safe spaces in which aspiring educational leaders might practice engaging in work about educational administration and leadership as an aesthetic exercise. Highly intellectual and persuasively written, each author makes a convincing argument for why an aesthetic framework is needed to provide alternative solutions to today's educational issues. I am convinced that an aesthetic theoretical framework can introduce new ideas into the field of educational administration and leadership and highly recommend these ideas be implemented by current students of educational policy studies.

C. Valentine

First, Kill All the Administrators by Stanley Fish

Article Info

Title: First, Kill All the Administrators
Author(s): Stanley Fish
Publisher: The Chronicle of Higher Education
Publishing Date: March 21, 2003

Synopsis

First, kill all the admin...wait, what? Stanley Fish's article First, Kill All the Administrators definitely succeeded at getting my attention when I first read it on The Chronicle of Higher Education website. I stumbled upon this article quite late - it was first published in 2003 - but I think Fish makes some points that are still relevant today. 

So, Fish asks, what do we need administrators for anyway? To some extent, scholars of educational administration are still concerned with rationalizing their role in the school system. I read on - curious to about what points the author would raise (another part of me, also wanting to justify my own career choice). Fish makes an important statement, which I had never before considered when he suggests that administrators "play a crucial role in the psychological economy of faculty members who wish to avoid responsibilities for their own failures". A strong statement - but I agree that blaming administration appears to be a common past-time among faculty. Fish goes on to argue that the heart of administration is actually an "intellectual task" as we are concerned quite often with "problems of coordination that require calculations of incredible delicacy made in relation to numerous (and sometimes potentially conflicting) institutional goals and obligations". We must look through piles of data and make difficult decisions, only hoping that we disappoint the right people. 

Ultimately, administrators exist to administer policy and follow procedures, and cannot possibly make everyone happy as they are put in place to lead the university and to make decisions for the common good. Are administrators always popular because of these decisions? Absolutely not. But Fish makes a further point, which I could not agree with more when he states that without administrators, there would be no class schedules, no Registrar's Office, no budget office, tenure process, or facilities management, resulting in no registration of students, no security of employment, no classes to teach in, and no money available for equipment, travel, lectures, and teaching awards. The larger and more complex an institution, the more administrators are required to help manage these tasks to not only support teachers, but also to ensure that the university is profitable and can function from year-to-year.

Commentary & Views

There is no university without administration, but there is also no university without teachers and students.They are all integral parts of the university, which is a system of knowledge. Though some may disagree that administration is vital for the functioning of the university, without administrators, teachers would never have time to focus on their interactions with students and individual research. While I have my own thoughts about the importance of educational administrators also being academics when they work in a university, I think that administrators play a crucial role by performing many of the tedious, business-oriented tasks that teachers would prefer not to do. Hate them or love them, administrators are necessary for running a university, and provide vital support functions that, if suddenly taken away, would cause chaos and disorganization that today's universities cannot afford.

C. Valentine

Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education by James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar

Book Info

Title: Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education
Author(s): James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar
Publisher: University of Toronto University Press Inc.
Publishing Date: 2011

Synopsis

In the book Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education, James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar (2011) express their concern with the uneasy state of liberal arts education in the broader context of the Canadian higher education system. They claim that due to the rise of pseudo-vocational training, the legacy of liberal arts education has been reduced to a system that offers BA-lite degrees to disengaged "customers", inflating the market with graduates who cannot effectively contribute to the economy, ultimately lowering educational standards and doing irreparable harm to the sanctity of learning as an end in itself. Cote and Allahar conclude that the days of a critical liberal arts education are over unless university stakeholders take immediate action.

Divided into three distinct parts, this book begins by critically examining the causes and effects of the rise of pseudo-vocationalism in modern Canadian universities. The authors then discuss issues associated with the institutional drift toward corporate training programs and end with some ways in which we can move forward as a more informed community into the second millennium of the university. This book is written primarily for university instructors, but it has significant implications for university administrators and policy makers. 

Commentary & Views

The authors suggest that university administrators have the power to change liberal education's grim future by standardizing grades and implementing other control measures that would ensure a minimum proficiency level, as long as they are willing to stop treating students as customers "who are always right". The system may be in crisis, but here the authors have provide practical suggestions for how administrators can cause effective change.

Overall, this book proposes useful ideas for how policy makers may become more engaged are intriguing and indicative of an emerging trend among administrators, who are evidently coming to similar conclusions. Recently, a new rhetoric has begun to shape academic administrative careers. The term  "alternative academic" or "alt-ac" has been used to describe academics who sometimes take on administrative roles or other roles within the university community. This trend is becoming popular and is in no doubt a response to credential inflation referenced in this book. With more PhD-qualified candidates, a staggering 18.6 percent of Canadian academics actually find careers as full-time professors, according to a 2015 University Affairs magazine survey. The rise of the alt-acs may cause what the authors have recommended: a mixing of stakeholders in the university forum. Ironically, Bowness suggests that for academics to make the transition into administrative or other university careers, they require more support in the form of professional skills workshops offered by professional schools. It would appear that you cannot have one without the other. While Cote and Allahar make a convincing argument for preserving our liberal arts education, there can be no question that career training programs and vocational schools provide an important service to our society today. 

My only criticism is that, while the authors invoke the metaphor of the arena where all university stakeholders may cross boundaries and engage in a broader discussion about our educational system in the real world, they are vague in their description of how this might happen. While they recommend administrators should also be teachers, it's important that faculty still have the same opportunities to participate in academic pursuits, such as research, teaching, attending conferences, publishing in journals, and pursuing master's and doctoral degrees.

I found this book to be excellent in that it might appeal to administrators on a philosophical level, reminding us that we are supposed to be stewards of Canada's educational system. Highly criticized for our lack of demonstrated results, the field of university administration certainly has its own challenges and connecting theory to practice, but what students of this discipline can agree on is that administrators should manifest the virtues of academic practice and seek truth and knowledge in all that they do. This has not been the case. In my opinion, administrators, policy makers, and students in educational leadership preparation programs should take the suggestions presented in this book and form a new agenda to reclaim the university as a community of scholars.

C. Valentine

Administrators - They're Just Like Us! by Maureen Mancuso

Article Info

Title: Administrators - They're Just Like Us
Author(s): Maureen Mancuso
Publisher: University Affairs Magazine | www.universityaffairs.ca
Publishing Date: June 11, 2014 (online)

Synopsis

Administration is a word that seems to make most academics cringe. In his introduction to The College Administrator's Survival Guide, C.K. Gunwales describes the traditional "knowledge worker's attitude" of the academic who takes on an administrative role as having lost twenty IQ points just by doing so. I enjoyed reading Maureen Mancuso's article Administrators - They're Just Like Us in the Canadian publication University Affairs magazine because it attempts to give a thoughtful and introspective glimpse into the life of academic administration.

Mancuso, the Provost and Vice President Academic at the University of Guelph (at the time this article was published), paints the modern day academic administrator as both student and teacher because administration is fundamentally about learning. Her message: administration, although sometimes viewed as a "necessary evil" - isn't so bad, and in one sentence she is able to sum up this profession so beautifully that I wish I had written it myself:

One great privilege of university-level administration is that you are perched at the ideal viewpoint to perceive the truly expansive scope of impacts that universities and their faculty, staff and students have upon the community and the world.
— Maureen Mancuso, University Affairs Magazine

Commentary & Views

The one thing that has drawn me to educational administration is the unique perspective it gives me on the overall functioning of the university, which I have always found fascinating. I am intrigued by the magic of the academic experience of which administration is a vital aspect, and in my opinion this article captures the spirit of what I think administration should be. Somewhere along the the line, administration seems to have become about something seriously lacking in intellectual rigor. This needs to change.

C. Valentine