Saturday, November 5, 2016

Leaders and women leaders

This seems a likely time to think about leaders and women as leaders.  Yesterday, one of my former bosses was honored for her leadership of my college.  At that university, there are four colleges, each with a separate mission, tone and its own building.  When I came to teach there, the College of Professional Studies did not exist.  It was created by uniting the College of Education and the College of Applied Arts.

"Applied" anything can be unwelcome in parts of academic communities for two reasons.  One is that subjects that don't seem to have much of an application to the world can be threatened by those that do.  Many students and their families feel drawn to subjects that seem to have an application, one that points to a future, as employment and income.  The other reason "Applied" subjects can be a bother is that intellectual development and scientific research and knowledge can be slowed by over-use of the question "What can this be applied to?" or "What is the use of this subject?"  You may have heard of the political division between "pure" investigators, who focus on finding out things and "applied" investigators, who are more drawn to discoveries that probably have some use.

I mention the mild opposition to applied subjects because my college and my background related to teaching, especially teaching in the American public schools.  Teachers, like several other professions and licensed occupations, are usually required to get further education, often measured in "credits" after getting their bachelor's degree and the teaching license of the state in which they teach.  That need, a basic tool for "keeping up to date", "catching up on the latest" and ongoing professional and personal challenges, changes and growth creates an audience for mature levels of education.  Other studies, such as versions of home economics and nutrition, speech and hearing sciences, and military science have similar social (that is, state government) and personal growth and study requirements.  Physical education is a special case since it leads to sports, which is a complex area, all its own.

A simpler version of college education focused in Western countries on a picture of a young male getting his final education in college and then launching into what is sometimes called "real life".  A more modern approach is that of continuing education, study and reflection that accompanies one through the several stages of life, from beginning to end.  Increasingly, hungry and curious minds sense the strength and value in educational activities at all stages of life, especially if those activities are tailored to the individual interests and talents of people.  Those talents accumulate and naturally diverge over the years.

I would not be surprised if we are getting slightly better at recognizing and nurturing various abilities and interests, including surprise directions of growth that were not present or detectable earlier in a person's life.  The rather basic and primitive idea that the professional knows and the student, patient, customer, employee doesn't, that the professional is the boss and is to be obeyed is changing.  Not all at once and naturally not totally since the professional expert does have knowledge and daily experience in theory, research and application that the student, patient, customer, employee calls on and needs.  But the responsibilities and the powers of each person are developing and pay off when recognized and employed.

My recently honored dean understood this needed balance between original thinking - super needed on campus and in labs - and order, structure and rules of operation.  In my view, the two genders have similar abilities of leadership but there are times when a woman's abilities to flex, to sympathize, to listen and to inspire are outstanding.  As long as she has the needed backbone, independence and courage, she will be remembered gratefully.  Dean Joan North is a model of such abilities.

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