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Towards Care-Centered Leadership in Higher Education: A Narrative Inquiry into Care Ethics Experiences and Practices of Academic Leaders

  • Author / Creator
    Schultz, Christie
  • In the wake and work of present-day social movements, on our campuses and beyond, there is growing recognition that, as academics, we ought to care—not just for our research and our students, but also for each other and our communities more broadly. Indeed, it has been and remains critical that we research and work to understand caring and experiences of caring in leadership in higher education so that we may envision ways that care-centered leadership might enable changes that begin on our campuses and reach outwards to positively impact our communities. Since beginning to serve in academic administration and leadership roles, I have often wondered where or if care and care ethics are present within academic leadership. I have also wondered if care ethics made visible—ethics that include collaboration, connection, and relationality—might augment the critical approach to academic work with which I am familiar. Leading me to this program of research, I frequently asked: Should I care? Is it a professional or leadership risk to care for people over processes and results? And, how do academic leaders in higher education experience and practice care and the ethics of care? This study counters the acceptance of dominant academic norms by engaging in narrative inquiry with academic leaders who intentionally adopt or identify with practices guided by an ethic of care and relationality. Grounded in Noddings’s (1984/2013) work on care theory and a feminist ethics of care, this research draws on narrative inquiry, “the study of experience as it is lived and told” (Caine et al., 2017, p. 215), as a means of exploring experiences of care-centered leadership alongside this study’s four participants. Narrative inquiry seeks to understand experience by situating narrative as both the phenomenon under study and the method of study (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990). Attending to the temporal, social, and place aspects of the lives of the participants, and the researcher, this relational “three-dimensional narrative inquiry space” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) nurtured an ongoing process of “thinking narratively” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). As the study took place over time, and as the participants and I engaged in “living, telling, retelling, and reliving” (Huber et al., 2013), the personal became foregrounded in relation to social, cultural, and institutional narratives (Clandinin & Rosiek, 2007), thereby making these broader narratives visible. As relationality and Noddings’s relational care ethics are central in narrative inquiry (Clandinin et al., 2018), this methodology intentionally complemented the phenomenon of this research. While research on leadership in general is common, leadership research specific to higher education and the experiences of academic leaders over time is limited. This research moves towards the conceptual theorizing of leadership in higher education, thereby contributing to the national discussion about the future of higher education leadership. This work, therefore, makes visible ways that leaders in higher education draw on care-centered relational ethics, practices that may also foster innovation and resilience, and encourage new ways of engaging with students, communities, and each other. Narrative and theoretical understandings of the nature of care, care work, and relational work are foregrounded, showing how care-centered leadership stories within higher education are relevant within and beyond the academy. Composed before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, the experience of living and writing during this time figures prominently in the final two chapters, opening up new wonders about how care ethics might be both practiced and theorized in the future.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
    Thesis
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
    https://doi.org/10.7939/r3-5ewj-mq72
  • 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.