Leadership: Ethical Architects in Higher Education

Leadership: Ethical Architects in Higher Education

Linda Ellington (Southern New Hampshire University, USA) and Victor Wang (Liberty University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4141-8.ch002
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This chapter is designed to do three things while discussing the challenges of leadership ethics in higher educational institutions. First the chapter discusses that every university is vulnerable to an ethical slippery slide into the unethical abyss no matter the size of the institution. Secondly, the chapter highlights the gap between leadership theory and practice, and finally, the chapter recognizes the danger signs before the learning institutions come too close to that slope, edge, cliff, or precipice. This then leads to the significance that ethical architects must be stewards of such ethical practice or the consequences affect all corners of higher learning institution, all corners of the globe, not only faculty and staff, but external perceptions of the university as well. The orientation of the chapter focuses on the ethical dilemmas intrinsic to a professional role or what is often termed quandary ethics, that is, what are the bases of choice to be used by academic leaders faced with conflicting values. The core contribution of the chapter is a contribution to knowledge concerning ethical challenges and ethical actions in a higher education institution.
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Leaders should be a key source of ethical guidance and yet little empirical research focuses on an ethical dimension of leadership and there is a silent creep of impending doom if we do not recognize that every higher educational institution is vulnerable, no matter how great (Collins, 2005; Brown, Trevino, & Harrison, 2005). No matter how much the institution has achieved, no matter how much power the institutional leaders have garnered, they are vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. Anyone can fall and will do so if they continue to hide behind their mask of ethics. One of the many questions we asked ourselves while writing this chapter was how would we know the institution is sliding down the slippery slope of unethical leadership? To be clear this chapter is not about the demise of higher education in general but our aim is to offer a literature rich perspective of how decline in ethical leadership can happen, even to those who appear invincible, so that all stakeholders in higher education have a better chance of avoiding the tragic fate of being led by those who continue to seed the decline. We asked many questions with our intention to provide information on how institutional leaders hopefully stay off the path toward impending doom.

Ethical leadership predicts outcomes such as perceived effectiveness of leaders but we do acknowledge that there is a gap in philosophical knowledge that exists between organizational leaders of different generations, different cultures, different ethnic origins, or even different cultural ethics and that there has and will continue to be a surge in interest in leadership ethics. However, context matters in how leadership is practiced in a specific setting, industry, or organization (Rose & Bergman, 2016; Brown, Trevino, & Harrison. 2005). What this means in a practical sense is that a particular leadership ethical style that works in one context may not work in another. And connected to that practical sense the authors of Leadership Management: How can this Affect Institutions of Higher Education discuss the importance of leadership within the higher education setting (Wang & Sedivy-Benton, 2016). They go onto highlight that there are specific characteristics of higher educational leaders that should cause us to consider how leadership might be practiced differently in the field of higher learning. Some examples they point out that might modify the practice of leadership in higher education include faculty tenure, shared governance models, often non-profit status, and institutional missions.

Why read this chapter and what is different? We have fallen leaders and their crashing and burning institutions and we wonder, “Why did they do it?” Many may assume that such a monumental failure could never happen in their institution. According to Jennings. (2006), “Given enough pressure and culturally induced myopia, all leaders are vulnerable. The checks and balances come from being able to recognize when the institution is at risk” (p.10). The focus on this chapter therefore is to shine a spotlight on the slippery slope, the ethical cliff, and other philosophical metaphors for doom. But first we highlight how to recognize the danger signs before we come too close to that slope, edge, cliff, precipice. This chapter is not prescriptive nor is it a ‘how-to’ but it is a view from scholarly literature, taking a pause to look into the leadership mirror and through the window, in order to take the time to create and sustain an atmosphere of ethical leaders. Leaders in higher educational institution may experience what Dill (1982) term as ‘quandary ethics’ meaning what do they base their choices on when faced with conflicting values?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Legal Ethics: Principles and values, which together with rules of conduct and laws, regulate a profession such as the legal profession. They act as an important guide to ensure right and proper conduct of daily practice of the law which include ethical standards such as independence, honesty and integrity.

Higher Education: Is considered beyond high school. Includes colleges and universities.

Ethical Leadership: Morals an individual finds desirable or appropriate and is concerned with the virtuousness of individuals. The leader’s choices are influence by their moral development.

Ethical Dilemma: A situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two courses of action, either of which entails transgressing a moral principle.

Academic Ethics: Directed by respect for ethical beliefs and values and for the dignity and rights of others. Related to concepts such as trust, honesty, consideration and fairness.

Governance: Relates to the processes of interaction and decision making among the actors involved in a collective problem that leads to the creation reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions. It is the way rules, norms and actions are structured, sustained, regulated. and held accountable.

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