Collaboration in Higher Education

Although there are many benefits to enabling a community of collaboration, most universities struggle to implement collaborative initiatives due to inherent barriers in organizational structure, and long-held values in the prestige of rewarding and promoting faculty autonomy. Faculty are hired and rewarded for their ability to develop and lead independent research programs. Their teaching practice is inherently dependent on their individual abilities to disseminate and transfer their disciplinary knowledge and expertise. So how can institutions move “from a culture that supports individual work to the ones that facilitate collaborative work” (Kezar, 2005, p. 833)? How do we promote a community of academic excellence where faculty are encouraged to collaborate and to capitalize on their collective intellectual capacities in their role as researchers, teachers and contributors to their institutional, local and global communities?

Kezar (2005) suggests 8 principles for enabling collaboration in academic environments: a strong mission; integrated structures; institutional networks; appropriate recognition and rewards; clear priority from senior administrators; external pressure; values and learning. These principles are implemented through 3 key stages: Building an Institutional Commitment to Collaboration; Establishing a Clear Commitment to Collaboration; and Sustaining Collaboration.It is time for faculty and administrators to advocate for and establish a positive culture of collaboration within our academic communities. We need to focus on hiring a new generation of academics who recognize and actively translate the benefits of collaboration, and who fundamentally challenge and change the existing culture of elitism within our institutional contexts and structures. We need to provide funding and administrative support to interdisciplinary projects which emphasize the benefits of our collective intellectual potential and capacity to inspire positive change. We need to establish a tenure and promotion system that rewards, rather than questions the value of collaborative academic initiatives. We need to set clear institutional missions and to sustain a positive community dialogue which advocates for and communicates the benefits of collaboration. Not only do we need to focus our own efforts on collaboration, but we need to motivate others around us – staff, faculty, and students – to engage in collaborative work.

I hold strongly to a fundamental philosophy that the best leaders possess exceptional collaboration skills. They strive to bring out the best in themselves and others, by sharing knowledge and resources, thus building a reciprocal network of support and mentorship. The best academic leaders acknowledge and accept the limits of their individual potential, and demonstrate an ability to enable, empower, and learn from others. Together, we have the collective capacity and interdisciplinary potential to address society’s most complex challenges, and perhaps most importantly, to inspire positive change in the world around us.

Reference:

Kezar, A. 2005. Redesigning for collaboration within higher education institutions: an exploration into the developmental process. Research in Higher Education 46(7): 831-860.

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