Strengthening Academic Leadership from Above: “Renewal” of the Russian University Leaders
20 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2021
Date Written: December 8, 2020
In recent years, new external demands have led universities to change internal governance structures, including changing the formal procedure of selecting university leaders from elections to appointment. These changes are rooted in the belief that appointment has higher chances of bringing in independent leaders capable of converting universities into strategically-governed organizations. In this article, we test the specific hypothesis that the change in formal procedure has catalyzed significant changes in rector leadership towards increasing (1) external recruitment, (2) emphasis on a managerial background, (3) recruitment from the natural and life sciences, and diminishing (4) academic credentials. The hypotheses are tested using data on the 197 rector replacements that have occurred in Russian universities as a result of changes in rector selection procedure from elections by the professoriate to appointment by the state. We compared two groups of rectors: outgoing rectors and new leaders who took office in 2015–2017. The data show that in general there is no strong support on the top-management level for the claim that a ”traditional” academic career pathway has been reduced in favor of the new type of leader more suited to strong leadership. The rhetoric about new leaders able to move a university from its existing organizational path does not convert into practice. Although the Russian case demonstrates the same empirical pattern as European universities, the main reason for procedural changes is different. We conclude that apparently similar rhetoric and practices might be related to the different processes in the Russian national university system.
Keywords: academic leadership; university governance; new managerialism, rector; university leaders; Russian universities
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