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Peer Leadership Case Study – Peer Leadership Influence in Higher Education
The Technology Department was one of the largest and most popular departments at the university. Two of the largest undergraduate programs were housed within the Department and its graduate programs were selective. The Department had a reputation and long history of conducting quality research that had, in years past, provided external funding that the Department used to sustain the robust research interests of its faculty. That funding was almost non-existent now as the faculty pursued their personal research agendas versus pursuing external grant funding in other research areas. Although one of the largest departments, it was increasingly seen as difficult to work with and was perceived as somewhat arrogant by both faculty and staff.
The department head, Peter Helms, was very popular with several senior faculty that he had promoted throughout his tenure as department head, and was viewed favorably by most of the other tenured and junior, non-tenured faculty. However, he had issues with the dean of the college. The issues with the dean had evolved over the years and were ongoing. Most of the issues focused on the dean’s desire to have more outreach programs, to develop an online degree and to pursue more external grant funding. The faculty, especially the department head and senior faculty, were resistant and wanted to maintain the current pedagogy of teaching in the classroom and pursuing their own personal research agendas.
Peter was convinced that the Technology Department needed to change if it wanted to remain relevant in higher education. The name of the department did not accurately represent the curriculum and pedagogy that had evolved over the past 10 years. The research efforts of the faculty enhanced their professional development but was not focused on winning external grants that would provide needed funding to continue research efforts within the Department. The college that the Department was in did not have the funding to support the new technology faculty needed to conduct research that could attract external grants. On top of all these needed changes, the
conflict between Peter and dean was progressing to a critical point.
Peter was focused on renaming the Department and moving the Department to another college within the university to achieve the perceived needed changes. Without knowledge of the dean, Peter began discussions with the dean of another college at the university, exploring the possibility of the Technology Department moving to that college. Without faculty involvement, Peter advanced his talks with the other dean to the point where Peter wrote a white paper outlining the advantages of moving the Department to the other college. Once written, Peter distributed the white paper to the Department faculty with explicit guidance not to distribute the paper outside the department.
The faculty had mixed opinions regarding the white paper. The senior faculty, whom Peter had considerable influence, were unanimous for changing the name and moving the Department to another college. This group also had considerable influence with key university administrators. The other tenured faculty had mixed views as some were for the proposed changes as it could afford them more research opportunities while others were still loyal to the college that housed their tenure. The junior, untenured faculty was afraid to voice an opinion for fear of either upsetting their senior mentors within the department or the college dean, who also had input to their promotion and tenure.
The conflict between Peter and dean reached a critical point when the dean anonymously received a copy of the white paper. Saying he had lost confidence in Peter’s ability to effectively lead the Technology Department, Dean Manion immediately removed Peter as department head and appointed another faculty member as interim chair over the objections of outraged senior faculty.
Removing Peter did not quell the issue, however; the ball had already started to roll. After several months of negotiations and approval by the university administration, the Technology Department split. Approximately half of the faculty remained in the established Department of Technology in Dean Manion’s college while the rest went with the new department, named the Department of Information Innovation, to another college.
1. Analyze Peter’s use of peer leadership with Dean Minion in terms of the four peer leadership competencies (Assist, Participate, Reflect, Presence).
2. What could Peter have done to better influence Dean Minion?
3. What could Dean Minion have done to better influence Peter to abandon his efforts to reorganize his department?
4. What could Peter have done to better influence the faculty that were against his proposed reorganization?

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