Relishing Creative Difference

A 2011 research report, “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas” published by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, stated that some people have covert biases against creativity when there is a level of uncertainty about the imagined result.  I thought of academic leaders who do not appreciate creativity.  By creativity I am referring to diversity of all types (e.g. race, ethnicity, geographic background, and free thinking).

In recent years I have noticed that higher education sometimes places greater emphasis on personal qualities than on skill set and experience.  Are we stifling administrative creativity at our universities by hiring individuals for higher education jobs with whom we feel comfortable (e.g. friends, colleagues, and sometimes family)? We sometimes overlook individuals who may be better qualified for positions based on education, training, and experiences.  In higher education, administrators often rotate among universities – establishing leadership teams comprised of longstanding trusted advisers.   It is important to also interject individuals already employed at these universities who have studied and trained and dreamed of advancing in university positions.  Can a person enter the pipeline by virtue of skills and knowledge and not only the ability to make someone feel comfortable?

I encourage academic administrators to weight the selection criteria for higher education positions in favor of education, training, and experience.  These are the qualities that we have espoused as essential to career success.   The covert criteria of making the supervisor feel comfortable or knowing someone who knows somebody should be nonexistent.  Institutional and personal growth occurs when there is diversity of opinion and method.   Have the strength to endure and appreciate differences for the sake of creativity and growth.

D. A. Gary (pseudonym) has 30 years’ administrative experience in higher education, and is currently employed at a “high research activity” university in the southeastern United States.

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