Reference List Entry:

Cook-Sather, Alison, and Peter Felten. 2017. "Ethics of academic leadership: Guiding learning and teaching." In Cosmopolitan perspectives on academic leadership in higher education, edited by Feng Su and Margaret Wood, 175-191. London: Bloomsbury.

About this Book Chapter:

In this article, Cook-Sather and Felten draw on Appiah’s ‘rooted’ (2005) and Hansen’s ‘embodied’ (2014) cosmopolitanism to argue that academic leadership of current higher education system should not aim for some sort of uniform and universal values, but rather embrace the differences of the people and the circumstances of local environments. Leadership should consider partnership, and reciprocity upon which partnership is based, as fundamental for its success (p. 175). The authors recognize from the start that the ethics of reciprocity and partnership challenge western higher education system and that they, by proposing it, work against current dominant model(s) of the system. Quoting Hansen (2014, p. 4), Cook-Sather and Felten agree that education should cultivate “moral sympathies, deepened democratic dispositions, and a serious sense of responsibility for the world,” but instead, as it is practiced today, it functions as a way of “training human capital” for national and multinational economic markets (p. 177). Using Walker’s (2009) description, they argue that by today’s academic leadership education is perceived as “an instrumental investment to improve productivity, […] and its] interactions are reduced to profit-seeking exchanges (p. 177).

As a counterpoint to such “dehumanized” education system, Cook-Sather and Felten employ Nixon’s “ethics of connectivity” (2012), according to which certain fundamental changes should be introduced to the education system in order to bring the ‘human’ element back into focus: it should redirect its attention at the process of teaching and learning; let go of ‘learning outcomes’ since the value of learning lies in its un-determinability, in the open, unknown outcome of the process ([education] “constitutes an uncharted, unpredictable journey into self-awareness, self-understanding, and knowledge of the world in which we live”(p. 179)); and try to develop an inclusive and collaborative relationship between teachers and students (p. 178).

Cook-Sather and Felten focus on three major concepts that should define future education philosophy: liminality, reciprocity and partnership. They employ the term ‘liminal’ or ‘liminality’ to describe an ideal space for higher education institutions. It is a stance, that in their opinion and when taken willingly (not as an imposition), embraces ambiguity, marginality and in-betweenness. It refuses to adhere to “classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space” (p. 181). When positioned in a liminal space, one acquires a unique opportunity to challenge the assumptions that had turned into unquestionable and unquestioned truths though time. They write that when someone is in a liminal space, they are “ambiguous, neither here not there, betwixt and between all fixed points of pure possibility whence novel configurations of ideas and relations may arise” (p. 181). The concept of reciprocity, as described by the authors, entails “balanced give-and-take” (p. 181), although both sides might and should have different things to offer and to contribute. The difference in experiences and perspectives is not diminished in the process, but rather acquires a heightened value. Thus, education can become a perpetual dialogue between equal, but diverse parties that collectively share responsibility (p. 182). When it comes to partnership, Cook-Sather and Felten reiterate their definition of it stating that it is “a collaborative, reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualization, decision making, implementation, investigation, or analysis” (p. 182).

Connecting these concepts back to cosmopolitanism, Cook-Sather and Felten remind us of the original Greek use of the term ‘kosmopolites’, meaning the ‘citizen of the world’ and referring to one’s obligation and responsibility towards all humans and their allegiance to humanity. But, also propose to consider the local realities, local interests, contexts and settings, following Appiah’s philosophy of ‘rooted’ cosmopolitanism in which there is no tension between the universal and the local. Viewing ‘unfinishedness’ as the very quality of education, of what “makes us educable” (p. 186), Cook-Sather and Felten propose that the leadership be open to new ideas, values and practices; that they reconsider education as a space of encounter, of a dialogue though which one acquires new identity, but this very identity is undetermined and can never be predicted.