Change requires coordination and buy-in.
Much of the training of expertise within academia still functions on the apprentice model. New faculty learn “the ropes” via physical integration and (sometimes informal) mentorship from the seasoned faculty members. Passing on your approaches and procedures within the institution’s system can foster a heightened sense of ownership and protection of what is considered to be one’s domain. Furthermore, academia is broadly decentralized in its organizational structure.
Change relies on functional interpersonal dynamics.
Academia fosters intense and long-standing interpersonal relationships – and that’s difficult to do well. Your colleagues are not just your coworkers. They are your research partners and fellow board members. They are your network of resources. In some cases, they are practically family.
The academic equivalent of dysfunctional family dynamics can carry on across generations, trumping or distracting change efforts. Thanks to the use of the apprentice model, any individual or cultural habits are (either implicitly or explicitly) passed down to the next generation of academics. “This is just how we do things around here“… “These are the people you don’t want to go to for such-and-such“… “Forget about xyz policy, nobody enforces it anyway...”
Change requires motivation to change.
Nobody is going to be persuaded to participate in change efforts without some sort of motivation. Many theories of motivation (expectancy-value theory, VIE theory, etc) include a value of the anticipated outcome and expectations of what an individual’s efforts will be able to achieve.
Academia is strongly oriented toward intrinsic motivation, providing fewer external leverage points. Intrinsic motivation is much harder to put a name or a number on than extrinsic motivation, and therefore is harder to verbalize in a tangible way that will be relatable for a diverse group of individuals. It also makes it more complicated to assure individuals that their intrinsic desires will actually be enhanced through the change.
Change is impacted by leadership continuity and turnover.
Academic leaders frequently rotate in and out of roles, and are often on the steep part of the administrative and leadership learning curve. Recall that humans tend to prefer stability and continuity. People will have an easier time following the direction of a leader that has been “part of the pack” for a long time, rather than that of the “new guy” who doesn’t really understand who we are and what we do here.
Turnover is inevitable, and is itself a big change that people are sometimes thrown into without a life preserver. Enacting change in an environment that has recently been through an upset is difficult; the waters are muddy and people’s defenses are already higher than usual.
Continue reading about the challenges of making change in academia in part III of this series.