Appreciating the University of the Free State's transformation: a juxtaposed journey with Alice to Wonderland
Smit, Emmerentia Jacomina
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Article 1 The University of the Free State (UFS) experienced extreme pressure to „normalise‟ all aspects of the institution in the aftermath of the Reitz debacle in 2008. This urged me to undertake a journey juxtaposed with Alice in Wonderland as a UFS staff member experiencing some dissonance about the changes in leadership. Being involved in marketing and publicity, I realised how my personal consciousness contributed to the collective consciousness, enabling me to share the unifying identity of my institutional environment. During this period of turmoil and change, the UFS had to revisit its identity and, like Alice, my institution and I had to embark on a journey in search of an authentic identity and to develop a consciousness of what that identity might be. Characters, sites and experiences served as Metaphor Positioning System (MPS), and not Global Positioning System (GPS), coordinates that assisted me in my journey towards identity consciousness. I also used observations, visual culture, literature and auto-ethnographic work to break down disciplinary boundaries as I unpacked the development of an institutional identity consciousness with aspects of the narrative genre – characters, time, space, themes, intrigues and the narrator‟s perspective. This study, therefore, provides insights that might add value to other institutions‟ processes of being conscious of their identities, and supplies beacons that will illuminate their journeys. Article2 Geographical settings contribute greatly to the unique identity of the institution. The urban campus is perceived as superior because of the access to technological, educational and recreational resources. The opposite is perceived of the rural campus, which often desires to copy the institutional identity of the urban campus. Directive documents and developmental programmes urge governments, urban HEIs, HE practitioners, and the global community to change their perception of rural campuses. However, self-image, self-esteem and individuality are internal processes of strategic self-appreciation and are applicable to the authentic institutional identity development of rural HE settings, as well as the conscious and unconscious branding of the HEI, as presented in this psycho-social perspective. Metaphors from Alice in Wonderland illustrate the pointlessness of an unauthentic identity. By synergising theories from the disciplines of social and developmental psychology and internal branding, and applying AI principles, the researcher re-conceptualises strategic authentic institutional identity formation. Article 3 A vision is perceived as a valued and strategic tool for a leader, but a dreaming leader might be frowned upon. However, Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and Appreciative Leadership (AL) employ “dreams” as one of the crucial elements of this qualitative research method. This conceptual article differentiates between a predominantly conscious-mind or preconceived dreaming (where the vision is restrained and directed by components of strategy formation) and a predominantly subconsciousmind or free-range dreaming (where the vision unveils a future unlimited by conscious constraints). An alternative concept of vision that might assist leaders drive creative transformation, instead of merely adjusting and upgrading existing strategies and practices, is conceptualised. Theoretical support is supplied by the Alice in Wonderland chronicle (Carroll, 1969) as well as by research conducted by Harvard‟s Medical and Business Schools. The article forms part of a larger research project within a post-critical paradigm, whereby the reflective and theoretical epistemology of leadership includes metaphors from Alice in Wonderland. These metaphors are juxtaposed with the UFS – where an internationally awarded transformation took place after a debacle that was covered by various major international news agencies. Article 4 This study documents the apparently devastating Reitz debacle – where four White students humiliated four Black service workers while capturing the incident on video – from one week prior to the incident which occurred in February 2008 to only 30 months later when the UFS received the World Universities Forum‟s 2011 Award for Best Practice in Higher Education. The purpose of the research was to apply the Appreciative approach to what seems to be an enormous disaster in the existence of the UFS. Motivation for the study manifested in a journey about sense-making of the defining factors that accomplished the transformation on the UFS campus. Intuitive as well as scholarly consideration determined the selection of the research design, approach and method. The Appreciative approach is applied within action research methods, especially participative and juxtaposed by an insider-author. The dynamics and opportunities that resulted from the Reitz debacle and the application of an Appreciative approach to leadership facilitated transformation on the campus and within its community. Data was collected by means of personal observations, interviews, photographs and documentation. The international media documented this uncontrolled case study extensively. To illuminate this study, traditional problem-based and appreciative strength-based leadership styles and images are juxtaposed with aspects in logician Lewis Carroll‟s fantasy novel Alice in Wonderland (1865). By applying an Appreciative approach, a life-giving transformation may develop from a seemingly disparaging debacle. This finding suggests some practical and/or managerial implications. Extensive international exposure not only contributes to the relevance, reality and validity of this case study on the Reitz debacle, but also illustrates the possibilities of alternative approaches to a global audience of leaders. The extraordinary success of the Appreciative approach may contribute and add value by challenging other institutions to employ this approach in order to heal, unite, and invigorate troubled and diverse communities. Article 5 The University of the Free State (UFS) underwent a well-publicised transformation process following a well-publicised dilemma. Over the past few years, the author experienced an unpublicised transformation process after one of those everyone-knew-but-you dilemmas. Auto-ethnography (AE) was my travel vehicle on my journey from institutional awareness to personal transformation. Through self-reflection, qualitative research methods and observation, travel-related metaphors, theories on transformation, personal development, personal transformation and authentic leadership were used as a vehicle to connect Self, Others and Culture in institutional and personal identity consciousness. The author‟s travel companion, the unpretentious and individualistic Alice of Wonderland, provides insight into and understanding in complex circumstances. The readers are taken along a ten-phase journey to experience the practical and theoretical processes of transformation, during which they will be allowed to linger among the locals at various Wonderland stations.