I produced this a fly-on-the-wall, ethnographic portrait of a university president leading an institution through a period of momentous change in order to provide some teaching tools for those thinking about, and wrestling with, issues of leadership and governance in higher education—a way to make those issues “real, intimate and immediate in ways that paper cases and war stories cannot.” as Sharon McDade, now Director of the Center for Educational Leadership and Transformation at George Washington University, described the film. The project was funded by the Lilly Endowment’s leadership education programs.
For it we filmed fifty-five hours of material during the spring of 1993 at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and shaped those materials into this forty-four minute film. There were many stories and characters we followed to try to portray the staggering complexities of a university as the social entity a president has to lead and help govern. The story of conflict over the homosexual issue unfolding that semester at Emory was particularly challenging, and at one point in our shaping and reshaping the film threatened to be the tail that wagged the dog.
The film stirred some controversy among academics studying leadership and governance. While some, like Ron Heifetz, co-founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's JFK School of Government, found the film “captures vividly the demands and vicissitudes of leadership” and is “enormously useful for leadership educators,” others were disturbed by the way in which trustee decisions were “prepared” through personal conversations with “key trustees,” drawing on personal ties of influence and obligation among board members, some with longstanding ties with one another in Atlanta. The model of governance these scholars favored—and preached—required simply open discussion and formal democracy among individuals coming together in the board room.
Many conversations with those practically involved in governance at colleges and universities around the country suggested that that model did not reflect the actual nature of the realities many normally dealt with. This seems to me another unfortunate example of the difficulties many academics have, given their individualistic social backgrounds, of seeing—let alone understanding and working with—the kinds of close-knit, familiar communities that exist among many--if not most--of their fellow citizens, including the makers and shakers of Atlanta on Emory's board at the time. (This is part and parcel, I believe, of the relentless difficulties many often have in understanding more traditionally minded and socially conservative groups among their fellow Americans--including African Americans and Latinos--and in the wider world.)
To address this and other questions, I prepared and published, with support from the Lilly Endowment, some “Print Resources” to accompany and be used with "Leading Out." They draw on materials from our footage (full interviews with over twenty characters gave us much to work with), as well as other sources, to provide fuller contexts for issues and characters appearing in the film. I intend to put those print materials online. (Check jamesault.com for news about that development.)
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