Ethical practices of the middle managers in a South African university
Fadhl, Abraheem Qassim
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Middle managers play an important role in contemporary organisations, particularly in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Research on middle managers in a HEI environment suggests that their roles, work practice and identities are under-researched. Middle managers occupy a central position in organisational hierarchies where they are responsible for implementing senior management plans. In HEIs in SA academic middle managers/heads of departments (HODs) face many challenges that are not commonly found in conventional organisations. In this qualitative study the contribution is based on the participants’ experiences in relation to an increasingly diverse workload and responsibilities. Using a fluid conceptualisation of identity and subjectivity, the researcher argues that academic middle managers are engaged in ethical and political practices through demands in the workplace. Drawing on theories on ethics put forward by Foucault, Levinas & Critchley, various aspects of ethics of ‘the self’ and ethics of ‘the other’ in relation to academic middle managers’ identities and practices are discussed. A case study was used with a cross-sectional research design to gather the data on academic middle managers in a single faculty in a South African HEI. Information gathered particularly focussed on the implementation of ethical practices. The findings show that middle managers’ work practices were dependent on their ethical goals and aspirations. This is crucial to achieving success in a HEI. The findings indicate that many academic middle managers engaged with the multiple demands of their positions but attempted to form and shape their identities and practices in the higher education system in response to their own ethical value systems. Thus, academic middle managers created and fashioned new and personalised hybrid identities based on their ethical values to cope with multiple demands. The recommendation is that academic middle managers receive contemporary management training (such as intrapreneurship, leadership, management, administrative etc.) on how to cope and manage the multiple demands within a higher education environment. It is further recommended that they be given more space and freedom to rely on ethics in dealing with their functions rather than following strict guidelines on what they ought to do within their respective departments.