Leadership and Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century

Introduction: The Brave New World of 21st Century Higher Education and Leadership Studies

Kristin M.S. Bezio, Co-Editor IJLS, University of Richmond

The past three years in higher education have been years of sea-change, in which colleges and universities—alongside both primary and secondary schools—have seen unprecedented shifts in the processes and expectations surrounding education. The COVID-19 pandemic, debates about free speech, the advent of generative Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the recent Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. vs. President and Fellows of Harvard College (2023) Supreme Court case have all meant dramatic changes for the modes and methods of education.

It is because of these changes that we here at IJLS sought to create an issue dedicated to the ways in which higher education in particular has attempted to adapt to the brave new world of twenty-first century pedagogies and practices. When we think about higher education and leadership, we naturally consider elements such as educational policy and classroom methodologies, but we should also think about the ways in which new technologies such as AI and Zoom have shifted the atmosphere of higher education for administrators, professors, staff, and students alike.

In some ways, our lives have been improved by these changes. Meetings can now be held on Zoom from the comfort of our offices or homes; AI-assisted search engines are growing increasingly better at providing access to information in law and research libraries; and streaming services provide access to lectures given around the world. But at the same time—and as some of our authors will discuss—the twenty-first century has become a kind of educational wild west as we attempt to negotiate what it means for students to have access to generative AI; how student mental health is impacted by nearly constant connectivity; and how the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted policies and praxis alike.

For leaders in education, for administrators, and for educators and students of and for leadership, the implications of these rapid-fire shifts in educational and social technologies have changed many of the ways and means we use to teach and learn about and for leadership. It also requires—it is worth noting—leadership to stand at the forefront of these changes and look out over the horizon as we attempt to navigate best practices for ourselves and our students.

In this second volume of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Leadership Studies, we open with a thoughtful examination of a different way of teaching leadership that focuses on the past with an eye toward the future. In “Reacting to the Past as Education for Leadership,” Dr. Javier Hidalgo examines the pedagogical practice of using Reacting to the Past Games as a vehicle for teaching both historical context and leadership praxis in the modern classroom.

The second article again focuses on student-impact, drawing from extensive research into the psychological implications of COVID-19 and social media on college-age students. Drs. Karen Kochel and Catherine Bagwell, along with Samara Rosen, examine depressive symptoms in students relative to loneliness, social media, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the third piece, Dr. Joe Essid explores some of the myriad ramifications of generative AI on writing pedagogy, classrooms, and writing centers, drawing from both original research into AI and his years of experience as a writing center director. Essid explains the importance of understanding what AI can—and cannot—do relative to student essays, pedagogy, and the role of writing centers and administrators at institutions of higher education.

Finally, this second volume if IJLS closes with Dr. Thad Williamson’s Commentaries piece. Williamson offers practical reflections on executive leadership regarding policymaking—lessons applicable from civic engagement to city councils to higher education administration. Taken together, it is our hope that these reflections can help educators and practitioners of leadership to consider the complexity of our post-(still-ongoing-)pandemic and algorithmically-driven world—how those things impact the ways we learn, teach, and practice leadership, and how we want to carefully consider the ways we might seek to advocate for future changes in response.

Please visit our Call for Papers for 2024 for next year's theme.