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Student Body Presidents and Institutional Leaders: Navigating Power and Influence Open Access

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The purpose of this study was to understand and perceive how student leaders, and specifically student body presidents, navigated social power and used influence with institutional leaders in the higher education decision-making environment to achieve the goals and objectives of their presidencies. The foundational texts of higher education governance and the literature on decision-making are unclear about or do not acknowledge the role of students as leaders. Meanwhile, the popular press makes it clear students are playing a role in decision-making, and there is growing student consumerism and activism within institutions. The contrast between the foundational texts and the literature on decision-making versus what is occurring with respect to student leader involvement describes the problems of practice and research this study addressed.This study applied French and Raven's (1959) bases of social power to the experiences of student leaders, and specifically student body presidents, and situated these experiences in the higher education decision-making environment. The primary research question for this study was: How do former student body presidents at colleges and universities perceive navigating social power and using influence with institutional leaders to achieve the stated goals and objectives of their presidencies? There were two secondary research questions: 1) What do former student body presidents perceive to be the principal sources of support in achieving their stated goals and objectives? 2) What do former student body presidents perceive to be the principal sources of challenge to achieving their stated goals and objectives?The conclusions of this study related to: (a) the utility and accessibility of, and relationship between, the various bases of power with respect to the ability of the former student body presidents to navigate power and use influence to achieve their goals and objectives; (b) the availability and impact of support on the ability of the student body presidents to achieve their goals and objectives; (c) the impact of challenges on the ability of the student body presidents to achieve their goals and objectives. Along with these conclusions, the study provided recommendations related to theory, practice for both institutional leaders and student leaders, and future research.

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