Publication Date

Spring 2018

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Kristin B. Wilson (Director), Timothy C. Caboni, and Helen M. Sterk

Degree Program

Educational Leadership Doctoral Program

Degree Type

Doctor of Education


Leadership represents an abstraction of human thought. While functionalist theories propose leader-centric models, contemporary leadership theories embrace a postmodern paradigm acknowledging ontological and epistemological assumptions of qualitative study. This ideology suggests a multi-dimensional model of leadership that reflects the complexity and fluidity of leadership in practice. Emergent theories explore the social construction of leadership, rather than an individual leader’s traits or behaviors. Our collective understanding of leadership is manifest in the (re)creation of leadership as exemplified in social discourse such as newspaper reporting.

The purpose of the study is to reveal socially accepted archetypes assigned to higher education leaders, as well as discursive constructs that perpetuate gender bias. I examined the use of archetypes, or familiar narrative characters, in portrayals of postsecondary leaders in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and whether these portrayals are gendered. Using critical discourse analysis, I explored the application of the hero archetype to higher education leaders, as well as twelve additional archetypes within five archetype clusters (Campbell, 1949, 2004; Faber & Mayer, 2009). Further, I critically examined if the archetype portrayals identified in the Chronicle were gendered as defined by Role Congruity Theory (Eagly & Karau, 2002).

Findings indicate that the Chronicle uses the hero archetype to describe higher education leaders; however, the motif adapts to the postsecondary setting by emphasizing the hero’s journey as academic, altruism within a shared governance system, and intellectual work rather than physical work. Additional archetype themes, predominantly the outlaw, ruler, caregiver, and sage, integrate with the hero narrative in the Chronicle reporting to exemplify the complexity surrounding the social construction of leadership. Though portrayals indicate the role of a higher education leader deviates from the traditional hero narrative in favor of multi-dimensional themes, the association of masculinity with leadership continues. Masculine hegemonies of military leadership, physical force and athletics, references to death or destruction, and overt references to gender cast male leaders positively and women leaders negatively. Analysis of this archetypal data reveals that the social role of leadership is complex and evolving, while gender roles persist and continue to influence the social construction of leadership within higher education.


Communication | Critical and Cultural Studies | Educational Leadership | Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication | Higher Education Administration