Difficult Talent: A Conceptual Approach to Managing Academics in Pursuit of Academic Goals


Although the diversity of forms of talent discourages generalizations about how talent should be most accurately identified, successfully attracted, and effectively managed, examination of specific fields should at least yield observations applicable to those fields. To advance the pursuit of such observations, this paper uses Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory, which separates factors causing worker satisfaction from factors causing worker dissatisfaction, to analyze trends in the management of university faculty adopted ostensibly to pursue more effectively the goals of the university. Using examples from the points of view of talent (faculty) and management (administration), the paper identifies potential difficulties in the management of university faculty that match Herzberg’s factors that lead to his distinct concerns of dissatisfaction or satisfaction. The categories of Herzberg’s theory associate management itself more with dissatisfaction than with satisfaction; this paper argues that, due to the nature of the talent involved, recent trends involving the active management of university faculty are unavoidably related to dissatisfaction rather than to satisfaction; furthermore, the same trends frustrate satisfaction and alter the types of satisfaction available to faculty. As a result, rather than leading merely to the identifiable exit of talent from universities, these trends lead to a change in the nature of the talent that is being attracted, and even in the very definition of the talent that is considered desirable. The result of such active management is therefore not so much an attainment of the original goals of academia, as it is an alteration of those goals to fit the methods of management. Specifically, with the introduction of modern management practices into universities and the growing intensity with which they are being applied, the goals of universities are shifting from the cultivation of knowledge—in the forms both of research and of truly educated graduates—to the manufacture of reputation. Consideration of this shift in the types of satisfaction available to university faculty will hopefully lead to further examinations of the same sort of shifts in other fields, and allow managers to question the assumptions according to which we define our goals and the ways in which we pursue them.

Share and Cite:

Sellari, T. (2015) Difficult Talent: A Conceptual Approach to Managing Academics in Pursuit of Academic Goals. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 3, 109-118. doi: 10.4236/jss.2015.33018.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Fish, S. (2011) Faculty Governance in Idaho. The New York Times.
[2] http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/faculty-governance-in-idaho/ Bok, D. (1993) The Cost of Talent: How Executives and Professionals Are Paid and How It Affects America. Free Press, New York.
[3] Kennedy, D. (1997) Academic Duty. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
[4] Herzberg, F., Mausner, B. and Snyderman, B.B. (1967) The Motivation to Work. 2nd Edition, John Wiley and Sons, New York.
[5] Berry, W. (1987) Home Economics. North Point, San Francisco.
[6] Newman, J.H. (1996) The Idea of a University. In: Turner, F.M., Ed., The Idea of a University, Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
[7] Newman, J.H. (2001) Rise and Progress of Universities and Benedictine Essays. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame.
[8] Lederman, D. and Jaschik, S. (2011) Perspectives on the Downturn: A Survey of Presidents. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/survey/perspectives-downturn-survey-presidents
[9] Smith, H.L. (2009) Taking Back the Tower: Simple Solutions for Saving Higher Education. Praeger, Westport, CT and London.
[10] Hacker, A. and Dreyfus, C. (2010) Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids―And What We Can Do About It. Times Books/Henry Holt, New York.
[11] Arum, R. and Roksa, J. (2011) Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
[12] Khurana, R. (2007) From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.
[13] Massy, W.F. (2003) Honoring the Trust: Quality and Cost Containment in Higher Education. Anker, Bolton.
[14] Crawford, M. (2009) Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. Penguin, London.
[15] Labaree, D. (1997) How to Succeed in School without Really Learning: The Credential Race in American Education. Yale University Press, New Haven.
[16] BBC (2006) McClaren Named as England Manager. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/internationals/4969592.stm
[17] Davies, C. (2006) Bungling F.A. Suits Have Gone for Second Best in McClaren. Japan Times. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/sp20060507cd.html
[18] Football Association (2011) http://thefa.com/TheFA/WhoWeAre/JobsatTheFA
[19] Cassidy, J. (2010) What Good Is Wall Street? The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/11/29/what-good-is-wall-street

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.