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Asian American leadership in the community colleges: an inquiry into success factors, insights, and perspectives




Li-Bugg, Wenying Cherry, author
Davie, Timothy, advisor
Banning, James, committee member
Krahnhe, Keiko, committee member
Le, Thao, committee member

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This qualitative, narrative inquiry study relied upon story telling to elicit key notions and themes in an attempt to understand the success factors, insights, and perspectives on leadership by the Asian American leaders in the community colleges. Critical Race Theory (Ladson-Billings, 1999; Vargas, 1999) is used as both frame and methodology to capture the individual experiences and voices of Asian American leaders in the community colleges by focusing on the racialized experiences of the participants' life and career. A convenience sample of five Asian American participants was used in this study. These participants occupied dean-level positions and above in the community college organizational hierarchy. Loosely structured interviews were conducted to gather data and a modified holistic content analysis approach was used to decipher the data (Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach, and Zilber, 1998). Through the use of critical incidents in the re-telling of the participants' stories about their journey to leadership positions and their lives, the researcher is able to summarize a series of emergent themes, categorized into racial insider and racial outsider related themes. Specifically three emergent themes were discussed in greater detail and they are: (a) Asian American leaders in the community colleges travel a non-traditional career path to leadership positions; (b) community college boards seem to have a tendency to "re-tread" presidents, and thereby contributing indirectly and tangentially to a lack of Asian Americans in leadership positions in the community colleges; and (c) Asian American leaders seem to possess a rebelliousness that enables them to buck a trend, and not bow to parental or social pressures. The central storyline of the participants' success stories is one of strong cultural influence on the leadership style of the Asian American participants. The people-centric, collaborative, open, and team-oriented leadership style is embraced by all the participants and has enabled their success on the journey and on the jobs as leaders in the community colleges. At this critical junction of the community college history when the existence of community colleges is questioned because of a lack of financial resources, this type of leadership style could potentially be transformative, hence effective for the community colleges. In addition, the participants' success stories help to debunk the notion that Asian Americans are not suited for leadership positions. Possible future research on the topic of Asian American leadership is to measure the effectiveness of the Asian American leadership style on the health and maintenance of the community college organization.


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appreciative inquiry
Asian Americans
community colleges
critical race theory
narrative inquiry


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