The purpose of this qualitative, single case study is to examine the leadership traits of Elmer Towns and the strategies employed as co-founder of Liberty University. In order to accomplish this purpose, this study will assess the behavioral traits, work habits, communication patterns, and organizational concepts he employed as the Dean of the School of Religion at Liberty University. The “Portraits of Leadership” pattern is defined by viewing the university as a complex organization through which leadership behaviors and traits are manifested as a part of managing the governance structure, the internal operations, and the academic functions of the institution. The case study method is employed by the examination of the leader’s background, formal education, influence of mentors, and defining events.
The case study is individual in its focus and seeks to analyze the leadership behaviors of Towns in the context of the “Reframing Patterns” of higher education leadership of Lee Bolman and Joan Gallos. The data from the study is organized into the concepts of reframing and identifies four frames of academic leadership in which administrators of higher education often function. The data from documents, interviews, and observations are placed in four framing categories and serve as chapter headings in the research findings: Structure, Politics, Human Resource, and Symbols.
The research design for the case study uses three methods of research. The first method is document research. The study examines books and articles written by Towns in order to find leadership principles identified as essential to an organization. They also serve to identify situations and events related to the history and the function of the school. Documents related to the school and to the faculty are examined for communication and organizational factors. Faculty senate minutes, accreditation reports, catalogs, faculty handbooks, Liberty University policy documents and publications are included as data for triangulating research within the case study.
The second method of research includes interviews conducted with the dean, faculty and administration. Persons selected for the interviews worked at Liberty University for a significant part of Elmer Town’s tenure and served under him in various capacities. Three of the faculty members included in the study have written previous dissertations on Elmer Towns.
The third research approach included observations of Towns and his work with students and faculty. Observations were made while attending classes taught by Towns. Informal discussions with faculty and students also proved helpful in confirming and rejecting conclusions made during the five years. The researcher made observations from interactions with Towns in meetings, at church, and during appointments held in his office and at a local restaurant. The researcher also became a Liberty University Online adjunct professor during the time period in which the research was conducted. This allowed additional access to documents and to videos related to the leadership of Towns
Concluding findings of the case study categorize leadership traits and actions employed by Towns as Dean of the School of Religion. These traits and actions are applied within the context of higher education as a model for leaders and for deans serving in other institutions of higher learning.
Edgell, David, "Reframing Higher Education: A Case Study of the Educational Leadership of Elmer Towns" (2018). Faculty Publications and Presentations. 47.