Institutional Failure as Global Leadership: A Case-Based Study of the Present (2022-23)

Have you often been told you’re a natural leader? Interested in building out your resume by earning a certificate in leadership development? Want to further refine your skills as a leader–both in the classroom and beyond? If so, this isn’t the program for you. However, if you are interested in systems and institutions, and if you think leadership is about more than leading other people, then read on to help us conjure different arrangements of hierarchy and collaboration.

This new program for humanities graduate students takes a cue from several of UCHRI’s past programs, including the systemwide programs Humanists@Work and Diversity as Discipline, in order to explore case-based instances of contemporary leadership “models” and creative practices in the face of institutional standardization, bureaucratization, even failure. While interested in exploring questions around leadership—What is it? What isn’t it? Why does it matter in a world where we’re seemingly left to deal with crises individually?—this seminar will begin by examining leadership, institutional standardization and failure by taking education as an exemplary case. Recognizing that the University of California is not just the largest public university system in the world, but the most populous US state’s largest employer, we will deploy methods of mapping, reading, and visualization to activate a view of the university as an institution connecting (and complicit in) different sectors of public life.

This yearlong seminar–part working group, part reading group–will meet monthly, bringing together UC graduate students from across the system to engage with one another, with UC alumni, and non-institutional contributors. Collectively, the group will explore theories of leadership alongside real-world case studies of institutional challenge and failure. Monthly meetings will center on readings (of critical literature on leadership and related topics, of case studies, of art objects, and of fiction–see partial working list below,) in order to develop methods and modes of engagement that work for the people and institutions they serve. Blending creativity, criticality, and playfulness we will explore leadership not as an ideal but as (a set of) practice(s) in a variety of contexts: from school closures and COVID to institutional policy, the imperatives of mandatory trainings, and structures of decision-making at all levels. Although this is primarily an opportunity to read, think, talk, and connect with others, the group will be encouraged also to create and compose together. While we are open to the usual traditional outcomes (publications or convenings), we encourage bold thinking around deliverables that are interactive and dialogic—in digital or analog form. We invite participants who want to collaboratively help shape the group’s engagement and interaction in creative ways.

The group will draw centrally and extensively upon UC PhD alumni working outside and alongside the academy, and in mid-career levels of management in order to explore case studies of leadership and institutional failure within and beyond university settings. These UC alumni represent diverse humanities and humanistic social science disciplines, as well as all 10 UC campuses, and work in fields like tech (Amazon, Google, etc.), non-profit (museums, unions), government (city, county, national), and education (as staff and faculty).

Applications must be submitted online via Submittable by 11:59 PM (Pacific time) on the deadline date.

Application Details

Applicants must be UC humanities and humanistic social science PhD students in good standing. Applicants must apply online via Submittable. Required documents include:

  • Curriculum Vitae (2 pages max)
  • Short Biography (200 words max–try to have fun when you write this)
  • Project Title and Abstract (200 words max)
  • Project Description (2,000 words max, see details below) 

Project Description

The project description should be a maximum of 2,000 words and include the following elements:

  • Interest statement. How do you see this seminar connecting with your research and/or work experience, at the University of California or beyond? Your statement should also reference your thinking about, or approach to, leadership and the university as articulated in this call.
  • 2 bibliographic and case study suggestions. What specific aspects of leadership, institutional challenges and failures would you want to explore, and through what readings and/or case studies? 
  • Networking interests. If you were to use this group as a way to network, with whom would you want to speak/interact? 


A Bibliography, In Progress

Erica Edwards, Charisma and the Fictions of Black Leadership
Curtis Marez, University Babylon: Film and Race Politics on Campus
Reinhold Martin, Knowledge Worlds: Media, Materiality, and the Making of the Modern University
Meg McLagan and Yates McKee, Sensible Politics: The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Politics
Cedric J. Robinson, The Terms of Order: Political Science and the Myth of Leadership
Katina L. Rogers, Putting the Humanities PhD to Work 
Michael Rogin, Ronald Reagan The Movie: And Other Episodes in Political Demonology
Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Peterson, Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home

For program related questions, please contact Please include the name of the grant for which you need assistance.

For technical assistance, please contact Submittable at