Kevin McClure Named WCE’s Murphy Distinguished Scholar

UNCW’s Watson College of Education is pleased to announce that Kevin McClure has been named WCE’s Wendy and Dell Murphy Distinguished Scholar. McClure, an associate professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership, will focus his work on examining pandemic-era workplace conditions and experiences of faculty, staff and administrators at public higher education institutions in North Carolina and developing recommendations to enhance the academic workplace in higher education. 

McClure’s three-year appointment was acknowledged by the UNCW Board of Trustees on April 22.

“Dr. McClure has been engaged for some time in outstanding scholarly work that focuses on challenges in higher education related to workplace culture and organization,” said Watson College Dean Van Dempsey. “The Murphy Scholar appointment will position to extend and enrich this work, in particular as it helps to inform the public and the profession on what we expect our institutions of higher education to be and how to be that at their best.  His work is timely, and the benefits will go well beyond the Watson College and UNCW.”

Since the start of the pandemic, McClure has contributed articles to Ed Surge and The Chronicle of Higher Education about higher education leadership and the academic workplace. Several of his articles—on burnout, demoralization and understaffing in higher education—received a significant response and led to speaking engagements for podcasts, conferences and campus leadership teams.

“There is a deep desire to change how work happens in higher education to stem the ‘Great Resignation,’” McClure said. “Although I’ve been able to conduct close to 50 interviews with people across higher education for my articles, I haven’t had a chance to launch a true study. The Murphy appointment will provide time and resources to design and implement a study of workplace conditions and cultures at North Carolina’s public higher education institutions. The goal is to provide practical recommendations for college leaders to enhance the academic workplace so that we are able to attract and retain talented workers for years to come.”

As WCE’s Murphy Scholar, McClure will conduct a mixed methods study involving a survey and follow-up focus groups that build upon existing employee engagement surveys with a more targeted and in-depth approach. Data collection will focus on public higher education institutions in North Carolina, but the recommendations will be broadly applicable, McClure said. He plans to partner with organizations such as the University of North Carolina (UNC) System, the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS), the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research, the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges and MyFutureNC in order to ensure successful data collection and the wide sharing of recommendations.

This research, and the recommendations drawn from it, will form a key part of a book McClure has under development tentatively titled The Caring University: Improving the Academic Workplace after the Great Resignation. The work will also serve as the foundation for a new graduate course titled Creating Sustainable Careers in Higher Education. The course will be offered through WCE’s Masters in Higher Education program.

“I never imagined in February 2020 that I would be writing about burnout or turnover in higher education,” McClure said. “But then the pandemic happened, and my life as a researcher, mentor and parent was completely upended. I saw so many people in higher education struggling, and we’re seeing real challenges recruiting and keeping people in academe. In some ways, it feels like all the years I spent studying higher education finance, leadership and management was preparing for this moment to contribute to building better organizations where people can thrive.”

The distinguished scholarship is supported by an endowment created through a generous gift by Wendy and Wendell (Dell) Murphy of Wallace, NC. Wendy is an alumna of the Watson College and a leader in higher education and the UNC System. The Appointment supports teaching, scholarship and engagement through WCE with a focus on education innovation and research in policy and practice.