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S. Hussin, S.C. Wong

University of Malaya (MALAYSIA)
In common parlance, empowerment is understood as the appropriation of power to a person to execute stipulated duties and responsibilities. As a consequence of the process, the success in execution leads to a sense of empowerment, and conversely, the failure to do so produces disempowerment, or the failure of empowerment. Thus, empowerment is the control locus associated with doing a job and success in doing the job. In this context, job specification or job description is a form of empowerment schedule because it basically sets the boundary on the extent and scope of power an employee has in performing a job.

The surge of research interest on empowerment in the last two decades is probably due the general belief that empowerment is a critical element that can yield some beneficial outcomes to business organizations such as better job performance, job effectiveness, work behaviors, organizational commitment, and innovative thinking among employees. Other positive outcomes may also include higher job satisfaction, role responsibilities, citizenship spirit, and business competitiveness. However, evidence is not absolutely conclusive because there are many other variables that contribute to organizational productivity, quality, and sustainability; not merely by empowerment alone. Moreover, those studies are correlational or associative in nature, i.e. not of the causality type.

This paper presents a rarely researched area on empowerment of university academics. The rarity could be due to the taken-for-granted thinking that academics have empowerment and have been empowered through professional autonomy. We surveyed 611 academics in some premier public universities and found that there were two kinds of empowerment, namely organizational empowerment and professional empowerment. Organizational empowerment comprises participative decision making, power to execute, and job autonomy; whereas professional empowerment comprises self-efficacy, status, professional growth, and impact. The theory of empowerment entails the necessity for an empowering authority, goals of empowerment, job specification, method of empowerment, and outcomes of empowerment.

Major findings of the study include: 1. Academics in public universities should be given a wider leeway in getting involved with discussions on budget and financial planning at the departmental or faculty level. Besides that, academics should be given more empowerment and forums in evaluating their faculty’s or university’s performance. Damage control or conflict resolution rhetoric should not entail the curtailing of progressive voices and positive criticisms; 2. Academics in public universities agreed that they had empowerment in terms of professional development, especially in attending relevant conferences and securing research grants for enhancing their knowledge and expertise. This is in line with the academic tradition of research and development in universities; 3. Academics in public universities also felt empowered for being researchers having a strong knowledge base in their area of research. Therefore, in this regard, knowledge and expertise are the important elements of empowerment, which consequently lead to good status of academics in society.