How faculty make sense of administrative methods and motives for change: A study of an assessment initiative at a private university

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


Vincent Tinto


Collegiate culture, Institutional change, Faculty, Administrative methods, Motives, Assessment initiative

Subject Categories

Education | Educational Administration and Supervision


The history of American higher education reflects a panoply of social, cultural, and epistemological changes. This study focused on planned institutional change and explored a phenomenon noted in the recent higher education literature--the evolution of parallel cultures within the Academy, a "managerial" administrative culture and a "collegiate" faculty culture. Using qualitative methods--interviews and participant observation, supported by document analysis--the study examined faculty responses to an assessment initiative at a private research university.

Study findings support claims of a widening gap between the two cultures and point to the importance of "minding this gap" in order to lead in a culture of change. Change theories were reviewed, and Complexity Theory was identified as potentially helpful to administrators as they deal with the "supercomplexity" of the contemporary "multiversity" since a key challenge is to negotiate between external and internal constituents--to manage external demands for accountability, for example, while maintaining institutional autonomy and safeguarding academic freedom.

Working from a cultural theory frame, this research examined faculty socialization, and findings suggest that academic disciplines and institutional cultures interact to influence faculty understandings of administrative methods and motives for change. The focus on assessment exposed deep differences among respondents and traced perceptions to foundational beliefs and practices of academic disciplines as well as to traditions and lore within institutional contexts.

Beliefs related to knowledge, truth, and the goals of higher learning, perceptions of the relative importance of external constituents and influences, and notions about the roles of college and university faculty and administrators were identified as salient to socialization within academic disciplines. Perceptions related to shared governance, relative power and influence of academic units, and congruence of espoused and enacted institutional values were salient in the institutional domain. The multiple disciplinary and institutional cultures at work within the faculty complicated the interaction of these influences.

In the "administered university," campus leaders may lose sight of faculty values, beliefs, and practices and assume that external influences and administrative agendas have the salience for faculty that they have for those in the managerial culture. Study findings suggest that change initiatives that challenge values central to faculty culture-autonomy, collegial governance, and knowledge seeking--may engender conflict and resistance.


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