University Administrator Interactions: Balancing Politeness and Authority

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication and Rhetorical Studies


Jeffrey S. Good

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Higher education professionals regularly interact with university community members such as students, faculty, and staff. These interactions may take place one-on-one in private, or in large groups in public contexts on college campuses. This thesis uses discourse analysis to explore a town-hall meeting and a student protest at a university to demonstrate how university administrator interactions reflect efforts to maintain politeness and negotiate authority. I consider how administrators present positive politeness and friendliness while also seeking to uphold and assert their institutional roles. University community members similarly seek to preserve positive social relationships through politeness. However, in the absence of institutional authority, students, staff, and faculty use discursive tools to ground their own authority and perspectives, and sometimes outwardly challenge institutional authority. Findings suggest that politeness is demonstrated in university administrator interactions through the use of thank you, the issuing of compliments, as well as the use of apologies to mitigate impoliteness. University discourse shows how community members use evidence such as membership categories, functioning as a representative, as well as intertextuality and time to ground their right to be heard. These observations reflect the identities and images that university administrators and their constituents present in public interactions.


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