Faculty perspectives on the change process of an institution of higher education undergoing downward expansion

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Faculty perspectives on the change process of an institution of higher education undergoing downward expansion

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Institutions of higher education are constantly changing. Many scholars suggest that colleges and universities are undergoing change in unfamiliar environments as forces such as changing student demographics, unstable finances, changes in technology, and increased demand from state and federal agencies for institutional accountability have made changes into large-scale initiatives (Kerr, 1991; Clark, 2004; Gumport & Zemsky, 2003). While these variables may not be considered "new" to higher education, the intensity and, at times, urgency to change is different. The environment of today's colleges and universities is demanding change to happen in a manner that is not characteristic of past change in higher education. Some scholars argue that institutions of higher education have adopted a "corporate culture" which will enable them to compete in a highly competitive "marketplace" (Cameron, 1984; Gioia, Thomas, Clark, & Chittipeddi, 1994; Gioia & Thomas, 1996; Gumport & Sporn, 1999). At the center of these institutions are the faculty. To consider change in colleges and universities is to bring faculty to the forefront of the change process. The faculty role as the cornerstone of students' higher education experience is being meshed with environmental pressures and institutional initiatives to change. Schuster and Finkelstein (2006) suggest that the faculty are linked to the future of higher education and that without their presence, the nature of the academic experience would fundamentally change. Rowley, Lujan, and Dolence (1997) add that the faculty are vitally important players in an institution's plans to change as they will likely be the ones responsible for solving issues that arise during the process. This study examined perspectives of faculty at a midsize university, Lake University, planning to change from an upper-level institution (serving only juniors, seniors, and graduate students) to a traditional four-year university. Lake University was founded to serve as an educational resource for local oil/gas, aeronautical, and health care industries. However, the changing landscape of higher education and future financial security has influenced the President of Lake University to begin planning for downward expansion in 2011 with a target of fall 2014 as the semester in which institution's first freshmen and sophomores will be admitted. Framed as descriptive case study, the data collection for this study consisted of three methods: survey, focus groups, and interviews. This mixed-methods collection was conducted sequentially with the quantitative data collected followed to by two qualitative methods, as each method was informed by the preceding method. Data collection took place during the spring 2013 semester. Surveys were sent to 502 faculty, excluding the eight pilot study participants, who were categorized as "active" as of the spring 2013 semester. A total of 90 faculty accessed the survey and 80 completed the instrument, resulting in 15.9% response rate. Qualitative data included 17 participants in four separate focus groups and eight individual interviews that represented faculty of all four schools at Lake University, all levels of rank as well as full or part-time status. Constructivist theory was used as a theoretical framework for this study. Using the works of Crotty (1998), Lincoln (2005), and Creswell (2009) to contextualize the way in which this study examined faculty perspective, the meaning construction faculty undertook to understand downward expansion was used to develop a framework of faculty attitudes, or stances, regarding the change. Developed from a model of faculty support/resistance presented by Klein and Dunlap (1994), four stances were used to organize the nature of the faculty perspectives revealed in this study: active resistant, passive resistant, passive supportive, and active supportive. Data analysis suggested that faculty at Lake University were mostly supportive of the idea of downward expansion, but were not as supportive of the change process. Examination of Lake University faculty perspectives found that that 49% of faculty were passive supportive, and 18% were passive supportive. In contrast, analysis determined that 26% were passive resistant and 7% were active resistant. Data collection results indicated that many faculty were frustrated over various aspects of the downward expansion planning process (e.g. communication/transparency, the value felt by faculty during the planning process, and trust), while others felt that that the faculty have been engaged and informed throughout the planning process. These faculty perspectives could be suggestive of the type of change Lake University will undergo for downward expansion. Literature on change in higher education has indicated that each institution will experience change differently. Yet, the role that an institution's constituencies will play in the change, along with its breadth and depth, will help determine initiative's nature. As a large-scale change that is, by its intention, aimed at redefining the institution, downward expansion at Lake University may be unfolding without many of its faculty being given the sensemaking opportunities to define their roles in the "new" Lake University. This study concludes that if downward expansion at Lake University will be a transformative change the deep, sensemaking-centered elements of such a change are not yet fully evident at this institution.



University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2014. Major: Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development. Advisor: Darwin D. Hendel, Ph.D. xiv, 372 pages, appendices A-Z.

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Richardson, Timothy Lee. (2014). Faculty perspectives on the change process of an institution of higher education undergoing downward expansion. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/165782.

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