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Understanding organizational change in cultural context: Chief academic officers' acquisition and utilization of cultural knowledge in implementing institutional change

Gail Frances Latta, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study examines planned organizational change from an ethnographic perspective, focusing on the role of the chief academic officer (provost or senior vice-president/chancellor for academic affairs) acting as a change agent in public research universities. An ethnographic approach to the study of planned change is adopted because organizational culture has emerged as a pivotal variable in the success of institutional change initiatives (Bates, Khan & Pye, 2000; Tierney, 1988; Trice & Beyer, 1991). The study focuses on the role of newly appointed chief academic officers (CAOs) as they plan and implement academic change initiatives. By selecting CAOs who have been recruited to their positions from outside the institution, this study provides insight into the processes by which cultural knowledge is both acquired and utilized in planning and implementing institutional change. Research methodology and data collection consist of extensive ethnographic analysis conducted in residence at a single target institution, followed by subsequent campus visits to three comparator institutions. Data analysis from the target institution provides a basis for deriving a Model of Organizational Change in Cultural Context, delineating the role of organizational culture in influencing the planning, implementation and impact of academic change initiatives on institutions of higher education, with emphasis on the role of the CAO as an agent of change. The utility of this model is illustrated using data from the three comparator institutions. Conclusions are derived regarding the processes by which CAOs acquire and utilize knowledge of institutional culture in implementing planned academic change; the ways in which elements of institutional culture shape these initiatives and their implementation, as well as mediate the impact of change on various aspects of the academic community; and the extent to which cultural variation and ambiguity moderate the nature and extent of these impacts. Implications for leading institutional change are framed in terms of recent efforts to reform public institutions of higher education, and theories of planned organizational development and change.^

Subject Area

Anthropology, Cultural|Education, Administration|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Latta, Gail Frances, "Understanding organizational change in cultural context: Chief academic officers' acquisition and utilization of cultural knowledge in implementing institutional change" (2006). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3237488.