The Dimensions of Influence on Research Administrator Behavior: Toward a Theoretical Model of Research Administration as a Public Service Profession

By Atkinson, Timothy N.; Gilleland, Diane S. et al. | Journal of Research Administration, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

The Dimensions of Influence on Research Administrator Behavior: Toward a Theoretical Model of Research Administration as a Public Service Profession


Atkinson, Timothy N., Gilleland, Diane S., Barrett, T. Gregory, Journal of Research Administration


Introduction

Problem Statement

Very few empirical studies have been done on research administration. In 1986, Hensley noted, "it is widely acknowledged that research support personnel are essential ... to the achievement of the specific missions of postsecondary institutions, and to American technological leadership, yet this vital group's value to science is largely unrecognized in comprehensive studies; and the field is generally ignored by disciplinary associations in their assessment of the science and academic infrastructure" (pp. 47, 48). Hensley's statement holds true in this century, over 20 years later; with the emergence of the study of research integrity as a scholarly field, it is of vital importance that research administrators define a scholarly model to follow for development, or some other group will define it for us. It is suggested that we establish a modern theoretical model that situates research administration in the overall study of the professions and provides an important theoretical stronghold.

It was not until Roberts (2005) set out to study the perceptions of research administrators toward certification that empirical research design and data collection were applied to research administration professionals. In 2006, Atkinson performed another empirical study on research administrators to determine their overall normative and professional orientation with regard to research integrity issues. The former was a microanalysis; the latter focused on a systemic, or macro-level, analysis. These kinds of studies are good for the profession, and more are needed.

In the recent history of western civilization, the idea of "profession" has expanded beyond the mediaeval constructs of doctor, lawyer, clergy, and professor. Organizational expansion and institutionalization have effects on behavior that cannot be ignored. Students of organizations recognize two groups, (1) governmental units and (2) professional groups, as responsible for developing rules and regulations for managing and shaping the institutional environment (Scott, 2003). DiMaggio and Powell maintained in 1983 that the professions had become the 20th century thought leaders in organizations, serving to shape and change their organizations. For the most part, these effects have not changed.

University research administration's behavior is influenced by the entire process of professionalism, making research administrators the thought leaders in the management of research. Goode (1957, 1961, 1969) envisioned this process on a "continuum." Institutional scholars often refer to this as the professionalization process, which helps establish legitimacy and power. Previous studies of professionalism in higher education administration have demonstrated that comparing a university-based professional group along the continuum of professionalism provides much needed information to establish an academic assessment of the group's professional behavior, status and legitimacy, both in society and within the university organization (Braxton, 1992, 1999; Bray, 2002; Caboni, 2001). However, as Abbott (1988) contended, the continuum alone is not solely responsible for the behavioral foundations of a profession. The wider organization and the linkages of the profession to other organizational contexts must also be taken into account.

History of the Study of the Professions

Goode (1957, 1961, 1969) might have placed research administration in the class of semi-professions, where protecting the client base was of utmost importance, but the intimacy between the professional and the client appeared diminished or distant. According to Abbot (1988), Bucher and Strauss (1961), Harries-Jenkins (1970) and Wilensky (1964), research administration is a profession positioned within a complex university organization, in a complex research system.

On an historical note, research administrators were installed in universities to rationalize and formalize the demands of the federal government, private industry and philanthropic organizations.

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