Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

"A Community College with Ivory Tower Pretensions": Perceptions of a New University

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

"A Community College with Ivory Tower Pretensions": Perceptions of a New University

Article excerpt

When the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) emerged in 2003 as Ontario's first new university in 40 years, it faced the challenge of creating an organizational identity that would enable its future success, help the university integrate into the local community, and attract students, professors, and partnerships. Furthermore, this identity would define where the new institution would be placed in the educational landscape in relation to other post-secondary institutions and its political affiliations, which would impact funding and support. While the creation of UOIT's identity can be observed from an insider's viewpoint through interviews with founding students, staff, and faculty, as well as through an outsider's viewpoint accessed through the press coverage, we argue that this identity-creation process was significantly mediated by the debates about and the framing of the university as these were reported in local and national newspapers. This paper seeks to understand the ways in which the press framed the identity of UOIT at its founding, to afford an understanding of the university as it developed a relationship with the local community, established its place within Ontario's and Canada's educational landscapes, and negotiated Ontario's political minefield.

Context: The First New University in Ontario in 40 Years

On May 9, 2001, the Ontario government announced that $60 million had been dedicated to the creation of a new university in Oshawa, Ontario, located 45 minutes' drive east of Toronto. A year later, the provincial government passed Bill 109, Schedule O, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology Act, 2002. UOIT's doors opened to 947 students in September 2003. The period between the first announcement in 2001 and the end of its first year as a university was one during which the university's role and identity in Ontario's post-secondary education landscape was debated, discussed, critiqued, and decried. UOIT's founding president, Gary Polonsky, was also the president of the wellestablished Durham College,1 which had been located in the north end of Oshawa since its founding in 1967. In addition, the university and college shared land and many services (e.g., computer and IT services, the student athletic centre, the library). While the university is a full-fledged, four-year, degree-granting university, many people initially saw its proximity to and ties with the college as a sign that it was an extension of the college or that the college was being given degree-granting status. That these perceptions were reiterated regularly in the local and national newspapers created a perception that UOIT was little more than a "trumped-up college," in spite of its legal status as a university. As UOIT approached its 10th anniversary in 2014, an oral history project of the founding years of the university collected 97 interviews with students, founding deans and faculty members, administrative staff, and others involved in the planning and implementation of the new university. In addition, newspaper reports about the university between 2001 and 2004 were examined. While analysis of the data from the interviews is ongoing, preliminary findings indicate that many students, faculty members, and staff came to UOIT to be part of what they saw as an exciting opportunity to build a new university.

Literature Review: Organizational Identity, Reputation, and Legitimacy

The concepts of identity in general, and organizational identity in particular, have been debated, defined, and redefined over many years (see, for example, Alessandri, Yang, & Kinsey, 2006; Baron, 2004; Brown, Dacin, Pratt, & Whetten, 2006; Dutton & Dukerich, 1991; Glynn & Abzug, 2002; Glynn & Navis, 2013; Hsu & Hannan, 2005; Whetten, 2006). Albert and Whetten (1985) defined organizational identity as "that which is most central, enduring, and distinctive about an organization" (cited in Whetten & Mackey, 2002, p. …

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