Understanding and Facilitating Organizational Change in the 21st Century: Recent Research and Conceptualizations

By Adrianna J. Kezar | Go to book overview

Understanding the Nature
of Higher Education
Organizations: Key to Successful
Organizational Change

GORDON WINSTON asks a compelling question in his article, Creating a Context for Change: “Why can't a college be more like a firm?” (Winston, 1998, p. 52). He notes the current urgency and need for change, and fears that higher education's unique context will cause it to lag behind the many changes occurring in corporate America. Winston answers his own question by suggesting that higher education is a unique industry and needs to be conscious about this distinctiveness as it engages organizational change. This monograph maintains Winston's assumption that higher education needs to develop its own change concepts, methodology, and language rooted in its value system and culture. To honor this assumption, I synthesize what we know about the unique environment of higher education and examine the implications for change in that context. There are two main reasons this is necessary for developing a distinctive approach to higher education: (1) overlooking these factors may result in mistakes in analysis and strategy, and (2) using concepts foreign to the values of the academy will most likely fail to engage people who must bring about the change.

Some commentators worry that if higher education develops its own approach to change that is aligned with its values system, legislatures and the general public, focused on efficiency and corporate change analogies, will not understand or appreciate the academy's perspective (Green, 1998). Nonetheless, I echo MacDonald's call for measured change (1997) rather than the wholesale change advocated in popular rhetoric by management consultants and now among legislatures. Higher education, as a long-standing institution, needs to approach change in a cautious way that takes into account its

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