Who are we and where are we going?

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  • RESEARCH IN HIGHER EDUCATION, Vol. 2 1974 APS Publications, Inc.


    William E. Alexander and Joseph P. Farrell

    Department of Educational Planning, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto, Ontario

    The first part of this paper introduces a method for identifying the major patterns or trends of an institution. This method rests upon the identification of concrete deci- sions which are perceived as highly significant by individuals representing various segments of an institution. In the second part of the paper the method is applied to a recently established graduate school and research and development center. Five major institutional patterns which have characterized the development of this institution are identified and discussed: 1) democratization, 2) centralization of decision-making over research and development funds, 3) legitimation of development and implemen- tation activities, 4)growth, and 5) entrenchment.

    Finally, the relevance of the findings is discussed in reference to all institutions of higher education; institutions which are faced with demands for broader participation on the one hand and increasing accountability on the other.

    This paper deals w i th the prob lem of ident i fy ing the major trends or patterns

    of a total system. In the first part of the paper a methodo logy upon which the ident i f icat ion of total system patterns may rest is int roduced. The remainder

    deals with the appl icat ion of this sort of pat tern analysis to a novel academic

    inst i tut ion, a recently establ ished graduate school and research and deve lopment center.

    *The study upon which this paper is based was funded by the Research and Development Review Board, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Thanks are also due to Professors John Holland and Michael Skolnik for many valuable suggestions.


  • 342 Alexander and Farrell


    In our normal discourse we have frequent recourse to phrases such as, "The essense of this institution is . . . . " or "The main patterns of activity in this area are . . . . " In more academic communications we also use such phrases, as witness Alvin Gouldner's claim that " . . . the dominant drift of American Sociology to- day is compulsively bent upon transforming itself into a 'profession' " (Gouldner, 1965, p. 207; emphasis added).

    The use of such phrases signals an underlying understanding that there is order in the affairs of men, that behavior in social institutions is not wholly random, that such behavior is systematic or patterned. However, the use of such phrases also typically leaves one (especially if one has an empirical bent) with a sense of incompleteness and frustration. How does Gouldner know what is the "dominant drift" in a very large academic discipline? How would one verify (or try to falsi- fy) such a claim? While we generally agree that human behavior is patterned, it has proven quite difficult to develop means of identifying what the patterns are. Indeed, it is not altogether clear what one should be looking for when searching for patterns. Does one mean by patterns a set of complex (or even simple) var- iables which fit into axioms which will explain variations in specific system out- puts? Are major patterns simply those aspects of a system which have occupied the greatest amount of energy of the members of that system? Or are major patterns those which are somehow directing the fate of the system? Simply put, although "pattern" is a useful word, it is not clear as to what kinds of empirical referents it maps.

    Nonetheless, we have chosen to use the word pattern in this paper. By it we mean to indicate that we do believe that institutional behavior in any given per- iod of time tends to be focused on a limited set of concerns and that the practices and policies of an institution will go in certain directions and not in others. And we further believe that these patterns (or foci, or directions, if one prefers) can be identified. The actual analysis to be reported is further predicated on the assumption that in a given institution's life cycle, there are key decisions made which influence its direction, which set its patterns. It is through the identifica- tion and analysis of such key decisions that we identify the major patterns.

    This paper provides a simple and relatively straightforward approach to a pattern analysis of a social institution - an educational institution which func- tions both as a graduate school and a research and development center. The procedure used here for identifying organizational patterns begins, like all other procedures, with a selection mechanism for choosing the facts of the analysis. However, unlike most other selection mechanisms, the one used here is relatively well-defined. For here, the basic "facts" are the (thirteen) decisions perceived as most significant by formal authorities and association executives within an or- ganization. And, while it is possible to provide more than one interpretation of

  • Development Patterns in an A cademic Institute 343

    these "facts," the selection procedure, for better or worse, puts severe constraints

    on the analyst. Thus, the facts from which the patterns are induced are, relatively

    speaking, explicit and well-defined. There is thus an operational definition of the concept, patterns.


    The organization which has been analyzed is The Ontario Institute for Studies

    in Education (OISE). The 1973/74 Bultetin of the Institute gives this description

    (O1SE, 1973/74, p. 1): e

    The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education is a relative newcomer to the education- al scene. It was established in July 1965, by an Act of the Ontario Legislature, and is under an independent Board of Governors. Through statutory Agreement of Affilia- tion with the University of Toronto, it combines Graduate Education in Educational Theory, in the form of the Department of Educational Theory in the University's School of Graduate Studies, with functions as a research and development institute devoted to the scientific'study of the theory and practice of education. Students are University of Toronto graduate students proceeding to University of Toronto degrees.

    There are approximately 6,000 graduate students at the University of Toronto, 1,863 of whom are at the Institute. Of the latter, 448 are registered as fu][1-time students, 228 of these being Ph.D. candidates. During the 1972 summer session at OISE, there were 1,254 registered students The growth of the Institute has been rapid during the six years since its inception; the staff now numbers 653, including some 140 members of academic staff. With the fast-growing and developing educational system in Ontario, there has been ample opportunity to study and implement new ideas and to refine old ones. The overall goal of the Institute is to make a positive contribution to improve- ment in education. In the long run, one of the most effective ways in which this goal can be achieved is through OISE graduates implementing their knowledge and exper- ience within existing educational systems.

    To the above can be added two points. First, OISE consists of ten academic

    departments: Adult Education, Applied Psychology, Computer Applications,

    Curriculum, Educational Administration, Educational Planning, History and

    Philosophy, Measurement and Evaluation, Sociology in Education, and Special Education.

    Second, the OISE emphasis on research and development has been unusually

    strong for a North American educational institution. The expected teaching load has been one or two courses per year. Perhaps, to the academic, the .best indica- tor of OISE's relative emphasis on research and development activities is reflected by the number of research assistants and secretaries. There are, at the current time, l 11t research assistants. This means that, on the average, each academic

    gets almost 80% of the time of a research assistant. Each academic, on the aver- age, also receives about 60% of the time of a secretary, a junior secretary, or a

    1 These data were obtained in the fall of 1973.

  • 344 Alexander and Farrell

    stenographer. Another indicator of the heavy research and development empha- sis is the fact that the amount of money (exclusive of academic salaries) made available in 1973/74 for research and development activities averages out to more than $12,000 per full-time academic.


    As noted in the first section of this paper, the pattern analysis used here rests upon the identification and analysis of a set of key decisions. In order to obtain a list of important decisions, 50 informants within the Institute were contacted during 1969 and 1970. These informants included all formal authorities (depart- ment chairmen, senior administrators, unit heads, etc.), all association heads (chairmen of the Association of Research Officers, Academic Council, etc.), and a handful of others (faculty, students, etc.) who were reputed to be influential and/or knowledgeable about OISE.

    As part of an informal interview, each respondent was asked, among other things, to provide us with a list of decisions which he viewed as the most signif- icant in the history of OISE.2 These lists provided us with a set of 184 unique decisions. In order to reduce the population to a manageable number, a series of screening rules were applied.

    While scholars have suggested various screening rules (Freeman, 1968; Bloom- berg and Sunshine, 1963; Blankenship, 1947, Dahl, 1961; Wiley, 1967), Freeman's rules appear to be the most detailed, and though they pertain to decisions taken in a community, they are, with modifications, most appropriate to the organiza- tion under study. Seven of Freeman's rules refer to the selection of individual de- cisions. 3 They are (Freeman, 1968, pp. 17-18).

    1. Each issue must have been at least temporarily resolved by a decision. 2. The decisions must be perceived as important by informants representing

    diverse segments of the community. 3. The decision must pertain to the development, distribution, and utilization

    of resources and facilities which have an impact on a large segment of the metropolitan population.

    4. The decision must involve alternative lines of action. The decisions must entail a certain degree of choice on the part of participants; the outcome must not be predetermined.

    5. The decision must be administered rather than "market type." For this study, an administered decision was defined as one made by individuals

    2 The respondent was permitted to name any decision, by any party, agency, or organization. No constraints were placed on the respondent.

    ~Freeman also presents criteria which an entire set of selected decisions should meet. It was not necessary to invoke these in the present study, and they are therefore not discussed.

  • Deve lopment Patterns in an Academic Inst i tute 245

    holding top positions in organizational structures which empowered them to make decisions affecting many people. (Later, we take account of those who influence the decisions of these administrators.)

    6. The decision must involve individuals and groups resident in the Syracuse metropolitan area. Decisions (such as governmental decisions) made out- side the metropolitan area but affecting the metropolitan area were excluded.

    7. The decision must fall within the time period 1955-1960.

    Clearly, some modifications are required in order to make the rules consistent with OISE's situation. For example, the sixth must be changed to read: "The decisions must involve individuals and groups within OISE."

    The seventh must be changed to read: "The decisions must fall within the time period 1965 - January 1970." This time period begins with the formal establish- ment of OISE and ends with the beginning of this research project.

    Of the original 184 decisions, 46 were eliminated by the application of three of the aforementioned rules. Twenty-one were made prior to l:he establishment of OISE (rule 7), 19 could not be identified with any specific individual, associa- tion, agency, or organization (they were "market type" decisions - rule 5), and 6 were clearly decisions made outside of OISE (rule 6). The most important re- duction occurred with the application of rule 2: "The decisions must be perceived as important by informants representing diverse segments of the community." This rule was operationalized by referring to the opinions of representatives of the following 4 groups:

    1) 11 knowledgeable faculty members, including 5 who had served as chair- men of the Academic Council, an organization which was OISE's version of a university senate; 4

    2) 5 active students including 2 former chairmen of the Graduate Students' Association;

    3) 10 department chairmen (one, however, had also served as Chairman of the Academic Council, and his views were categorized under "knowledgeable faculty");

    4) 5 senior administrators.

    To be included in the study, a decision had to be viewed as significant by at least 1 member of 3 or more of these categories. Of the 138 decisions left in the pool after the application of rules 5, 6, and 7, only 13 met this rule. s This was rather surprising since each respondent was permitted to name as many decisions as he

    4Under a new internal governing structure the Academic Council has been replaced by a widely representative Institute Assembly.

    SThese 13 also met the other three decision rules.

  • 346 Alexander and Farrell

    wished, with most naming between 5 and 8. Table I identifies these decisions and

    indicates the number from each respondent category who nominated the decision

    as significant. As can be seen, the most "popular" decision was nominated by 21

    of 30 respondents while the least frequently ment ioned decision received only 6

    nominat ions.


    The 13 decisions which were designated as highly significant according to the

    perceptions of selected Institute members are listed below in chronological order:

    1. Appointment and Promotion - The decision by Academic Council to recommend "that the sole criterion for appoint- ment and promotion to and within academic ranks be scholarly achievement" and "that ordinarily such achieve- ment will be evidenced by suitable publication."

    2. Department Chairman Tenure - The decision by Academic Council to recommend that a Department Chairman's tenure of office be limited to four years, renewable.

    3. Sociology in Education - The decision by Academic Council to approve and recommend the establishment of a Depart- ment of Sociology in Education.

    4. Research Review Board - The decision by Academic Council to recommend the establishment of a Research Review Board.

    5. Program Budget - The decision by Academic Council to broaden participation in internal budgeting procedures through the use of a program budget format.