Publication Date

Summer 2009

Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in Communication



Major Advisor

Natalie Nelson-Marsh, Ph.D.


Mary Frances Casper, Ph.D.


J. Peter Wollheim, Ph.D.


Change in the university has been the topic of recent discussion in contemporary business, popular, and academic literature. This thesis uses organizational communication theory and literature to examine how communication constitutes what we know as the university. This perspective provides an analytical lens to confront the organizational questions central to contemporary ideas surrounding the university. Furthermore, it generates new ways of viewing current issues, debates, and contestation regarding its constitution. This thesis examines the role of communication as a powerful process, and the agency of each individual in creating, recreating, and transforming the university.

To understand the constitution of the university, a state university in the Pacific Northwest, which I call Metropolitan Research University (MRU), was examined. While not representative of all universities, MRU is a small sample of the discourse or the communicative constitution of the university. This study used the instruments of semi-structured interviews, field observation, and document collection to understand the constitution of MRU. Fifteen participants were interviewed for this study consisting of faculty, administration, and students. More than 100 students were observed in classrooms.

What emerged in the data pushes the understanding of the constitution of the university. It demonstrates the fluidity of organizational boundaries and exemplifies the discursive processes that constitute what people understand and interpret as the university. The university is not an object to be described and therefore its constitution cannot be understood by simply studying the participants and practices “within” the university. This fluidity of boundaries brought to the forefront the susceptibility of the university to the ideology of dominant institutions. This is significant because even though university participants demonstrated their agency “in” the university, they sometimes were not aware of how they adopted and produced practices based on contemporary ideologies. The university then should not be thought of or researched as object to be described but as a set of complex relationships of power, knowledge, and discourse produced by social groups as they struggle with one another.

Included in

Communication Commons