It's just the way things are done here: The role of institutional culture in the process of general education curriculum reform

Gregers Kjerulf Dubrow, University of Pennsylvania


The perennial debate over the nature and content of general education raises questions regarding the process of curriculum reform. Much of the surveyed literature on academic organizations deals either with the mundane or the system in times of exigency. This study examines curricular change as it occurs during typical periods in the life of three academic organizations. Institutional culture—the ideas, beliefs and assumptions shared by members of an organization—serves as the theoretical framework for the analysis. These shared values and beliefs guide the ways in which members of an organization act and make decisions. The study addresses three key questions: (1) To what extent does the culture of an organization affect the general education reform effort? (2) What specific elements of institutional culture do people involved in the curricular reform process draw upon? (3) Does the influence of institutional culture vary depending on institutional type? The data come from interviews with faculty and academic administrators directly involved in the general education reform efforts at three institutions: a religiously-affiliated college in the western United States; an urban comprehensive university in the Midwest; and a selective private research university in the eastern United States. Additional data comes from documentary and archival sources such as minutes from meetings of curriculum committees and general faculty assemblies. The guiding hypothesis is that reform efforts in general, and general education curriculum reform efforts in particular, are most effective when decisions are well informed by the prevailing organizational culture. This culture may be long-standing and deeply engrained in everything that occurs at the institution, or it may be a new attitude, itself the product of a reform efforts. Whatever the case, this culture must be part and parcel of the reform effort. Reform efforts cannot stand apart from institutional culture unless the reshaping of that institutional culture is an element of the reform process.

Subject Area

Higher education|Curricula|Teaching|School administration

Recommended Citation

Dubrow, Gregers Kjerulf, "It's just the way things are done here: The role of institutional culture in the process of general education curriculum reform" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3087392.