Symbolic communication of college presidents during major institutional change

Dione D Somerville, University of Pennsylvania


In general, the American college and university presidency is one that is well represented in the literature on higher education. Topics range from governance, leadership style and competencies, to the role of the presidency itself. The purpose of this study is to examine the perceptions of the college president's symbolic communication during major change. Major change can be different from other more superficial forms of change on college and university campuses and may require the president to use specific leadership strategies. Additionally, many traditional canons of leadership do not suit the culture of American higher education. As a result, leadership strategies that fit the unique structure and culture of higher education need to be explored. Because it taps into institutional culture, shared values, and shared meaning, symbolic leadership and specifically, symbolic communication seems to be better suited to the unique structure and needs of higher education. This research was conducted at two small, private liberal arts colleges. Nearly forty interviews were conducted with the presidents, members of the boards of trustees, senior administrators, faculty and staff. Relevant documents were reviewed. Data from these interviews and documents were analyzed and coded into relevant themes. The results of this research have yielded strategies and examples of how college and university presidents engage in symbolic communication while managing large-scale change processes on their campuses. Further, it appears as though engaging in symbolic communication does facilitate the change process.

Subject Area

Higher education|School administration|Communication

Recommended Citation

Somerville, Dione D, "Symbolic communication of college presidents during major institutional change" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3209978.