Structuring to advance science: stem-centered organizational innovations in the research university
Warshaw, Jarrett Benjamin
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As universities compete to advance science and secure external resources, many are changing the fundamental structure of their research cores. In knowledge production science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields have become increasingly interdisciplinary and lucrative, compelling adaptive institutions to develop continua of centers, institutes, schools, and departments for success in this arena. Yet little is known conceptually or empirically about these emerging organizational forms. This thesis draws on institutional theory, resource dependence theory, and academic capitalism to illuminate the nature and parturition of STEM-centered organizational innovations (SOIs). SOIs are centers, institutes, schools, and departments new to their institutions between 2000 and 2014, formed in externally funded areas of research, and with campus access to medical programs. The theories inform the selection of four U.S. public research universities, with each institution representing a quadrant of innovation based on indicators of its institutionalization (high or low) and resource position (strengthened or threatened) in the Association of American Universities. Sampled SOIs from one institution constitute a case for comparison to SOIs (e.g., cases) at the other, three institutions. Within- and cross-case analyses suggest that: Institutionalization neither holds campuses “hostage” nor permits uncoordinated “drift,” but seems to differentiate the normative and financial margins around which SOIs develop, are politicized, and compete to endure. SOIs have the potential to broaden their institutions’ resource dependencies across a number of federal mission agencies, but appear largely to converge within the biomedical/NIH arena. Within the context of academic capitalism, SOIs appear to open disproportionate pathways for scientific specialists/experts, rather than managerial professionals, to formal and symbolic positions of administrative/financial authority. Overall, SOIs in this analysis are suggestive of a deepening “love affair” with science among the public, policy-makers, and social institutions, and they may serve to reaffirm but also facilitate an image of the scientist as ideal educated self. Implications for theory, institutional policy and practice, and future research are discussed.