Sub-theme 45: Reconstructing Universities as Organizations: Increasing Authority with Limited Strategic Capabilities

Richard Whitley
Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, UK
Jochen Gläser
Technical University Berlin, Germany
Ivar Bleiklie
University of Bergen, Norway

Call for Papers

Recent governance changes in European public science systems have focused on the role and internal structure of universities, including measures that increase the autonomy of universities from the state and strengthen their internal managerial governance, often weakening academic collegiate governance. As a result, the authority of university management over matters of teaching and research has increased, while the authority of organizational academic elites is diminishing (Bleiklie & Kogan, 2007; Whitley, 2010). These trends have been described as increasing 'actorhood' of universities (Krücken & Meier, 2006), which occur at different speeds in different countries.

At the same time, there are good theoretical reasons for assuming that the strategic action capabilities of universities are inherently limited. The strategic capabilities of firms in market economies are based on their discretionary authority over the acquisition, use and disposal of human and material resources as well as to their generation of organization-specific problem-solving routines and knowledge (Whitley, 2008: 24). In universities, however, such capabilities are restricted by inherent features of public scientific knowledge production and advanced teaching: (i) pervasive uncertainties about both cause-effect relationships in knowledge production and the meaning and significance of results and the training of new researchers, and (ii) the resulting authority of the scientific communities in knowledge production and validation processes (Bleiklie & Byrkjeflot, 2002; Gläser, 2007; Musselin, 2007; Whitley, 2008).

This special relationship between organizations and one of their core operations is key to the understanding of the current transformations of universities, but one that has not yet been sufficiently addressed in studies of universities and university reforms. This EGOS subtheme will bring together scholars from organizational sociology, the sociology of science and higher education research and provide a forum for the integration of perspectives on the operation of universities. We invite empirical and conceptual contributions that analyse the particular nature of the university as a formal organization and the resulting prospects of higher education reforms.

Some key questions to be addressed by contributions to this subtheme are:

  • How do universities exercise authority over their core operations – research and teaching?
  • How do their opportunities to exercise authority vary between teaching and research?
  • How does the integration of most academics in both operations affect the exercise of authority?
  • How are higher education reforms changing the autonomy of universities, their authority over their core operations, and the means by which this authority can be exercised?
  • How are reforms of internal university governance, especially the adoption of governance instruments from industrial organizations, affecting the core operations of research and teaching in universities?


Bleiklie, Ivar & Haldor Byrkjeflot (2002): "Changing Knowledge Regimes – Universities in a New Research Environment." Higher Education, 44 (2-3), 519-532.
Bleiklie, Ivar & Maurice Kogan (2007): "Organization and Governance of Universities." Higher Education Policy, 20, 477-493.
Gläser, Jochen (2007): "The social orders of research evaluation systems." In: R. Whitley & Gläser (eds.): The Changing Governance of the Sciences: The Advent of Research Evaluation Systems. Dordrecht: Springer.
Krücken, Georg & Frank Meier (2006): "Turning the University into an Organizational Actor." In: G.S. Drori, J.W. Meyer H. & Hwang (eds.): Globalization and Organization: World Society and Organizational Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 241-257.
Musselin, Christine (2007): "Are Universities Specific Organizations?" In: Krücken et al. (eds): Towards a Multiversity?, 63-84.
Whitley, Richard (2008): Universities as Strategic Actors: Limitations and variations. In: Lars Engwall & Denis Weaire (eds.): The University in the Market. London: Portland Press, 23-37.
Whitley, Richard (2010): "Reconfiguring the Public Sciences: The impact of governance changes on authority and innovation in public science systems." In: Richard Whitley, Jochen Gläser & Lars Engwall (eds): Reconfiguring Knowledge Production: Changing authority relationships in the sciences and their consequences for intellectual innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Richard Whitley 
Jochen Gläser 
Ivar Bleiklie