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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Ryan Wells

Second Advisor

Mary Deane Sorcinelli

Third Advisor

Donald Tomaskovic-Devey

Subject Categories

Higher Education


In 2008, the United States economy entered a rapid and profound decline. As a result most public universities experienced decreased endowments and a decline in state allocations. Some universities responded to this crisis by refocusing their institutional priorities and restructuring their campuses. This study used the lens of organizational field theory (e.g., 1993; Davis & Marquis, 2005; Fligstein & McAdam, 2012; McAdam & Scott, 2005) to analyze a decision-making and restructuring process at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass), which began in late 2008 and concluded in 2011. The purpose of the research was to investigate the ways the UMass Amherst restructuring process was influenced by two of the organizational fields to which the University belongs: public research universities and Massachusetts higher education. The research also examined the effects of the economic and political environment on these fields, and by extension, on the actions of the University of Massachusetts Amherst during this period. Whereas earlier organizational field theorists (Bourdieu, 1993; DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Scott W. R., 1995) primarily considered the influence of fields on actions adopted at the organizational level, more recent research (Davis & Marquis, 2005; Emirbayer & Johnson, 2008; Fligstein & McAdam, 2012) has begun to focus on the strategic actions of individual actors within organizations and the ways those actions can also affect organizational efforts. This study considered the actions of stakeholder groups, and this led to a richer understanding of the interplay of individuals, organization, field, and environment, and the effects of these on university mission. Using a retrospective, descriptive case study design that included analysis of selected documents and interviews of individuals who were part of the decision-making process, I reviewed, coded, and developed preliminary constructs, which later became the themes for analysis. The findings suggested that organizational fields as well as organizational actors each influence an organization’s path in various ways. Additionally, the study gave indications of shifts in mission at least on the UMass campus. This study contributes to a better understanding of the influence of organizational fields in higher education and offers suggestions for further research on shifts in university mission.