Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2017

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 01/31/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Sauder, Michael E

First Committee Member

Lynn, Freda

Second Committee Member

Glanville, Jennifer

Third Committee Member

Bills, David

Fourth Committee Member

Leicht, Kevin


Drawing upon two forms of qualitative data—interviews with trustees and national trade association publication archival documents—and employing an abductive theory building strategy based on my analysis of higher education governance in the present day and historically, I perform an organizational etiology of U.S. higher education governing boards and governance. Studying governance in higher education lends itself to theory building, as governance lacks a strong basis of comparability, distinguishable from firm-based or other non-profit enterprise governance. Further, while governing boards are principal parties of authority, the shared governance framework almost universally privileges participation by a host of stakeholder parties. Further, the targets of governance, colleges and universities, are comparatively complex and ambiguous in terms of goals, priorities, purposes, products, and strategic interests, as well as in terms of operational, professional, hierarchical, and financial models of sustainability and advancement. I deconstruct governing boards, governance, and governing at several levels of consideration to find that explicit and ubiquitously understood organizational and work objectives and practices of governance conceal a state of organizing that necessitates considerable attention, deliberation, strategic action, and investment of resources by governing boards. It is the state of organizing itself that is a consummate and pervasive focus of attention and consideration. Governance and governing is an ongoing process or state of organizing characterized by a readiness to examine, address, and act upon boundaries of organization, profession, and work practices. As much as governing boards govern institutions, boards govern boundaries, and multiple kinds of boundaries at multiple levels of consideration at that. While boundary work implies work at the periphery, the boundary work of governance and governing boards is itself core to the organization and work performed. I dissect cognitive and practice-based dimensions of governing, ordering perceptions and explanations of the form of work being done by boards as professional organizations, and by tracing the broader culture and history of the field of governance, and show how boundaries and boundary work are a consuming strategic focus. Boards are enduring institutions with paradoxically unenduring boundaries. I find and describe how these boundaries share a set of traits and propensities indicative of a form of organizing without theoretical match or explanation: organizational amorphousness. I build the case for amorphousness throughout and, in the conclusion, explain how governing boards, the field of governance, and the work and practices of governing represent extreme cases of an evolved organizing predicated on dexterity and contingency. This form of organizing seemingly contradicts basic assumptions of organizing and begs the question as to what functions boards actually serve, as well as to what effect.


Governance, Governing Boards, Institutions, Organizational Theory, Organizations, Qualitative Methods


ix, 546 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 493-546).


Copyright © 2017 Chad Michael McPherson

Included in

Sociology Commons