The Organizational Double Bind: How Professional Schools Respond to Prolonged Uncertainty

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW1.1.04 (Tower One)
Max Besbris, New York University, New York, NY
Caitlin Petre, New York University, New York, NY
Higher education organizations, and professional schools in particular, cannot sever their connection to the labor market without jeopardizing their institutional legitimacy. Using the case of journalism schools, we ask: what happens within these organizations when the fields they are preparing students to enter are increasingly unstable? Drawing on 112 interviews with faculty and administrators in U.S. journalism programs, we find a strong desire to couple to the institutional myth of job preparation. But widespread uncertainty about the nature of the job market leads to deep disagreements within and across schools about how best to accomplish this goal. This produces deeply fractured organizations stuck in what we call a “double bind”: journalism schools’ connection to the job market is simultaneously the source of their legitimacy and a major liability. We analyze this double bind and show how the sociology of higher education, and institutional theory more generally, should foreground uncertainty in future research.