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Collaborative partnerships that promote seamless learning for students with disabilities

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Katherine A. Stolz
Submitted to
Michigan State University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of
Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education
UMI Number: 3435112
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Katherine A. Stolz
This instrumental case study employed a qualitative approach to explore ways
that partnerships were built on a large, decentralized campus to support the seamless
learning for students with disabilities. The number of college students with disabilities is
increasing today, yet higher education lacks coordinated systems that provide a coherent
learning experience for students who have specialized needs. This study addressed two
overarching research questions: In what ways does a student affairs unit that provides
disability services interact with campus partners to promote student learning? What
factors influence the interaction between these organizational units?
To explore these questions, Buchmiller Hall at Midwestern University was
selected as the site for this case study. Three Buchmiller staff members were interviewed,
in addition to nine individuals who Buchmiller staff identified as campus partners. Two
campus leaders, who provided a broader view of organizational dynamics at MWU,
where also interviewed. First interviews took place during spring and summer of 2009,
followed by second interviews during the late fall of 2009. Document analysis
supplemented data collected through on-site interviews.
After data were collected and transcribed, several themes emerged during analysis
of the data. Findings in this study examine themes that emerged in regard to factors that
were supports or barriers in collaborative efforts with partners. Discussion explores
support and barrier themes in light of three research sub-questions that address how, why,
and when collaboration took place. Participants described three types of boundaries,
which included boundaries of position, identity, and space. They described two primary
ways that they negotiated these boundaries, using both a structural and human component
of navigation. Values of individuals and leaders emerged as an important theme during
the process of navigation, in addition to the importance of individuals having the
necessary tools to act upon values. Finally, when certain elements of context aligned, an
"incredible moment" was created, in which the above themes came to light. Present
throughout all themes, the context of disability presented unique characteristics in
partnership efforts. After discussion of the themes, implications for practice and research
are provided.
To my parents, Thomas and Cheryl Stolz, who have supported my education in every
way possible, from the very beginning.
I must acknowledge several individuals who have over the past years given their
support through my doctoral coursework and dissertation completion. First and foremost,
I thank my parents, who have sacrificed in so many ways to provide a solid education for
me, both growing up and through college. My mother and father, Cheryl and Thomas
Stolz, have been hugely instrumental in who I am today and built a foundation that
provided a true love of learning in my life that have led me to endeavors such as this
dissertation. In addition, they both served as careful editors through the final stretch of
the dissertation, spending painstaking hours reading and re-reading chapters. I have never
had so many conversations about preposition selection as with my father in the past
several months. I hope to never experience that number again.
Dr. Monica Marcelis Fochtman was my writing partner to whom I owe many
thanks. We spent Wednesday evenings together, in addition to many other times,
discussing themes and ideas, organization of text, sentence structure, and the writing
process itself. Monica was a huge support for me, especially when I needed someone just
to say, "Good job." Others I must thank include my fiance, Loren, who was an amazing
listener through many long hours, discussing organizational dynamics and what I was
learning through this dissertation. Sometimes we see many similarities in our worlds of
higher education and financial risk consulting, although they are very different at the
same time. Loren's parents, Rennie and Joe Madden, also served as editors through this
dissertation writing process. My sister, Anne Stolz, is wildly brave in giving a year-anda-half of her life to teaching elementary school children halfway across the world and
persevering through several major natural disasters there. Her and my mother's
commitment to Catholic education is something I greatly admire. Anne was also an
important support through the half-decade of this doctoral degree. I would also like to
extend a thank you to Dr. Cindy Helman, who has served as a professional and academic
mentor figure for me through my years at Michigan State, in addition to Dr. Amy
Franklin-Craft who has shown support as my supervisor over the past two years while I
was writing, and Dr. Matthew Wawrzynski, my advisor and committee chair.
Finally, I must thank the many individuals who made this dissertation possible by
willingly sharing their experiences with me. Because of their openness and dedication to
helping students with disabilities, writing this dissertation was in ways an enjoyable
experience. The commitment of the individuals who participated in this case study serves
as an inspiration to me as I continue in my professional role of working with students in
the journey that is their college years.
Seamless Learning
Students with Disabilities
Organizational Partnerships
Research Problem
Purpose and Research Questions
Document Overview
Organizational Collaboration and Partnerships
Partnership Terminology
The Process of Collaboration in Higher Education
Models for Collaboration in Higher Education
Factors that Hinder the Process of Collaboration
Logistical Barriers
Structural Barriers
Motivational and Goal-Oriented Barriers
Factors that Promote the Process of Collaboration
Counters to Logistical Barriers
Counters to Structural Barriers
Counters to Motivational and Goal-Oriented Barriers
Collaboration in Higher Education
Collaboration in Student Affairs
Disability in Higher Education
National Context of Disability Support Services
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
A Shift in Roles and Responsibilities
Disability Support Services in Student Affairs
Organizational Partnerships Surrounding Disability Support Services
Constructivist Paradigm
Subjectivist Epistemology
Relativist Ontology
Qualitative Research
Case Study
Research Questions
Unit of Analysis
Single-Case vs. Multi-Case Selection
Methods and Data Collection
Document Analysis
Selection Criteria
Case Selection
Participant Selection
Participant Safeguards
Judging The Quality of Case Study Research
Situated Position of the Researcher
Data Analysis and Written Report
Overview of Buchmiller Hall
Personal Assistants and Disability Management Plan
Unique Organizational Structure of Buchmiller Hall
Overview of Participants and Their Roles on Campus
Buchmiller Staff Team
Campus Partners
Campus Leaders
Participants' Definitions of Student Learning
Learning is Individualized
Learning Happens Outside the Classroom
Students Are Co-Learners
Learning Requires a Safe Space to Fail
Student Learning is Empowerment
Importance of Collaboration in Promoting Student Learning
Types of Partnerships
Partnerships that Involved Specific Projects
Partnerships that Involved Ongoing Working Relationships
The New Building Partnerships
The Series
The Project Team
The New Building Process of Collaboration
Negotiating Physical Space
Merging Systems
Retaining Programmatic Identity
Factors that Were Barriers to Collaboration
Size and Decentralization
The Hierarchy
Embedded within Multiple Systems
Understanding the Needs of Students with Disabilities
Keeping Up with the Everyday
Factors that Supported Collaboration
Shared Mission and Goals
Mission and Goals of the Units
Mission and Goals of the University
Committees as Formal Opportunities to Connect
Sharing a Common Language
Finding the Point Person
So Large—Having a History Helps
Letting Go
How Does Interaction Take Place?
Types of Boundaries
Boundaries of Position
Boundaries of Personal Identity
Boundaries of Physical Space
Navigation of Boundaries
Navigation: The Structural Component
Navigation: The Human Component
Why Does Interaction Take Place?
Reasons Surrounding Participants' and Leaders' Values
Participants' Values
Leaders' Values
Having the Necessary Tools
Necessary Tools: Taking a Seat at the Decision-Making
Necessary Tools: Using Clear Communication
Necessary Tools: Knowing Their Circle of Influence
When Does Interaction Take Place?
Implications and Limitations of the Current Study
Implications for Practice
Pathways for People to Meet in Formal and Informal Ways
Formalized Recognition of Collaborative Efforts
Clear Pathways of Communication
Building on Areas of Expertise
Implications for Research
Learning Outcomes for Disability Support Services
Leadership in Building Partnerships to Support Students with
Future Studies in Additional Types of Institutional
Document Conclusion
Table 1: Participant Information
As today's campus populations are becoming increasingly diverse, the needs of
college students are changing. At the same time, in light of current economic trends,
fiscal budgets are tightening and stakeholders are putting forth increased calls for
accountability (ACPA, 1996; ACPA & NASPA, 1997; ACPA & NASPA, 2004; ACPA
et al., 2006). Within this context of change facing higher education, colleges and
universities are beginning to re-examine ways in which student services are delivered in
order to more effectively promote learning (Blimling & Whitt, 1999; Kuh, 1996;
Nesheim et al., 2007). In particular, scholars and practitioners must examine and develop
more coherent and interconnected systems of support for students with disabilities on
college and university campuses (Myers, 2008; Parker, Shaw, & McGuire, 2003).
The first chapter addresses the purpose of the current study, which examined
ways in which a student affairs unit, Buchmiller Hall, promoted learning for students
with disabilities at Midwestern University (MWU) by developing collaborative efforts
with campus partners. This chapter includes the following: overview of the research
problem, significance, research purpose and questions, and definitions used in the current
study. In order to introduce the research problem, this chapter opens with a discussion of
seamless learning, students with disabilities, and organizational partnerships.
Seamless Learning
The current study explored campus partnerships designed to provide students with
disabilities a seamless learning experience by integrating student services in a variety of
ways. As Kuh (1996) stated,
The word seamless suggests that what was once believed to be separate,
distinct parts (e.g., in-class and out-of-class, academic and nonacademic,
curricular and co- curricular, or on-campus and off-campus experiences) are
now of one piece, bound together so as to appear whole or continuous, (p.
A dichotomy between academic and student affairs has traditionally existed within the
organizational structure of colleges and universities (ACPA, 1996; ACPA et al., 2006,
Kuh; Lamadrid, 1999; Magolda, 2005). However, today a growing recognition
emphasizes that clear-cut boundaries and linear approaches that separate learning inside
and outside the classroom are no longer the most effective approaches to student learning.
Rather, learning should be considered in a holistic, or seamless, sense that cuts across the
academic, interpersonal, and developmental dimensions of students' lives (ACPA &
NASPA, 1997).
As student affairs professionals provide services "that smooth the student's path
on campus and keep obstacles out of the way of learning" (ACPA et al., 2006, p. 14),
they promote seamless learning that allows students to integrate new knowledge and
experiences. "Health and counseling services, advocacy and intervention services for
students with disabilities, and programs that support minority students are all examples of
student affairs interventions that support learning by removing or modifying barriers"
(ACPA et al., p. 14). One example of "smoothing the path" is coordinating student
services across campus. Students with disabilities are particularly likely to be "shuffled"
between systems on- and off-campus because they have specialized needs related to
health care, legal rights, classroom learning, and physical mobility with which many
student affairs professionals and educators are not familiar. As a result, a salient need
exists to provide a less fragmented learning experience for students by providing
disability support through partnerships and increased coordination of services.
Students with Disabilities
A growing number of students enter higher education today with varied
backgrounds, experiences, and abilities. Because of today's diversification of college
students, "it is increasingly important for students to become managers of their own
learning processes and goals" (ACPA & NASPA, 2004, p. 11). Developing a greater
sense of independence is particularly important for students with disabilities because they
experience a distinctive shift in responsibility upon entering college, in large part due to
current legislation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was ratified in 1990 to
ensure that students with disabilities are provided equal access to learning opportunities.
Supplementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA is the primary
disability-related legislation that prohibits discrimination based on disability in higher
education and ensures that college students have access to reasonable accommodations
that meet their needs. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (2008)
broadened the definition of disability to be more expansive than what had been
interpreted through court cases since the ADA was passed in 1990 (Shaw, Keenan,
Madaus, & Banerjee, 2010).
Under the ADA, when individuals graduate from high school and transition to
college, their roles as students change and the responsibility for seeking out
accommodations shifts to them from teachers and the secondary educational system
(Gordon et al., 2002). Because students with disabilities are expected to advocate for
themselves and manage their individualized needs, they often face the task of navigating
among various units on campus that each serve a separate function or provide a specific
service. In other words, disability support services that integrate student learning are
rarely woven into the fabric of an institution (Myers, 2008). Instead, students with
disabilities are expected to take initiative in order to coordinate services they receive
from various areas on campus.
The National Council on Disability (NCD) described the incoherence and
misalignment that often surrounds disability services, presenting challenges to students
who must coordinate multiple systems. The NCD (2003) stated,
We know students and families cannot prepare themselves to succeed in systems
about which there is inadequate information and inconsistency of support
offerings. We know that such systems, as diverse as they are, operate
independently of one another and with limited accountability, [and] cannot hope
to efficiently address the growing demand for support, (p. 22)
Empowering college students with disabilities to navigate various student support
services in a way that allows them to engage in seamless learning is significant for a
number of reasons. In 2003, 11.3% of college students reported having a disability (U.S.
Department of Education, 2006). This number reflects a 2% increase in the enrollment of
students with disabilities from the 1999-2000 academic year (U.S. Department of
Education, 2000). Actual numbers of college students with disabilities, however, may be
even higher due to the challenge of collecting data through self-reported information and
the stigma at times attached to having a disability. As the number of individuals with
physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges who enroll in higher education increases,
college and university officials must examine how to best meet the needs of this growing
When systems provide holistic support that promote seamless learning in a way
that students and their families are able to understand and navigate, individuals with
disabilities are more likely to graduate and obtain employment that provides a higher
quality of life (NCD, 2003). The government spends large amounts of funding to support
individuals with disabilities in society (NCD, 2008); if those resources are intentionally
invested in effective ways that offer integrated support services, college graduates with
disabilities are more likely to pursue a satisfying career and be able to support
themselves. The degree to which institutions are effective in serving students with
disabilities as they engage in seamless learning impacts a variety of stakeholders,
including tax-paying citizens, students with disabilities and their families, and other
students on campus who benefit from interacting with a diverse set of peers who are
empowered to be successful members of the community.
Organizational Partnerships
Forming campus partnerships is one way in which student affairs professionals
can promote student learning for students (Nesheim et al., 2007). Organizational
relationships involve the ways in which individual members and sub-units within an
organization interact with one another (Morgan, 1997; Scott; 2003); partnerships between
units allow gaps to be filled and redundancies between services on campus to be avoided.
As a result, students can engage in a more seamless learning experience, rather than being
forced to move between offices, services, or other units. When student affairs units
develop collaborative relationships with other student or academic affairs units, they can
share resources and information, in addition to sharing areas of expertise in order to
provide a more coherent experience for students. In other words, as organizational
partnerships integrate services that focus on multiple areas of student learning and
development, they provide a more seamless experience for students (Kuh, 1996).
In a broad sense, collaboration takes place when "a group of autonomous
stakeholders of a problem domain engage in an interactive process, using shared rules,
norms, and structures, to act or decide on issues related to that domain" (Wood & Gray,
1991, p. 146). Colleges and universities, in addition to nearly every sector in education
and business, are increasing efforts to examine their organizational structure and
determine how members work with others to engage in collaboration within the
organization (Kezar, Hirsh, & Burack, 2002). Higher education presents a distinct context
in which to examine intra-organizational relationships and partnerships due to a wideranging set of expectations and calls for accountability from multiple stakeholders, in
addition to diverse membership within the organization (ACPA, 1996; ACPA & NASPA,
2004; ACPA et al., 2006). In addition to often functioning as decentralized organizations,
in which many units function independently from one another (Morgan, 1997),
universities are experiencing an increasing degree of specialization. "Specialization is a
natural outgrowth of any organization and discipline, but it has reached such a magnitude
in higher education that we are quickly losing sight of the overarching role of developing
an educated citizen" (Blimling & Whitt, 1999, p. 11).
Collaborative partnerships in student affairs bridge the organizational divide
between units on campus to build deeper-level "cross-functional, interdepartmental
linkages that combine resources and expertise to address the learning needs of students"
(Whitt et al., 2008, p. 236). Student affairs literature that examines organizational
relationships often focuses on obstacles and current trends in building collaborative
initiatives with faculty and others in the academic affairs arena. Little attention is devoted
to examining effective elements of partnership programs that make collaborative efforts
successful (Whitt et al.). Scholars and practitioners must develop a better understanding
of relationships between student affairs units and campus partners that promote seamless
Research Problem
Learning should be considered "a comprehensive, holistic, transformative activity
that integrates academic learning and student development' (ACPA & NASPA, 2004, p.
4). In order to provide a learning environment that takes into account multiple dimensions
of a student's experience, units on campus must work together in ways that provide
seamless support in a coherent and meaningful manner (AAHE, ACPA & NASPA,
1998). Organizational units on a decentralized campus function semi-autonomously
(Morgan, 1997); without intentional efforts to coordinate services, students are frequently
not served in a holistic way. More specifically, support services for students with
disabilities are often focused within a single disability support service office, rather than
being integrated across student and academic affairs units (Myers, 2008). Educators in
higher education must develop a more integrated view of disability support systems for
students by "recognizing the interdependent relationships between students with
disabilities, natural supports, disability support staff, service providers, federal funding
agencies, secondary and postsecondary staff and faculty, policy makers, researchers, and
health care providers" (NCD, 2003, p. 5).
The ADA requires that all institutions of higher education provide a baseline of
accommodation for students with disabilities both inside and outside the classroom. The
ADA, though, is ambiguous and lacks specific requirements about what accommodations
must be provided. How the university and various campus partners interpret the
institution's obligations under the ADA, embedded within institutional goals surrounding
student learning, can influence intra-organizational relationships. Although campus units
frequently need not interact hand-in-hand, they must all meet compliance regulations
while providing student accommodations as outlined by federal law. University counsel
and legal services may determine overarching university policy regarding disability;
however, the ways in which policies and procedures play out in the individual lives of
students ultimately relies on student affairs professionals and other educators.
Student affairs professionals, in particular, have a responsibility to move beyond
the baseline of ADA compliance and to take a student learning approach (Frank & Wade,
1993). A learning-centered approach is integrated into the historical mission of student
affairs and serves as the foundation for the Seven Principles of Good Practice in Student
Affairs (Blimling & Whitt, 1999), one of which includes the forging of educational
partnerships. The current study examined how collaborative partnerships were developed
and why they were created in the unique context surrounding disability in higher
Purpose and Research Questions
The purpose of the current study was to better understand how organizational
units in student affairs work together in ways that support seamless learning for students
with disabilities. More specifically, the current study explored points of interface between
a student affairs unit that provides disability support services and other organizational
units and sub-units on a university campus. The intention of the research was not to
determine whether one or more types of relationships were "positive" or "negative."
Rather, this study sought to understand broadly how and why collaborative relationships
between a student affairs unit and organizational partners existed in ways that promoted
an integrated student learning experience.
The following research questions guided the current study:
1. In what ways does a student affairs unit that provides disability services interact with
campus partners to promote student learning?
2. What factors influence the interaction between these organizational units?
In addition, the following are sub-questions that were embedded within both of the
overarching research questions listed above:
How does interaction take place? (e.g., Do units work together in formal or informal
ways? Are interactions part of ongoing relationships or partnerships?)
Why does interaction take place? (e.g., What are espoused or enacted goals? Is action
driven from the top-down or bottom-up, neither, or both? What messages are sent to
individuals by the institution, campus partners, and students?)
When does interaction take place? (e.g., Who initiates action and with what
The current study used a broad definition of student learning that involves a holistic
approach and focuses on multiple elements of the individual, both inside and outside the
classroom (ACPA & NASPA, 2004; AAHE, ACPA & NASPA, 1998). Because
"learning is fundamentally about making and maintaining connections" (AAHE, ACPA
& NASPA, p. 3), students learn best when they are able to connect and integrate
experiences in a meaningful way. The definition of disability used in the current study is
that which is put forth by the ADA. Although the ADA Amendments Act broadened the
interpretation of what disability means, the wording of the original legislation is used
here. The ADA states that an individual with a disability is "a person who has a physical
or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities" (U.S.
Department of Justice, 2005, p. 1). Furthermore, the ADA recognizes a disability as a
record or history of an impairment that impacts major life activities, including when a
person is perceived to have such an impairment. The concept of relationship was used in
a similar sense as partnership and collaboration throughout the current study because the
various campus members are organizational players who belong within a single
institution, but partnership and collaboration were used to imply a more developed and
intentional relationship. The term organizational unit was used to refer to any unit or
sub-unit in the organizational structure of the university, such as a residence hall, student
services office, academic department, or an entire division. In the current study, student
affairs referred to a variety of functional areas that promoted student learning inside and
outside the classroom through the delivery of student services.
Chapter 1 introduced the current study, which explored the role of organizational
partnerships surrounding disability in higher education. Providing comprehensive and
integrated disability support services for college students with disabilities promotes
student learning by allowing students to make connections between services they receive
from different areas of campus. By exploring how one student affairs unit, Buchmiller
Hall, engaged in partnerships with other organizational units on campus, the current study
furthered knowledge with regard to optimizing the learning environment for all students,
particularly those with disabilities.
Document Overview
Chapter 1 provided an overview of the research topic and questions that examine
how organizational relationships promote seamless learning for students with disabilities,
in addition to the significance of study in this area. Chapter 2 explores pertinent literature
to the current study. Chapter 3 discusses the methods and methodological approach used.
Chapter 4 provides background information that sets a context for the following chapters,
including an introduction to partnerships in the current study and an introduction to
Buchmiller Hall, the student affairs unit that was the focus of this case study. Chapters 5
and 6 present findings structured around the two overarching research questions. Chapter
7 discusses results and implications of the current study for colleges and universities.
Many organizations today are realizing that they must improve the ways in which
members work amid a variety of change factors. Particularly in higher education, a
number of external pressures are prompting institutions to explore ways in which they
can promote collaboration. Tightening fiscal budgets, increased calls for accountability,
and a growing diversity of student bodies are leading colleges and universities to examine
the ways in which they deliver student services and effectively promote student learning
(Kezar, 2006; Parker, Show, & McGuire; 2003; Sharpe & Johnson, 2001). This chapter
provides an overview of the literature that sets the context for the current study by
introducing collaboration in higher education surrounding student services for students
with disabilities.
The conceptual framework for the current study draws from two primary bodies
of literature: organizational partnerships and disability in higher education. The first
section of this chapter provides an overview of the literature that examines collaboration
in higher education. The second section provides an overview of the literature that
examines disability in higher education. The intersection of these two areas is then
explored; it is at this intersection that a gap exists in the literature and further research is
needed. The third section of this chapter highlights the limited literature that examines the
need for student affairs partnerships with other organizational units in the delivery of
services to students with disabilities. The discussion of the three overarching areas
provides a context for the current study, which is to understand the ways in which
organizational units form campus partnerships in order to serve students with disabilities
on a university campus.
Organizational Collaboration and Partnerships
Partnership Terminology
A number of terms describe organizational interface that exists between and
within colleges and universities. A partnership, the most general term for relationships
addressed in the current study, refers to a "dynamic interaction and relationship that is
influenced by motivating factors" (Watson, 2007, p. 53). The term partnership is often
used interchangeably with collaboration (Amey, Eddy, & Ozaki, 2007). Collaboration,
however, involves more than typical interaction and implies a coordinated effort that
takes place when a group works on a project separately, coming together only at the
finish. When individuals connect only near the end of a project, groups are collaborative
without engaging in collaboration. Collaboration, rather, is a process that "is integrative,
involving the collective cognition of the group" (Amey & Brown, 2004, p. 10).
Collaboration is the ongoing process of bringing together resources and expertise
in order to develop solutions (Kezar, 2006). Collaborative efforts emphasize "the
importance of working together on a common goal in an environment that fosters mutual
respect, openness, and trust" (Stein & Short, 2001, p. 425), in addition to sharing in
decision-making and risk-taking processes. Cooperation, in contrast, is characterized as
"going along with an established direction" and "short term with limited objectives,
shorter time agreements, and less commitment among participants" (Stein & Short, p.
425). In other words, in a cooperative relationship, partners may not necessarily share the
same underlying assumptions and values but can still effectively work together. Other
relational terms describe specific types of partnerships, such as a strategic alliance, which
is considered a fluid and temporary alliance, particularly when two or more institutions
wish to retain a distinct identity (Martin & Samels, 2002).
The Process of Collaboration in Higher Education
Models for Collaboration in Higher Education
A number of models and typologies for collaboration in higher education have
been developed, frequently based on collaboration models used in the context of the
private sector. Yet, higher education literature lags behind the corporate sector because
"it tends to focus on individual conditions that relate to collaboration rather than on
developing models of collaboration.. .it also tends to focus on the micro conditions rather
than on macro conditions such as the context" (Kezar, 2006, p. 809). Another distinction
in regard to models for collaboration in postsecondary education is that values are
inextricably intertwined with collaboration in the academy (Amey & Brown, 2004),
which may not be the case in other fields. Three models or typologies for collaboration in
areas of higher education are described below. Although these examples do not
specifically address collaboration only between student affairs units, elements of the
models can be applied to the context of how student affairs professionals build
partnerships that promote student learning.
Depicting collaborative efforts that involve community colleges, Amey, Eddy,
and Ozaki (2007) described a model that can be applied to partnerships in other areas of
higher education, such as student affairs. Ozaki, Amey, and Watson (2007) later modified
Amey et al.'s model. The modified model addresses the roles of social and organizational
capital in collaboration. Social capital is based on relationships, and organization capital
includes "resources, power, influence, authority, communication systems, and other
aspects of the organization" (Ozaki et al., p. 109). Student affairs partnerships are
embedded within a political and often complex organizational structure (Birnbaum,
1991), and as a result the role of capital can play an important role in who receives
resources, in what ways, and from whom.
Stein and Short (2001) created a typology for collaborative academic-degree
programs, which can also be applied to the collaboration in student affairs. The typology
describes four types of collaboration that include the following: the builder collaborative,
the broker collaborative, the ballerina collaborative, and the baker collaborative. The first
of these, the builder collaborative, is developed when one program is built to follow, or
build upon, another program such as during the transition from high school to college.
The broker collaborative, on the other hand, brings several pieces together from different
programs to serve a need while seeking to reach agreement with all sides. The ballerina
collaborative connects pre-existing programs together while each one continues to
function with a degree of autonomy. Finally, the baker collaborative uses innovation to
connect elements of several programs in new ways. The baker collaborative "bends rules,
challenges tradition, and looks for new ways to provide service" (p. 431) by creating a
new program. As student affairs units seek new ways to provide services to students that
promote learning, they may take on one or more of the above collaborative roles.
After examining a number of collaboration models used in the corporate sector,
Kezar (2005) developed a model for collaboration in institutions of higher education.
Kezar explored a number of colleges and universities that had wide-ranging collaborative
efforts across campus and delineated three major components of collaboration: building
commitment, commitment, and sustaining. Although Kezar's model does not focus
specifically on collaboration only in student affairs, the model's emphasis on the
importance of relationships, learning, and environmental factors is particularly relevant to
student affairs units, in which the goal of providing services is often person-focused.
Factors that Hinder the Process of Collaboration
Literature that examines collaboration in higher education includes much about
the challenges and barriers present in the process of developing partnerships (Kezar,
2006). Factors that inhibit effective collaboration in the higher education and student
affairs context are discussed below in three major areas that are termed logistical,
structural, and motivational barriers. Logistical concerns include tangible resources and
surface-level points of difference. Structural barriers, on the other hand, look at
contextual factors of the institution or environment. Finally, motivational barriers are
those that include philosophical, teamwork-related, and unspoken forces at play when
members' reasons for participating are at conflict. All three types of barriers are closely
intertwined and impact one another.
Logistical barriers. Logistical barriers include financial concerns, especially when
one partner is viewed to be privileged in terms of money, other resources, or power
(Bracken, 2007). In complex and stratified organizations, collaborations often exist
within a hierarchy based on who has information, in addition to specialization of roles
and positions (Magolda, 2005).
Structural barriers. A second type of barrier to collaboration in higher education
includes structural barriers. In higher education the organizational structure of colleges
and universities often inhibits greater collaboration: "Collaborations struggle, at times, to
become institutionalized because higher education institutions work in departmental silos
and within bureaucratic/ hierarchical administrative structures" (Kezar, 2006, p. 804). In
addition to the organization of a college or university, structural barriers can also include
policies and reward systems that inhibit collaboration (Stein & Short, 2001).
In an effort to foster collaboration, "managerial strategies" (Magolda, 2005, p. 17)
may be used to reorganize and build new structures and superficial relationships. Some
institutions have attempted to lessen the divide between academic and student affairs by
shifting lines within the organizational structure so that student affairs units report to an
academic leader such as the provost. These "mergers," (p. 25) however, are rarely
effective (Lamadrid, 1999) because they do not address the differences in cultures
between the two units or promote intentional partnerships around shared goals.
Motivational and goal-oriented barriers. Finally, motivational and goal-related
barriers stem from differences in socialization, core values, and members' reasons for
participation in collaborative efforts. For example, when individuals or groups fail to
share a sense of mission or goals (Eddy, 2007) and attempt to collaborate only for the
sake of collaboration, efforts become an end and a means (Magolda, 2005). In other
words, if all members fail to share a sense of buy-in in order to achieve an end result, the
process itself may fail to provide adequate reason to proceed.
Factors that Promote the Process of Collaboration
The barriers to collaboration described above are useful in considering factors that
support collaboration. Factors that promote the process of collaboration are discussed in
the following section and include counters to logistical barriers, structural barriers, and
motivational and goal-oriented barriers.
Counters to logistical barriers. Logistical barriers may be countered through the
acquisition of elements such as funding and other similar base necessities. When partners
must seek out and best use resources, they are more likely to be successful in building
and sustaining such relationships (Kisker & Hauser, 2007). Furthermore, members who
participate in collaboration must have an understanding of the role that each individual or
group plays in the partnership and be aware of how language is being used, in addition to
being able to communicate clearly with one another (Lamadrid, 1999).
Counters to structural barriers. The support of champions can mediate structural
barriers. Champions may or may not have positional authority within the organizations
involved, but they provide structure and guidance, often strengthening communication
between partners (Amey, Eddy, & Ozaki, 2007; Hoffman-Johnson, 2007). Champions
may serve as "gatekeepers" (p. 53) because of their access to various kinds of capital
(Watson, 2007). An additional role that a champion may play is to promote
communication between partners. Although the organizational structure of colleges and
universities often presents challenges to crossing departmental, divisional, and
institutional boundaries, positive communication builds bridges across these separations
in ways that make collaboration possible. "Effective cross-functional dialogue establishes
a context in which communication and collaboration become normative and individual
assumptions are continually challenged in order for the group to create insights made
possible only through collaboration" (Kuh, 1996, p. 140). For example, communication
allows each partner to better understand one another. Open exchange promotes positive
interaction, not only laterally between partners, but also vertically in terms of various
positional roles within an institution.
In some instances, open communication allows for the presence of what literature
terms boundary-spanners (Scott, 2003). In interdisciplinary collaboration, individuals
must be boundary-spanners with a neutral sense of self and work to achieve a neutral
intellectual space (Amey & Brown, 2004). Border-crossers are individuals or groups that
are able to move across organizational divides in a way that connects both partners and
presents a common ground that allows for more successful partnership, often because
they are able to navigate multiple organizational cultures (Philpott & Strange, 2003).
Counters to motivational and goal-related barriers. Person-focused factors, such
as attitudes, are perceived by individuals working on a campus to play a major role in the
success of collaboration (Kezar, 2003). Social and psychological forces, including
partners' perceptions of their roles and ability to be successful, play a role in the success
of collaborative efforts on a college campus (Stein & Short, 2001). Partners must
understand the role of each member involved and what they will contribute to the
partnership (Bracken, 2007; Kisker & Hauser, 2007), in addition to possessing a shared
meaning of the relationship (Amey, Eddy & Ozaki, 2007). Furthermore, motivational and
goal-related barriers may be mediated through increased awareness for all members'
goals and motives (Eddy, 2007). Individual goals for participation should be embedded
within those of the institution. In particular, in student affairs and academic affairs
partnerships, co-curricular initiatives must support the academic goals of the institution
(Lamadrid, 1999).
Collaboration in Higher Education
Collaboration literature examines the roles of partnerships and connectionbuilding in a variety of fields and disciplines. For example, the business sector discusses
collaboration designed to meet the needs of today's changing times (Kezar, 2006). In
addition, collaboration literature examines partnerships between K-12 and postsecondary
education in a variety of contexts, but is primarily descriptive and most often focuses on
the viewpoint of the K-12 system, as opposed to that of higher education (Amey, Eddy &
Ozaki, 2007). Although knowledge of organizational relationships in other fields and
areas of education may be related to collaboration in postsecondary education, research
on partnerships that take place within or between colleges and universities must take into
account that higher education is a distinct and unique context (Hoffman-Johnson, 2007).
A growing body of research examines inter-organizational collaboration in higher
education, including relationships between institutions and external partners. In
comparison to literature that discusses collaborative efforts between organizations, less
examination focuses on intra-organizational collaboration. Collaboration among units
within an institution, however, promotes seamless student learning on a college campus
(Kezar, 2006). Such intra-organizational collaboration takes various forms, including
learning communities, community service learning, and interdisciplinary faculty
collaboration. For example, interdisciplinary faculty collaboration occurs when faculty
members come together from different academic areas to work as a team in order to
create new knowledge that integrates multiple disciplines (Amey & Brown, 2004). A
growing body of literature examines collaboration and other partnerships between student
and academic affairs, but research that does so is still in its infancy (Kezar; Whitt et al.,
2008). Collaboration in student affairs, in which the focus is promoting student learning
inside and outside the classroom, is discussed next.
Collaboration in Student Affairs
Building campus partnerships is one response to calls for accountability to
promote less easily measured outcomes such as student learning. In addition to an
emphasis on building partnerships between student affairs units, a growing body of
literature calls for increased collaboration between student affairs and faculty or
academic affairs. For example, the Student Learning Imperative (ACPA, 1996) stated the
need for a re-examination of philosophical tenets in how faculty members, student affairs
members, and students work together, and the document describes the need to provide a
shared effort to support our increasingly diverse body of students. In addition to The
Student Learning Imperative, a number of change efforts that involve increased
collaboration have been initiated by professional associations, as discussed in documents
such as Principles of Good Practice (ACPA & NASPA,1997), Powerful Partnerships
(AAHE, ACPA, & NASPA, 1998), Greater Expectations (AACU, 2002), Learning
Reconsidered (ACPA & NASPA, 2004), and Learning Reconsidered 2 (ACPA et al.,
Collaborative efforts between student and academic affairs can provide students
with a more seamless learning experience in which they are able to connect learning that
takes place inside and outside the classroom. Developing these connections allows
partners to share their areas of expertise. "Faculty members are generally more attuned to
knowledge acquisition and intellectual development; student affairs professionals have
great experience in helping students cultivate certain abilities.. .and cognitive processes"
(Banta & Kuh, 1998, p. 42). As educators begin to accept a more holistic approach to
teaching, student and academic affairs can both contribute based on their training and
experience (ACPA et al, 2002; Lamadrid, 1999).
Although a frequent dialogue in higher education is one that describes the need
for increased collaboration in student affairs, limited research examines which aspects of
student affairs partnerships make them effective (Whitt et al., 2008) or what elements of
an environment foster collaboration (Kezar, 2006). Amid calls for collaborative
partnerships, research rarely examines whether they are '"a good idea,' and in what
forms, under what circumstances, in what ways, and for what students" (Whitt et al., p.
248). Magolda (2005) echoed hesitation in saying that "the desire to understand and
optimize this relationship has unleashed a flood of scholarly research and a healthy dose
of advice, which on the surface sounds good but, I've come to believe, when acted on is
less satisfying" (p. 16). For example, attempting to merge the cultures of student and
academic affairs in a single program can result in further bifurcation, or divide, of
mission and how programs are structured (Philpott & Strange, 2003).
As discussed above, a variety of factors hinder or promote collaboration in higher
education and student affairs, which is influenced by the context in which partnerbuilding takes place (Amey, Eddy, & Ozaki, 2007; Westfall, 1999). One particular
context in which partnerships are developed is in the delivery of disability support
services. The second part of this chapter provides an overview of disability in higher
Disability in Higher Education
In 2003, approximately 11% of college students reported having a disability (U.S.
Department of Education, 2006), and the number is reportedly increasing (Government
Accountability Office, 2009). A variety of types of disabilities exist, including
psychological, cognitive, sensory, learning, and physical disabilities. In 2006,
approximately the same percentages of male and female students reported having a
disability, although differences existed along racial and gender lines. For example, men
in college were more likely to report having a learning disability, whereas women were
more likely to report experiencing a mental illness or other health-related disability (U.S.
Department of Education, 2006). The most common type of disability reported by college
students in 2008 was a "mental, emotional, or psychiatric condition or depression"
(Government Accountability Office, 2009, p. 11), which represented 24 % of students
with disabilities. Nineteen percent of students reported having attention deficit disorder,
and 15 % reported having a physical disability (Government Accountability Office).
Students with disabilities are entering college today at a younger age than in past
years. For example, the average age of college students with disabilities in 2008 was 26
years old. "This represents a substantial change from 2000, when students with
disabilities were, on average 30 years old" (Government Accountability Office, 2009, p.
9). In 2008, students with disabilities were also more likely to attend college part-time or
at a community college than their peers who did not have disabilities (Government
Accountability Office).
Although, the number of students with disabilities in higher education is
increasing, systems fail to align in ways that provide adequate support for individuals
with a disability, and research reveals that college students with disabilities feel a need
for additional support services (Troiano, 2003). Of the 9% of students in higher education
who reported having a disability in 1999-2000, 22% said they did not receive the services
that they needed in order to be successful (U.S. Department of Education). Ways in
which disability support services are, or are not, provided in higher education are shaped
by a variety of factors, including the national context surrounding systems of disability
National Context of Disability Support Services
Although federal legislation mandates a certain baseline of accommodation for
students with disabilities, extensive variation exists in types of disability support services
offered through national agencies and across campuses. The lack of standardization in
support systems leads to fluctuation and variation in how and where services are
provided, and students must often navigate a complex set of factors between different
offices and service providers. As a result, college students with disabilities encounter
obstacles to success because basic infrastructure that provides support to meet their
individual needs is not in place (NCD, 2003). In recognition of the lack of coordinated
services, in 2009, a report was written by the Government Accountability Office that
called for the Secretary of Education to "implement a coordinated approach to optimize
agency resources and knowledge in providing technical assistance to institutions of
higher education in supporting students with disabilities" (Government Accountability
Office, 2009, p. 43).
In today's national context of tightening budgets, limited funding can present
obstacles to effectively providing disability support services. Institutions of higher
education rarely receive funding for disability support services based on the number of
students with disabilities who are enrolled there. As a result, colleges and universities are
frequently understaffed with professionals who provide disability support services (NCD,
2003). In addition, colleges and universities are frequently more concerned with meeting
baseline expectations put forth by federal law than with focusing on individual student
needs and learning. Current disability-related legislation plays a salient role in
determining in what ways disability services are delivered to college students. Several
laws apply to disability in education. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
are discussed in the following sections.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on a
number of characteristics, it failed to specifically mention disability. Prior to 1990, no
major civil rights legislation directly addressed disability in higher education aside from
parts of the Rehabilitation Act, which applied to colleges and universities that received
federal funding. However, when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed
in 1990, it directly addressed discrimination in education. The ADA states that colleges
and universities must provide reasonable accommodations, when requested, so that
individuals have access to the education and services that are available to their peers
without disabilities (Frank & Wade, 1993).
The ADA includes five titles that outline the following provisions: employers
must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees; public services may
not discriminate against individuals with disabilities; public accommodations must
provide equal access; phone companies must provide telecommunication relay service for
those with hearing impairments; and a number of miscellaneous provisions must also be
met (Rubin & Roessler, 2001). Title three, which addresses the accessibility of public
accommodations, applies to higher education and has greatly impacted the ways in which
colleges and universities provide services to students with disabilities on their campuses.
After the ADA was passed, campuses were faced with the need to enact change in their
physical environment, in addition to the ways in which some services were delivered, in
order to be compliant with federal law. The ADA specifies, however, that
accommodations and modifications must be "readily achievable and accomplished
without much difficulty or expense (unusually defined in a court of law)" (Peterson &
Aguiar, 2004, p. 66).
When ratified, the ADA sought to accomplish two major goals: to integrate
individuals with disabilities into society, and to prohibit discrimination against people
with disabilities (Peterson & Aguiar, 2004). In setting out to achieve these two purposes,
the ADA continued to use the definition of disability that was provided in the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which defines disability as an impairment that interferes with
major life activities, having a history of such an impairment, or when a person is
perceived to have such an impairment.
The wording of the ADA was left intentionally vague, and, as a result, extensive
debate surrounds its interpretation. Kuehn (2004) stated, "The definition problem
continues to influence professional practice and delays the articulation of a strong,
rational, national disability policy" (p. 89). The ADA Amendments of 2008 sought to
address the issue of interpretation regarding what is considered a disability under
legislation. As of January 1, 2009, "the strict interpretation of impairment has been
broadened and now includes a more expansive definition of major life activities
requirement, including additional major life activities" (Shaw et al., 2010, p. 143).
Disability, however, continues to be interpreted in different ways within various contexts,
and, as a result, lack of consistency is an underlying theme surrounding disability in
regard to law and public policy. Similar challenges regarding interpretation of the law
and consistency in providing disability services exist on individual college campuses.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
In addition to the ADA, Section 504 is considered the legislation that most
impacts the way in which disability services are delivered in higher education. Section
504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides "equal opportunities in federal programs,
[and prohibits] discrimination in allowing participation in any program or activity
receiving federal funding, based upon disability status of an otherwise qualified
candidate" (Peterson & Aguiar, 2004, p. 62). Because most universities receive federal
funds in some form, they must comply with Section 504 and provide an equal learning
opportunity for all students.
A Shift in Role and Responsibilities
Federal legislation represents a major shift in both philosophical approach and in
the mechanics for how disability support services are delivered to students in college
after they graduate from high school. The Education for All Handicapped Children's Act
was ratified in 1975, initiating the requirement for individual education plans (IEPs) for
children with disabilities in elementary and secondary school and ensuring that all
children with disabilities receive free public education. Today this law is known as the
Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and remains the primary legislation that
determines services for students with disabilities before they enter postsecondary
Under IDEA, secondary schools carry the responsibility for providing disability
support services through a team of individuals and professionals, which creates individual
education plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities. Upon entering postsecondary
education, however, students no longer benefit from the coordinated support that was
provided as part of their IEPs. Instead, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
becomes the primary disability-related legislation that applies to higher education. As a
result, when students enter college, they must take on the new role of self-advocate by
being aware of their needs and being able to effectively communicate what
accommodations they require (Hadley, 2006; Milsom & Hartley, 2005). College students
must not only take a more active role in learning about services available to them, but
they must also understand what their rights under the law include (Milsom & Hartley).
Disability Support Services in Student Affairs
Most college and university campuses have a student affairs office that provides
disability support services to students (CAS, 2006). A national study that used data
collected by the National Survey of Postsecondary Education Supports for Students with
Disabilities (NCSPES), examined institutional characteristics of colleges and universities
and the types of disability services they provided. Findings included that large, public
institutions often provided more significant support for a wider range of disabilities
(Sharpe & Johnson, 2001). Further data collected by the NCSPES revealed that test
accommodations are the most commonly reported disability accommodations offered by
institutions, whereas scholarships for students with disabilities and study abroad
opportunities were the least frequently reported (Stodden, & Whelley, 2001).
Although disability services are offered at a college or university, student affairs
professionals and faculty who work on campus may not be well-prepared or wellresourced to provide the best services possible to students. For example, the NCD (2003)
stated that both faculty and student affairs professionals are often unaware of disability
support systems available on their campus. Furthermore, in one study, 34% of campus
clinicians who provided learning disability accommodations reported that they had no
training on the ADA. Participants had often been trained before the ADA was enacted
(Gordon et al., 2002). As a result, many of the participants reported that they were
unfamiliar with the specific expectations of the ADA.
Literature is limited in regard to learning outcomes of disability services (Sharpe
& Johnson, 2001; Stodden & Whelley, 2001) or specific programs for students with
disabilities, such as residential living programs. Now, nearly two decades after the
passing of the ADA, colleges and universities must "extend services beyond
accommodations to include pedagogical responses to learning issues" (Launey, CarterDavis, & Launey, 2001, p. 10). Student affairs professionals can take a leadership role in
presenting a framework that focuses disability services on learning outcomes and that
intentionally considers input, mastery, and output (Frank & Wade, 1993). The third part
of this chapter discusses how organizational partnerships in student affairs provide
support services for students with disabilities.
Organizational Partnerships Surrounding Disability Support Services
In order to improve the ways in which services are organized and provided to
students with disabilities, increased collaboration must take place in ways that involve
both student and academic affairs units on campus (Troiano, 2003). Limited empirical
research, however, explores how increased coordination can more effectively provide
disability services for students. This lack of research constrains institutions' knowledge
of how to provide support services for students with disabilities. The NCD (2003) stated,
"The relative paucity of research is evidence of the newness of the field of study, but
such gaps in knowledge render the enactment of policy changes leading to continued
progress on an appreciable, universal scale difficult" (p. 4).
Even though few empirical studies examine the relationships that provide
disability support services, a growing body of literature advocates for increased
collaboration on campuses in providing support for students with disabilities. Myers
(2008) stated,
Although the campus community often mistakenly labels students with
disabilities as 'belonging' to disability services, accommodating students with
disabilities is not the sole responsibility of that office. Students with disabilities,
like all students, 'belong' to everyone on campus, and all on campus are
responsible for their learning and development, (p. 4)
Myers continued by saying that educators must reframe the way they think of disability
on campus, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Refraining the way in which higher education institutions provide disability
services that promote learning requires that student affairs professionals build both intraand inter-organizational relationships with partners. More prevalent in the literature is
discussion surrounding inter-organizational partnerships between an institution and
external partners, for example rehabilitation agencies (Dillon, 2007), or employers
through school-to-work programs (Burgstahler, 2001). In addition, a growing recognition
exists that higher education must develop better communication and coordination with
high schools (NCD, 2003) because the transition process from secondary to
postsecondary school should be a shared effort that includes the student, parents, high
school counselors, and postsecondary support staff (Hadley, 2006). Student affairs
counselors and advisors may not be experts on disability, but special educators at the
secondary school level have specialized training in working with students with
disabilities (Milsom & Hartley, 2005).
In addition to experiencing a shift in disability-related legislation as they
transition from high school to college, traditional-aged first-year college students
encounter the typical developmental change of moving from adolescence to adulthood,
often moving farther from home and family and developing a greater sense of selfidentity (Chickering & Reisser, 1993). When disability support offices partner with other
student affairs professionals who have specialized knowledge of traditional college
student development theory and the first-year transition process, they are able to share
information about resources across campus for all students (Hadley, 2006).
The call for additional partnerships emerging in the literature offers examples that
highlight successes on various campuses. For example, at St. Louis University, the
Universal Instructional Design Community of Practice works with the Center for
Teaching Excellence, in addition to the Disability Retention Management Committee, a
standing subcommittee of the campus-wide Retention Management Committee. Both are
cross-institutional groups that are composed of faculty and student affairs staff members
(Myers, 2008). The number of efforts to undertake campus collaboration is growing, and
resources are available to support collaborative efforts by connecting research to practice.
Programs that connect research to practice include the Disabilities, Opportunities,
Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) program at the University of Washington, the
Pedagogy and Student Services of Institutional Transformation (PASS IT) project at the
University of Minnesota, and the National Center for the Study of Postsecondary
Education Supports (NCSPES) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
In addition to barriers in the process of collaboration that were discussed earlier in
this chapter, one of the challenges in building partnerships in order to better provide
services to college students with disabilities is the level of ambiguity that surrounds the
concept of disability. Not only does current legislation define disability in vague terms
that allows for extensive flexibility in how accommodations are provided (Frank &
Wade, 1993), but also the experience of having a disability is individualized for every
person and presents varying needs for each student. As a result, little clarity exists around
how to move beyond providing the minimum accommodations of the ADA in order to
effectively provide a seamless experience with achievable learning outcomes for students
with disabilities. As the NCD (2003) stated, "Part of the problem is the lack of consensus
on the definition of 'successful outcomes.' (p. 10).
This chapter provided an overview of the two major bodies of literature that
informed the current study: collaboration and organizational partnerships in higher
education, in addition to disability in higher education. Finally, the intersection of these
two areas was discussed in order to inform the reader of the limited literature surrounding
organizational partnerships that provide disability support services for students. The
current study sought to address this gap in the literature in order to contribute to
knowledge of how to provide effective support services for college students, particularly
those with disabilities.
The purpose of the current study was to explore collaborative efforts between a
student affairs unit and campus partners designed to provide services to students with
disabilities. In order to learn more about collaborative partnerships, a single, embedded
case study design (Yin, 2003) was used. This chapter discusses the research design,
including a qualitative case study approach informed by a constructivist paradigm, in
addition to the current study's research questions, methods, measures to protect
participants and ensure trustworthiness, data analysis, and final format for disclosure of
findings of the current study.
Constructivist Paradigm
The current study was informed by a constructivist paradigm, in which there is
"assumed a relativist ontology (there are multiple realities) [and] a subjectivist
epistemology (knower and respondent co-create understandings)" (Denzin & Lincoln,
2005a, p. 24). Using a constructivist approach, the current research was based on the
recognition "that the reality perceived by people inside and outside the case will be
social, cultural, situational, and contextual" (Stake, 2005, p. 452). Constructivist inquiry
reflects the presence and interpretation of the researcher, acknowledging and integrating
that into the study itself (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005b; Patton, 2002).
All research is an interpretation of the researcher who is influenced by individual
epistemological, ontological, and methodological approaches, which together inform the
interpretive paradigm (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005a). Denzin and Lincoln spoke of the
qualitative researcher as someone who uses a variety of methodological and theoretical
tools to gather data and has knowledge of multiple paradigms. Paradigms represent
"belief systems that attach users to particular worldviews" (Denzin & Lincoln, p. 6), or
"[ways] of thinking about and making sense of the complexities of the real world"
(Patton, 2002, p. 69).
Subjectivist Epistemology
Epistemology addresses the relationship between the inquirer and the known in
conducting research. The current study used a subjectivist epistemology that allowed for
"frequent, continuing, and meaningful interactions between the investigator and the
respondents or other objects of investigation" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 107). Rather
than purporting a dualistic relationship between the researcher and object, a subjectivist
epistemology recognizes that the researcher disturbs, shapes, and interacts with what is
being studied (Lincoln & Guba). In order to develop relationships with the participants in
the current study, I spent time attempting to build connections through dialogue with
Relativist Ontology
"Constructivist philosophy is built on the thesis of ontological relativity, which
holds that all tenable statements about existence depend on a worldview, and no
worldview is uniquely determined by empirical or sense of data about the world" (Patton,
2002, pp. 96-97). Lincoln and Guba (1985) described four ontological positions that
address the nature of reality: objective reality, perceived reality, constructed reality, and
created reality. The current study was based upon a constructed reality ontological
approach in which there is "an infinite number of constructions that might be made and
hence there are multiple realities" (Lincoln & Guba, p. 84). A constructed reality
approach may also be referred to as a relativist ontology because multiple elements of the
research are relative in the interpretation of both the researcher and the reader. "Each
researcher contributes uniquely to the study of a case; each reader derives unique
meanings. These and other differences are relative to the purposes of the study, the
immediate situation of the case, and the circumstances of the reader" (Stake, 1995, p.
103). In using a relativist ontology, the researcher recognizes and acknowledges multiple,
complex constructions that exist simultaneously.
Qualitative Methodology
Qualitative research was an appropriate type of inquiry for the current study
because qualitative methodology is cognizant of dynamic systems (Patton, 2002) and
attempts to understand complex interrelationships (Stake, 2005), such as campus
partnerships. Qualitative research seeks to understand better how social experiences take
place through relationships and the ways in which meaning is given to them (Denzin &
Lincoln, 2005a). In the current study, a qualitative methodological approach was used
with the intent of gaining a more in-depth understanding of organizational relationships
embedded within a social context on a college campus. Denzin and Lincoln stated that
not only the participants, but also the researcher, exist within a human context. Denzin
and Lincoln described qualitative research as,
Situated activity that locates the observer in the world. It consists of a set of
interpretive, material practices that make the world visible. These practices
transform the world. They turn the world into a series of representations,
including field notes, interviews, conversations, photographs, recordings, and
memos to the self. At this level, qualitative research involves an interpretive,
naturalistic approach to the world, (p. 3)
Case Study
By definition, a case study examines one or more bounded systems that serve as
an example of a broader phenomenon (Merriam, 1998; Stake, 2005; Yin, 2003). A case
study approach is appropriate for use when research questions address the "how" and
"why" of a phenomenon and focus on a unit of analysis that the researcher cannot
control, similar to an experiment. Case study is particularly useful in examining complex
social phenomena (Yin), for example, when the focus of study exists in applied fields
such as education (Merriam), as in the current study. A distinctive characteristic of case
study is the recognition that a clear boundary does not exist between context and the
phenomena of focus. More specifically, a case is embedded in a multi-layer context
(Merriam; Yin).
Case study "offers insights and illuminates meaning that expands its readers'
experiences" (Merriam, 1998, p. 41), as it examines both the uniqueness and
commonality of a situation (Stake, 1995). A result of the personal insight shared by
participants and gained by the researcher is a personal contract that is made between the
phenomenon being studied and the person studying it (Stake, 2005). Case study involves
more than reporting back observations to the reader. Rather, the researcher must be
reflective (Stake, 2005) in order to appropriately interpret data. For example, Stake
(2005) stated that qualitative case study involves spending time "personally in contact
with activities and operations of the case, reflecting, and revising descriptions and
meanings of what is going on" (p. 450). In other words, a human element is often
contained in case study research, which provides the researcher an opportunity to reflect
in a way that makes sense within the broader context of the case that is being studied.
The current study was an instrumental case that allowed the researcher to engage
in reflective interpretation and analysis. An instrumental case study includes a specific
case that is studied in order to learn more about a broader phenomenon. In the current
study, the broader phenomenon included the partnerships between a student affairs unit
and other organizational units who provided services to students with disabilities. In other
words, the particular case itself is not of primary interest (Stake, 2005) but is meant to
provide a window into the broader concept of institutional partnerships. Current literature
recognizes the need for detailed case study that examines campus partnerships embedded
within the institutional culture (Kezar, 2003). The purpose of the current study was to
shed light on ways to improve the interaction between organizational units on a college
campus in order to promote seamless learning for all students, particularly students with
Research Questions
The above methodological and conceptual framework guided the study in which I
examine the following research questions:
1. In what ways does a student affairs unit that provides disability services interact
with campus partners to promote student learning?
2. What factors influence the interaction between these organizational units?
In addition, the following are sub-questions that were embedded within both of the
overarching research questions listed above:
How does interaction take place? (e.g., Do units work together in formal or informal
ways? Are interactions part of ongoing relationships or partnerships?)
Why does interaction take place? (e.g., What are espoused or enacted goals? Is action
driven from the top-down or bottom-up, neither, or both? What messages are sent to
individuals by the institution, campus partners, and students?)
When does interaction take place? (e.g., Who initiates action and with what
Unit of Analysis
The primary unit of analysis in the current study included the relationships and
interactions that existed between a student affairs unit and various campus partners as
they provided services to students with disabilities. The current case study examined
campus relationships through "an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a single
entity, phenomenon, or social unit" (Merriam, 1998, p. 34). Within the holistic picture,
however, were sub-units of analysis, which included the relationships and experiences of
individuals (e.g., among student affairs professionals or between faculty and student
affairs professionals). Yin (2003) distinguished between a holistic and embedded case
study. A holistic case study considers the case as a global unit, whereas embedded case
studies contain subunits of analysis. The current study involved an embedded, single-case
design that allowed for exploration of the roles of individuals, in addition to that of
departments, units, and, more broadly, the university. The two levels of exploration were
necessary because collaboration exists from both an organizational (collective effort) and
individual perspective (Amey & Brown, 2004).
Because the units of analysis were composed of individuals, data were collected
to examine the experiences of participants, which both shaped and were shaped by the
relationships between units. Individual perception was not the focus for the study, but it
did act as a filter by influencing and framing individuals' experiences that collectively
formed the unit relationship or partnership. In other words, the unit relationship within
the organizational context was the foreground (Stake, 1995), or primary focus, of the
current study. Individual relationships and experiences informed by participants'
perceptions were part of the background structure of the study and served as sub-units of
Single-Case vs. Multi-Case Selection
An important decision in conducting case studies addresses the number of cases to
include in the study. Although researchers may seek insight into a particular
phenomenon, they must look specifically at one or more individual cases to gain the
depth needed to provide an accurate picture of the concept of study with a finite amount
of resources (Stake, 2005). Studies that include one case are termed single-case studies;
when more than one case is included, studies are referred to as multiple-case studies,
collective case studies, multi-case studies, or comparative case studies (Merriam, 1998).
The current study used a single-case study approach for several reasons. First, an
in-depth analysis of a single case is appropriate in conducting a representative case study.
A representative case "[captures] the circumstances and conditions of an everyday or
commonplace situation" (Yin, 2003, p. 41), such as building partnerships between
various units on a college campus. Yin acknowledged, "The lessons learned from these
cases are assumed to be informative about the experiences of the average person or
institution" (p. 41). Findings from a qualitative case study can be applied to a broader
theory or phenomenon, rather than to all cases that exist. In the current study, insight was
gained into one case, but learning generated from the current case can be applied to the
phenomenon of institutional partnerships, with the recognition that context is inextricably
connected to any relationship.
A consideration in designing case studies is that the researcher must negotiate
what to study because a specific approach may allow for more in-depth analysis, as
opposed to a broader overview when limited time and resources are available (Stake,
2005). Focusing available resources on a single case allowed for greater depth of
understanding of the multiple partnerships on one campus that are continually changing
and evolving over time.
Methods and Data Collection
Case study does not require specific methods for data collection. Careful choice
of multiple types of data, however, is essential because a case study is determined by "the
questions asked and their relationship to the end product" (Merriam, 1998, p. 31).
Sources of data cannot be collected and considered independent of one another, and data
collection involves iterative and ongoing interpretation. In qualitative research, the data
collection instrument is the researcher (Patton, 2002).
Formal data collection took place using two primary types of collection, which
included interviews and document analysis. Observation, a third type of data collection
often used in case study (Patton, 2002; Yin, 2003), was not a primary source of data
because it would have provided limited additional opportunity for the researcher to
observe the relationship between the student affairs unit and its partners. Many of the
most important elements of organizational dynamics do not exist as interpersonal action
that can be observed by an outsider because interaction takes place over the phone,
through email, and in other ways that are not face-to-face. Furthermore, observation that
would have involved private interactions with students with personal needs may have
posed a distraction to students, creating an imposition. As a result, in the current study,
interviews and document analysis were more appropriate data techniques to provide
insight into the complexity of the relationships between a student affairs unit and various
campus partners. Interviewing and document analysis methods are described in the
following sections.
The first of the primary methods used in the current study, interviews, provides
insight into a situation when researchers are unable to observe a phenomenon themselves
(Merriam, 1998). A primary focus of qualitative research is to preserve multiple views
and voices, and "the interview is the main road to multiple realities" (Stake, 1995, p. 64).
Multiple in-depth interviews were conducted in order to gain "deeper-level" information
from participants. In-depth interviews are appropriate where,
The knowledge sought is often taken for granted and not readily articulated by
most members, where the research question involves highly conflicted emotions,
[and] where different individuals or groups involved in the same line of activity
have complicated, multiple perspectives on some phenomenon. (Johnson, 2002, p.
Before I conducted interviews with participants in the current study, I interviewed six
residents of Buchmiller Hall in order to understand, from a student viewpoint, the
services offered and the type of community present in the hall. These six student
interviews helped me to develop a context for the current study, but I did not transcribe
and analyze them. In other words, conversations with students helped me to become
acquainted with Buchmiller, but data collected were not directly included as part of the
current study.
First and second interviews were conducted with actual participants who were
Buchmiller staff or campus partners in the current study. Because of the complex nature
of organizational partnerships on a decentralized campus, in addition to the personal
dimension of disability, primary and follow-up in-depth interviews were used in the
current study. After second interviews, I determined that I had reached saturation and
concluded that enough data had been collected. Saturation takes place when new data is
no longer being found (Creswell, 2007). First interviews took place during the spring
semester and summer of 2009; second interviews followed during the fall semester of
I began interviews with an introduction to the current study, followed by a
protocol for questions (Johnson, 2002) that was informed by pilot conversations with
colleagues and staff members who provided disability support services. The current study
used open-ended interviews, a common type of interview used in case studies (Yin,
2003). Second interviews were conducted in order to ask more pointed questions, based
on themes that had emerged during first-round interviews. During interviews, participants
served in the role of "informants" (Yin, p. 90), more so than that of respondents. By
offering participants a more active position (Johnson), they were better able to share
information that they felt was most pertinent to the relationships being studied (see
Appendix B for interview protocol).
I first conducted interviews with the three full-time staff members who composed
the staff leadership team in Buchmiller Hall. During these initial interviews, I asked
Buchmiller staff members who they considered to be campus partners with Buchmiller.
The participants from Buchmiller met as a team before I arrived and brainstormed a list
of partners. During interviews participants spoke more in-depth about those partners with
whom they, as individuals, most often interacted. The partnerships that the Buchmiller
staff members discussed included a broad variety of relationships; I chose to interview
the individuals with whom Buchmiller staff described as having more sustained
interaction. Using the information provided during interviews, I contacted nine
individuals in student and academic affairs who the Buchmiller staff members identified
as campus partners and conducted interviews with them. Finally, I interviewed two
campus leaders in order to gain a broader view of campus organizational dynamics. One
individual was the leader of the academic unit to which Buchmiller Hall belonged; the
second leader was an upper-level campus administrator who had worked in both student
and academic affairs at Midwestern University (MWU). Information regarding selection
criteria that was used to determine who was invited to participate in interviews is
discussed below.
A variety of means were used to disseminate invitations to participate, including
email and word of mouth (See Appendix B for the invitation to participate). Interviews
took place in-person, at a location where participants expressed they felt comfortable
meeting. Interviews were recorded with a digital voice recorder and transcribed. In
addition, notes were taken during and immediately after interviews (Johnson, 2002;
Patton, 2002). Pseudonyms were used for all participants.
Document Analysis
A second method of data analysis used in the current study included document
analysis, a frequently under-utilized source of data (Merriam, 1998). Document analysis
involves studying a variety of written documents that may include an organization's
records, publications, reports, and correspondence (Patton, 2002). When analyzing
written material, the researcher must remain cognizant that all documents are created for
a specific audience (Yin, 2003), often for a particular purpose. In other words, documents
are created through an individual perspective and should not be considered objective
sources of information. Documents, however, provide stability that is not present through
interviews, in which participants' perceptions and experiences are constantly changing
(Merriam). Furthermore, documents can provide accurate information regarding names
and dates, in addition to reaffirming or contradicting other forms of data (Yin). In the
current study, the majority of data was collected from participant responses. Document
analysis helped me to "fill in the gaps" and answer questions that I had regarding specific
policies, trainings, or processes, while providing a greater depth of information in some
of the areas that participants referred to in our conversations.
The current study included document analysis of newsletters, policy and protocol
documents, web-pages, online white papers, architectural blue prints, and other pieces of
written information that were available online and that participants provided to me. I
asked participants if I could access records regarding the types of disabilities that current
and past Buchmiller residents had, in addition to the specific services provided to
students because of their disabilities. Participants told me that they could not provide this
specific information, but they did offer numerous other types of documents that I used in
Selection Criteria
Two levels of selection, or sampling, criteria were implemented in the current
case study. The first level of sampling involved the selection of the case itself. The
second level of sampling was used to select the individuals from whom data were
collected within the selected case (Merriam, 1998). Stake (2005) asserted that the most
important criteria upon which to base selection of cases is the "opportunity to learn" (p.
451), which may be determined by what resources and individuals are most accessible.
Case Selection
Criteria to select the current case were developed in order to choose a case that
provided the greatest opportunity for learning (Stake, 1995) about the broader concept of
campus partnerships that were developed in order to serve students with disabilities. The
first criterion used to select the case was that the institution of focus be a large university
so that organizational relationships could be examined in a decentralized organizational
environment (Morgan, 1997). Scott (2003) discussed a number of studies that found a
positive correlation between organizational size and degree of decentralization. At a large
university, communication among units is frequently less fluid, due to sheer size and
number of resources to be coordinated. As a result of less frequent interaction between
units, the amount of time required to develop relationships or communicate with others
on a large campus can serve as an obstacle to collaboration (Birnbaum; 1991; Kezar,
The second criterion for selecting the current case was that the student affairs unit
of focus provide disability support services for students, and the third criterion for
selecting the case was that the student affairs unit offer a residential option. Residential
communities often provide an environment where students can integrate multiple
dimensions of learning that take place both inside and outside the classroom (CAS,
2006). Furthermore, living on campus can facilitate access to a variety of opportunities
for learning and involvement for students with disabilities (Burgstahler, 2008). Limited
literature, however, addresses residential options for students with disabilities, which was
addressed in the literature review. Case selection in the current study involved identifying
a potential site that fulfilled the intersection of the three criteria.
In selecting the proposed case site, I turned to a number of experts in the field,
who included faculty members and students affairs professionals across the country.
From my conversations with these experts via phone or email, a number of potential sites
emerged, which I then researched further from websites and other sources of information.
Two institutions met all case selection criteria. Of these two universities, MWU, a
research-intensive land grant institution, provided the most appropriate site for the current
study and presented a case that optimized the learning opportunity (Stake, 1995). MWU
housed a residence hall for students with severe disabilities, Buchmiller Hall.
Participant Selection
The second level of sampling mentioned above involved selecting individuals to
be interviewed as part of the current study. In qualitative research, sampling techniques
typically use nonrandom and purposeful sampling (Merriam, 1998; Stake, 2005).
Because case study sampling is rarely intended to be extensive enough for the use of
random sampling, the use of formal sampling is more common (Stake). Purposeful
sampling, a term for formal sampling, is "based on the assumption that the investigator
wants to discover, understand, and gain insight and therefore must select a sample from
which the most can be learned" (Merriam, p. 61). Common types of purposeful sampling
include typical, unique, maximum variation, and convenience sampling (Merriam). In the
current study, purposeful snowball sampling was used in which participants referred the
researcher to other participants. Snowball sampling "[provided] a means of accessing
vulnerable and more impenetrable social groupings" (Atkinson & Flint, 2001, p. 1)
because the researcher did not have an accurate picture of who key partners were at the
start of the study. The overall basis of sampling in the current study was the selection of
both a site and participants who "could purposefully inform an understanding of the
research problem," (Creswell, 2007, p. 125), which in this study involved collaboration
between Buchmiller Hall and campus partners.
Participant Safeguards
Interviews often involve personal information and experiences. As a result, a
qualitative researcher has the responsibility and obligation to protect the individuals who
are part of the study, both as individuals and collectives (Johnson, 2002). Guba and
Lincoln (1989) described four types of conventional safeguards that should be taken into
account when conducting qualitative research using a constructivist or naturalistic
paradigm: harm, deception, protection of privacy, and obtaining informed consent (see
Appendix C for the consent form). The current study sought to minimize harm by
respecting the personal aspect of disclosure, in addition to reaffirming that individuals
have their own experiences and perspectives, or constructions. Harm can include "loss of
dignity, the loss of individual agency and autonomy, and the loss of self-esteem" (p. 121).
In order to avoid deception, the researcher provided interview participants with a clear
explanation regarding how the current study was going to take place and for what
purpose. Pseudonyms were used for all participants and the institution where the current
study took place in an effort to protect the privacy of those involved. Institutional review
board (IRB) approval was obtained and participants were fully informed of their rights in
taking part in the current study. In addition, participants received instructions on how to
withdraw from participation if they chose to do so at any time. Data were stored
separately from participant information and the identities of individuals and the
institution were kept confidential through the use of pseudonyms and protection of data.
Judging the Quality of Case Study Research
A variety of criteria forjudging the quality of research designs were included in
the current study in order to ensure trustworthiness. Lincoln and Guba (1985) argued that
traditional measures of trustworthiness rely on causality and include internal validity,
external validity, reliability, and objectivity. They proposed, instead, alternative concepts
that should be considered in qualitative research to ensure trustworthiness. These
concepts include credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability.
In order to obtain credible findings, two types of triangulation were used in the
current study. The first type involved the triangulation of sources while collecting data
from a diverse selection of informants (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Patton, 2002; Stake,
1995). Data source triangulation is "an effort to see if what we are observing and
reporting carries the same meaning when found under different circumstances" (Stake, p.
113). Individuals who were interviewed shared different perspectives of the partnerships
in which they engaged. The current study brought together multiple individual
perspectives to produce a holistic view of the case and to understand inconsistencies that
may have emerged from participants' responses (Patton). Furthermore, the use of
multiple interviews allowed for follow-up conversations in which I had the opportunity to
ask additional questions and more fully explore emerging themes in order to check the
interpretive validity of the study (Johnson, 2002). The second type of triangulation
included triangulation of methods through the use of both interviews and document
In the current study, several steps were taken to ensure the credibility of the
research. First, rigorous methods were used in which the researcher systematically
conducted research and considered alternative explanations (Patton, 2002). Rigorous
methods included triangulation, in addition to sharing transcripts or findings with
participants to gain their responses through member checks (Patton; Stake, 1995).
Another method used to ensure credibility was the inclusion of a peer debriefer, who
played "devil's advocate" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 309). The role of my peer debriefer
was to engage as a disinterested peer in extensive discussion surrounding how data were
collected and analyzed. Discussion with the peer debriefer allowed me to explore my role
in the process of conducting this study, effectively plan the research design, and make
meaning of the data, in addition to working through the emotional stress involved in the
research (Guba & Lincoln, 1989).
The current study used a variety of measures to ensure quality through
transferability because a constructivist approach seeks to understand better a particular
situation within a specific social and temporal context in a way that furthers dialogue
(Patton, 2002). As a result, qualitative inquiry emphasizes "extrapolating patterns for
possible transferability and adaptation in new settings," rather than making
generalizations (Patton, p. 41). In qualitative research, the researcher "cannot specify the
external validity of an inquiry; he or she can provide only the thick description necessary
to enable someone interested in making a transfer to reach a conclusion about whether
transfer can be contemplated a possibility" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 316). The current
study provided extensive description in order to allow the reader to better understand
ways in which the current case may shed understanding on similar situations.
In addition to credibility and transferability, another test forjudging the quality of
research is reliability. Reliability addresses whether findings from a study can be
replicated (Merriam, 1998). Discussing reliability, Merriam provided the metaphor of a
thermometer, likening a thermometer to studies that examine people's realities. Although
an experience, or individual reality, may be repeated, that experience is not the one
"correct" experience. Merriam stated that research can be similar to a malfunctioning
thermometer that may consistently provide an inaccurate temperature reading. Reliability
does not look at whether the same results will be gathered in additional cases, but rather
addresses whether future findings will be consistent when a similar case study is carried
out at a later time. In the current study, tools used to strengthen reliability included using
both triangulation and an audit trail (Merriam). Creating an audit trail involves
maintaining accurate records and documentation, in addition to conducting the study "as
if someone were always looking over your shoulder" (Yin, 2003, p. 38).
A fourth criterion used forjudging trustworthiness is confirmability, which is
similar to the concept of objectivity used in quantitative research. Confirmability looks at
characteristics of collected data in order to see whether "findings of an inquiry are
determined by the subjects (respondents) and conditions of the inquiry and not by the
biases, motivations, interests, or perspectives of the inquirer" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p.
290). In the current study, an inquiry auditor reviewed the audit trail in order to examine
the fairness in how both the process and product, or findings, of the research are
portrayed. Furthermore, the use of triangulation strengthened the confirmability of the
current study (Lincoln & Guba). Triangulation drew perspectives from multiple data
sources and participants in way that provided information from various vantage points,
ensuring that the interpretation was not biased, or representative of a single view.
Criteria forjudging trustworthiness focus on the methods of the research, as
opposed to the outcome. Because naturalistic inquiry and constructivism emphasize
negotiation and the product, Guba and Lincoln (1989) proposed a number of authenticity
criteria based on a constructivist approach. One of these criteria, fairness, examines the
way in which the researcher provides multiple constructions, in addition to the value
systems upon which they are built. Constructions may exist in conflict with one another;
the researcher has a responsibility to present and explain them. Using rich description to
explicate multiple constructions, in addition to member checks, was used to ensure
authenticity in the current study.
As the researcher, I integrated a number of assumptions into the design and
implementation of the current study, which should be recognized when considering the
quality of the research. One assumption was that some degree of flexibility is involved in
the process of providing services to students with disabilities. Flexibility is particularly
necessary because the ADA lacks specificity regarding what accommodations must be
available and how they are to be provided (Frank & Wade, 1993). No presumption,
however, was made at the start of the current research project as to what is ther optimal
type of service delivery that is most appropriate or effective for a particular institution.
Another assumption integrated into the design and implementation of the current study
was that universities existed to support student learning and success for all students,
including those who have disabilities. As in Learning Reconsidered 2 (ACPA et al.,
2006), a critical assumption was that the campus where the current study took place was a
learning community. In other words, learning took place through a variety of avenues
throughout the campus rather than solely in the classroom.
Situated Position of the Researcher
The assumptions listed above, in addition to others embedded throughout this
study, were influenced by my personal values and beliefs surrounding higher education
and the provision of disability support services. "All writing is 'positioned' and within a
stance. All researchers shape the writing that emerges, and qualitative researchers need to
accept this interpretation and be open about it in their writings" (Creswell, 2007, p. 179).
In recognition of my own role, as the researcher, in interpreting and conveying
participants' experiences, I must share experiences that shape my view of this study. I
worked in Buchmiller Hall for one year, the hall selected as the student affairs unit of
focus in the current case study.
During the time between when I worked in Buchmiller Hall and when I conducted
this study, a new Director of Buchmiller was hired, in addition to a Disability Specialist,
which was a newly created position on the leadership team of the hall. As a result, at the
time of this study, the majority of the leadership team in Buchmiller was composed of
different individuals from my time there, and many changes had been enacted during the
interim. Although Buchmiller was different in many ways from what I had known, I was
presented with a unique opportunity in the current study because I understood many of
the terms that participants used and the policies and systems in place in Buchmiller.
At the beginning of each interview, I explained that I had worked in Buchmiller
Hall as a student. I believe that I was granted an additional perception of "legitimacy"
from participants that allowed me to ask more detailed, and sometimes personal,
questions about the inner-workings of relationships with the hall. However, I also was
considered an outsider; I had not spent time at MWU for five years, and participants
carefully explained information that I did not know or understand because I was no
longer a member of the campus community. The distance presented by being an outside
observer allowed me to consider multiple perspectives and entertain various
interpretations as I asked questions, listened to the voices of participants, and analyzed
Data Analysis and Written Report
In case study analysis, "the interest is in process rather than outcomes, in context
rather than a specific variable, in discovery rather than confirmation" (Merriam, 1998, p.
19). The way in which analysis takes place as an integrated activity throughout the study
as part of an emergent design is a distinguishing characteristic of qualitative research.
Analysis of qualitative data can "range from organizing a narrative description of the
phenomenon, to constructing categories or themes that cut across the data, to building
theory" (Merriam, p. 196). The current study used a constant comparative method to
compare data to determine how they were similar or different from one another. In using
a constant comparative method, the researcher begins "by coding each incident in his
[sic] data into as many categories of analysis as possible, as categories emerge or as data
emerge that fit an existing category" (Glaser & Straus, 1967, p. 105). During this process,
theoretical properties of each category begin to emerge, which the researcher must then
examine for conflicts or overlap. Although the constant comparative method was
developed by Glaser and Strauss for use in grounded theory, today this method of
comparison is used in many areas of qualitative research (Merriam).
As data were collected, a data file system in the form of an electronic spreadsheet
was created in order to maintain and organize information when it was collected (Stake,
1995). Data were then analyzed, and findings and results from the current study were
compiled in written format. An important decision during data analysis and writing
addressed the level of anonymity used in the study. In case study research, two levels of
anonymity exist: anonymity for the entire case, and anonymity of individuals within the
case (Yin). The current study took measures to keep identity confidential at all levels. All
possible steps were taken to protect the privacy of all participants.
The current study included a single, instrumental case study that employed a
qualitative methodological approach in order to explore the relationships between a
residence hall for students with disabilities and campus partners. Methods included
interviews, in addition to document analysis of websites and other forms of written
information. Measures of trustworthiness were taken, including sharing of information
back with participants, in an effort to gain an accurate representation of data collected.
Data were analyzed using a constant comparative method, and a final document was
produced in order to share findings and implications.
Before findings are discussed in Chapters 5 and 6, this chapter offers contextual
information necessary to understand the current case study. In order to provide a basic
framework of knowledge regarding Buchmiller and its partnerships, this chapter includes
four major sections: first, an overview of Buchmiller Hall is provided; second,
participants and their roles on campus are included; third, participants' definitions of
student learning are explained; and fourth, the ways that collaborative efforts allowed
participants to promote student learning are explored.
Overview of Buchmiller Hall
The first section of this chapter provides a brief introduction to Buchmiller Hall.
Buchmiller Hall was a residence hall at Midwestern University (MWU) that housed
approximately 20 students with severe disabilities. The mission of Buchmiller Hall, a
"transitional facility," was to provide housing to students with disabilities, in addition to
services that assisted them in developing skills that would allow them to attain their
personal and educational goals, including being able to live independently. Two unique
services that Buchmiller Hall provided, which reflected its mission, were support in
hiring and training personal assistants (PAs) and development of a Disability
Management Plan (DMP). Each of these services is discussed below, followed by an
overview of Buchmiller's distinct place within the organizational structure of MWU.
Personal Assistants and Disability Management Plan
PAs were staff members hired by individual students to assist them with everyday
living needs, such as showering, dressing, eating, and navigating campus. Often
Buchmiller PAs were students at MWU who were in education, medical, or other related
fields of study. For many Buchmiller residents, college was the first time in their lives
when family members and friends were unable to provide assistance with basic living
activities. As a result, residents had to learn to hire, train, and supervise the PAs they
employed. At the start of each semester, Tina, the Associate Director of Buchmiller,
compiled a list of individuals in the community who were interested in being hired as a
PA and who had completed basic training with full-time Buchmiller staff members.
Buchmiller residents then could select from this group of PAs, in order to hire and
employ one or more of them. In addition to providing support in the selection and
training process for individual PAs, Buchmiller provided a 24-hour "floater," who was
on-call in the building in order to provide smaller-scale assistance for residents when they
were not with a PA. Dining assistants were also hired to work during each meal in
Buchmiller; they were staff members who provided assistance to students with tasks such
as carrying trays and cutting food.
A resource that empowered students in Buchmiller to learn how to recruit, hire,
and train their own PAs was their DMP, the second unique service discussed here. Tina,
the Associate Director, and Sue, the Disability Specialist in Buchmiller, worked together
to develop an individualized plan with each student living in Buchmiller. The plan
included personal goals that often focused on developing independent living skills, and
identified the steps they needed to work toward in order to achieve their goals.
Unique Organizational Structure of Buchmiller Hall
Buchmiller Hall was private-certified housing at MWU. Most MWU first-year
students were required to live on-campus in either University Housing or in privatecertified housing, which was housing that was typically not provided by MWU, but had
been approved by the university. Buchmiller played a distinct role in that it was both
private-certified housing and a student service unit, which fell within an academic
college, the College of Health.
The College of Health at MWU encompassed four academic departments, in
addition to five other units, including Disability Education Programs (DEP). DEP
provided support services to all students with disabilities at MWU and was the
overarching department to which Buchmiller belonged. Fulton, the Director of DEP,
explained that DEP was built on a scholar-practitioner model. When Buchmiller was
built, the organizational structure was intended to be inclusive of both academics and
practitioners in a way to ensure research informed practice. At the time of my interviews
with participants, Buchmiller was a stand-alone facility. In other words, participants who
were Buchmiller staff members oversaw the programmatic elements of Buchmiller that
included a more traditional residence life piece, in addition to training PAs and
developing DMPs with students. Beyond working with the programmatic pieces,
participants from Buchmiller also supervised maintenance and facilities workers.
Overview of Participants and Their Roles on Campus
Buchmiller Staff Team
Three individuals comprised the senior administrative staff team in Buchmiller
Hall. The leader of this team, Pamela, served as the Director of Buchmiller Hall, in
addition to her role as Director of Non-Academic Support Services for DEP; Tina was the
Associate Director of Buchmiller Hall, and Sue was the Disability Specialist. Pamela's
background included working in group and independent living facilities for individuals
with disabilities. She had also been a faculty member at another university in the
Midwest. Before coming to Buchmiller Hall, Tina had been a nurse in a variety of health
care environments. Sue's background was in rehabilitation counseling, a type of
counseling that focuses on helping individuals with disabilities gain skills and
Campus Partners
Campus partners identified by Buchmiller participants included nine individuals
who covered a breadth of roles at MWU and represented the ranks of academic and
student affairs, including various student services. Three individuals either taught in the
classroom or worked with teaching labs. Rachelle, a faculty member of industrial design
had joint appointments in a number of areas including an interdisciplinary science and
technology institute on campus and the academic college for art and design. Heidi was a
clinical psychologist who taught as an adjunct professor in both the College of Education
and the College of Health. Glenn's position was within the College of Engineering as the
coordinator of teaching labs in the college; he coordinated research requests with faculty,
in addition to maintaining laboratory equipment for electrical and computer science
In addition to her adjunct teaching position, Heidi also served as the Director of
Academic Disability Support Services in DEP. Also in DEP, Debra was the case manager
for students who identified that their primary disability was physical. As a result, Debra
served as the case manager for all Buchmiller residents. Debra also provided career
counseling in DEP for all students who identified as having a disability.
Several partners worked within housing and residence life units on campus. Laney
was the Assistant Director for Housing and oversaw half of the campus housing and
residence life program. "I'm a generalist," she said. "I'm a residential life generalist who
deals with everything that goes on [within one side of campus]," which included
participating in the planning of the new residence hall that would also house Buchmiller.
Directing the housing assignment process, Nellie was the Coordinator for Housing
Information and described her role as being part of the "call center" that students
contacted with general questions regarding housing. She also helped coordinate the
housing assignment process. Madeline, who had previously worked in residence life, was
the Assistant Director for Facility Operations and held a variety of roles in Housing, one
of which was supervising the residence hall maintenance and cleaning staff.
Bruce and Eddie also represented organizational units that provided student
services. Eddie was one of 55 law enforcers on campus at MWU and served as a
detective and the Crime Prevention Coordinator within the campus safety unit. As the
Associate Director for Retail Operations at the student bookstore, Brace's role fell under
the purview of the student union. He brought a unique perspective to the study because
his previous work experience had been at for-profit bookstores on several different
college campuses. When asked about the transition to his current position, Bruce
described the move as a "refreshing change." He continued, "It's really an
institutionalized difference here. We are here for the students, and how to best
accommodate them, really is what our goal is." Although his time was very focused on
the business operations of the bookstore, Bruce also served on search committees as part
of the student union and interacted with various student groups and programs across
Campus Leaders
As part of my study, I also interviewed two campus leaders. Buchmiller
leadership staff referred to Fulton frequently in interviews, particularly because of his
position as Director of DEP. Fulton described his role as being "responsible for
everything," which included strategic planning, personnel structuring, and coordinating
oversight of fiscal resources in DEP. William was identified by one of the participants
who was a campus partner through snowball sampling (Atkinson & Flint, 2001). He was
described as being a leader who worked extensively with academic and student affairs at
MWU, and as someone who had a high level of awareness regarding broader campus
organizational dynamics. As a member of the Provost's staff, William served as the
Assistant Provost for Recruitment and Retention and worked with faculty, staff, and
students across academic and student affairs in order to promote retention of
underrepresented student populations at MWU. When asked about his interaction with
DEP or students with disabilities, however, William said that he had only indirect
involvement with both groups.
Table 1
Participant Information
Buchmiller Hall
Director, Buchmiller Hall for 5 yrs./ Assistant Director of Non-Academic
Disability Support Services for 3 yrs.
Worked at MWU for 5 yrs.
Associate Director, Buchmiller Hall for 12 yrs. (Interim Director for 1 yr.)
Worked at MWU for 12 yrs.
(Table 1 Continued)
Disability Specialist, Buchmiller Hall for 5.5 yrs. (Interim Director for 1
Worked at MWU for 9.5 yrs. (In addition to 4.5 yrs. as a volunteer)
Disability Education Programs (PEP)
Assistant Director of Academic Disability Support Services for 10.5 yrs./
Clinical Psychologist for 4 yrs./Adjunct Faculty Member
Worked at MWU for 10.5 yrs.
Provided academic and counseling services to Buchmiller residents; Also
taught some Buchmiller residents and was internship supervisor
Disability Specialist, DEP (Case Manager for Student with Physical
Disabilities and DEP Career Services) for 8 yrs.
Worked at MWU for 8 yrs.
Provided academic and non-academic support services to Buchmiller
residents; Also provided career guidance services
Faculty/Academic Affairs
Associate Professor of Industrial Design for 6 yrs.
Worked at MWU for 6 yrs.
Taught Disability and Relevant Design course; Conducted research that
explored the use of design as applied to everyday living activities of
Buchmiller residents
Coordinator of Research Labs, College of Engineering for 21 yrs.
Worked at MWU for 26 yrs.
(Table 1 Continued)
Worked with Buchmiller on projects to make MWU more accessible to
students (e.g., designing remote control elevators, classroom clickers, etc.)
Housing/Residence Life
Assistant Director, University Housing for 11 yrs.
Worked at MWU for 17 yrs.
Was part of new building partnership (Project team member)
Assistant Director of Facilities Operations, University Housing for 2.5 yrs.
(19 yrs. In University Housing)
Worked at MWU for 27 yrs.
Was part of new building partnerships (Mid-manager team member)
Coordinator of Contracts and Assignments, University Housing for 8 yrs.
Worked at MWU for approximately 8 yrs.
Coordinated housing and assignments for students transitioning from
Buchmiller Hall to accessible rooms in University Housing and through
the new building partnership
Other Student Services
Crime Prevention Coordinator/Member of Campus Police for
approximately 22 yrs.
Worked at MWU for approximately 22 yrs.
Provided crime prevention information and safety assessment for
Buchmiller Hall
(Table 1 Continued)
Associate Director for Retail Operations, Student Union Bookstore for 3.5
Worked at MWU for 3.5 yrs.
Developed system for Buchmiller residents to purchase textbooks;
Conducted presentation on process of purchasing textbooks to new
Campus Leaders
Director, DEP for 15 yrs.
Worked at MWU for 33 yrs.
Director of umbrella unit, under which Buchmiller fell
Assistant Provost for Recruitment and Retention for 1.5 yrs.
Worked at MWU for 13.5 yrs.
Oversaw overarching campus recruitment activities on campus
Participants' Definitions of Student Learning
In addition to describing their positions on campus, participants also explained
what student learning meant to them in their roles and how they saw their work as
promoting student learning. The following sections include an overview of themes that
emerged from participants' understanding of student learning. Learning appeared to be a
shared value that laid a foundation for participants' building of partnerships. Participants'
definitions of student learning highlighted the following five themes: learning is
individualized, learning happens outside the classroom, students are co-learners, learning
requires a safe space to fail, and student learning is empowerment. Each of these subthemes is described in the following sections.
Learning is Individualized
When asked to explain their understanding of what student learning meant in the
context of their work, participants in both student and academic affairs painted a complex
picture of personal growth in a holistic capacity. Several participants described "life
lessons" or "life learning" as journeys that students experienced.
Sue described an image that Buchmiller staff often used to conceptualize their
work with their residents. She said, "Our favorite saying is, 'We're in a marathon. It's not
a sprint. It's a marathon. And some folks take longer getting out of the box than others.
But at the end, hopefully, they all make that 26.2 [mile] journey.'" Sue recognized her
role as one of developing ways to meet students at the appropriate level of their
development. She said that when she works with students, she often must consider, "How
can we try to work on dealing with an issue in a different way? It's obviously not
working this way, so what learning style do we need to adopt?" Sue continued,
"Everybody is different with how you finally get that 'ah-hah.'" Also employing a
marathon image of individual growth to describe student learning, Rachelle said, "It's the
journey, and that's what I try to tell my students.. .The destination is of concern, but it's
really the journey."
Tina shared a similar view of student learning. She said,
Students are at so many different stages. You want to bring the rest of them up to
the others, but we have to focus on "it's not the group, it's the individual." My
father always said that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it
drink.. ..So you have to regroup and say, "Okay, this is where we want them. Now
how do we make them want to be there?"
Heidi, an adjunct faculty member and the DEP Director of Academic Services,
further explained the concept of individual growth and skill acquisition by saying that
students must be able to use new knowledge and skills in order to achieve positive
outcomes. She said, "We focus on where they're at developmentally when they come in,
and try to help them progress or move forward."
A common thread throughout many participants' responses was a deep respect for
students' learning capacities at MWU. Participants described their belief that student
learning was individualized, and that they must meet students "where they were."
Recognition of students' high achievement abilities seemed to motivate participants to
challenge students to learn more. Rachelle explained that she set high expectations for her
students because of their ability to meet them. She said, "They're bright. These students
are elite scholars, elite athletes. They're phenomenal." Eddie described MWU students as
"cream of the crop." Debra said, "We all know the students who come here are brilliant."
Tina described one of her roles as motivating students and believing in them. She
reminded students, "You made it to the MWU. Not many students are able to do that."
Learning Happens Outside the Classroom
Although participants represented various organizational units of the university,
they shared the belief that learning took place beyond the mastery of curricular
knowledge in the classroom. For example, Debra described how learning happened when
students learned how to navigate campus transportation systems, or developed a sense of
independence away from their families. She shared, "Student learning is about the non-
academic stuff even more so than the academic stuff." Laney, explaining that the mission
of University Housing was to support the academic mission of the university, said, "I
can't teach chemistry.. .but I can teach two roommates in conflict how to sit down, reflect
on what the other person is saying, take a step back for a moment, and think about
different solutions to the problem."
Rachelle shared a similar view regarding how students learned to interact with
others, particularly those who were different from themselves. She reflected, "By
expanding their empathic horizons through experiences that may be uncomfortable,
[students] become better citizens.. ..We have to differentiate the me-I-self, and open them
up [to the idea] that they are.. .a member of the wider community." Eddie explained,
"While intellect is a very important aspect of learning, the social aspect of it is being able
to understand people, who they are, their needs, and to actually understand the
complexities of different cultures." He described the social piece of learning as important
because students must be able "to contribute to society by making wise decisions for the
better of this country."
Students Are Co-Learners
Several of the participants described learning as a two-way process in which both
they and students gained new knowledge or understanding. Bruce, who worked in the
student bookstore on campus, shared that he was still learning about student affairs
because he had recently transitioned to his current position from working at several
university bookstores that were not directly affiliated with their campuses and had more
of a for-profit focus than student service focus. When asked how he defined student
learning, Bruce said, "This is some of the area that I'm learning in working for students
affairs. There are 'goals' and 'student outcomes'.. .They all have very clear definitions. I
don't know them—I have a business background." Although Bruce explained that he was
not well-versed in language to describe student learning, he shared his belief that learning
was a two-way avenue and that he continued to learn from the general student workers in
the bookstore.
As Assistant Provost for Recruitment and Retention, William also acknowledged
the dual roles of teacher and learner. He said,
When I think about my approach to retention, it's very much connected to being
the learner and being the student, both roles.. .which allow us to accept and affirm
our mutual humanity and create knowledge and information together.
When asked what student learning meant to her as a faculty member, Rachelle
said, "I can tell you what it isn't. It's not filling empty vessels.. .where you just come in,
as empty, and I decide what I'm going to fill you up with." Rachelle described her
teaching as "learning together," saving that students "have to be active participants in
their own learning experience." She continued, "That's not throwing the responsibility at
them completely, but it's saying they have to meet us halfway."
Learning Requires a Safe Space to Fail
Participants spoke of the importance of providing a safe space for students where
they could test their boundaries and eventually learn to move beyond them. For example,
Sue described challenging students in a supportive environment so that they could be
successful. "We're giving them skills," she said. "Are they utilizing the skills to the best
of their ability? If they make a mistake, are they living and learning?" Pamela described
challenge and support as integral to the learning process. She said, "My work with
students is outside the classroom environment. They learn from their life experiences, and
they learn from making mistakes—and hopefully learning from those mistakes." Pamela
There is a safety net, initially, so that they can spread their wings a little bit. But I
think it's trial and error. Many of our students in Buchmiller have had limited
opportunity to spread their wings. There has almost always been someone there to
protect them, to coddle them, to make decisions for them.
Rachelle shared how the classroom must be a place where students feel safe. She said,
"They have to embrace failure, and do it as soon as possible. Fail early, and don't be
Student Learning Is Empowerment
In viewing students as co-learners and allowing them to fail in ways that carried
few serious consequences, participants described learning as empowering students to take
charge of their lives. Fulton said,
The central theme of all education is personal empowerment. It's not what we do
for [students]. It's what we facilitate and allow them to do for themselves—
empowering them to do whatever they have the ability and ambition to do,
unencumbered by impairment. That, to me, is the student learning.
Participants discussed learning as a form of empowerment, which included three
major themes: gaining new knowledge, finding a voice, and developing additional skills.
Each of these three sub-themes is presented below.
First, participants viewed student learning as empowerment by gaining new
knowledge. For example, Eddie frequently described student learning as acquiring
knowledge that helped students to remain safe on campus. He said, "Well, in regard to
safety, basically everybody's about the same, whether you have a disability or not.
Overall, security, 90% of security, is really having knowledge."
Second, participants described student learning as empowerment by students'
finding a sense of voice. For example, Pamela said, "Students are involved in the
[graduate resident assistant] screening process. They interview our [resident assistant
candidates]." Participating in the interview process allowed students to shape their
environment by influencing who worked in Buchmiller. In a similar sense, Tina said,
"We don't make decisions for the students, we ask them. 'How do you feel about this?
Which way would you like to go?' And then we take.. .all the different ideas and try to
put them out there." Rachelle also echoed the importance of giving students an active
role. "I run a course," she said, "It's called Disability and Relevant Design. We bring
industrial design students and students with physical disabilities together into the design
studio specifically to co-create knowledge, co-create design. They're seen as
Third, student learning was described as empowering students through the
development of new skills, which came to light particularly around the process of
Buchmiller residents hiring their own personal assistants (PAs), who helped them
perform everyday living activities such as showering, dressing, and eating. One aspect of
the process of hiring and supervising personal assistants included evaluating their work
performance. Pamela referred to an expectation for residents in Buchmiller: "If they want
the new list of PAs that have been trained, they better have done evaluations on their staff
the semester before. It's part of being an employer."
Importance of Collaboration in Promoting Student Learning
For each participant, student learning took on various shades of meaning,
including examples that involved both direct contact with students and more indirect
influence through a leadership capacity and ability to shape an environment. In addition
to the shared belief that promoting learning was an important element of their positions,
participants expressed a common value of building partnerships with other individuals
and units at MWU.
Participants described the ways they collaborated with others in order to provide
various types of environments or opportunities through which students could learn. For
example, Madeline, in University Housing, said, "Student learning, for me, is making the
environment conducive for an opportunity." Referring to the act of building connections
with another person, she continued, "I think [learning is] when you make the opportunity
to speak or look." Madeline viewed her role as working with others, including colleagues
and the cleaning and maintenance workers she supervised, to not only promote a safe and
clean physical learning environment for students, but also one in which the atmosphere
was open and caring in a way that fostered interpersonal connections.
In a different environment, the teaching labs in the College of Engineering, Glenn
described his role of working with the faculty who facilitated in-class learning: "I provide
opportunities for the students to learn. Most of the time we're not telling the students how
to use a specific [approach to their research]. We're just providing resources so that they
use them to learn." In a way similar to Madeline, Glenn had limited direct interaction
with students, but he provided resources in an environment that promoted learning.
As an upper-level administrator, William shared his belief that learning took place
in many ways and at various places across the campus. He also emphasized the
importance of shaping a campus environment that offered the opportunity for students to
connect with others and to build supportive relationships. He said,
I have a very open, and probably eclectic, approach to student learning. I happen
to believe that you can learn from anybody, anywhere, if you're willing. So when
I think of student learning, I understand that it happens in the traditional ways—in
the classroom with learned faculty.. .but I think [students also] learn powerfully
from each other, and powerfully from staff.
William continued, "I can understand it as a lifelong process, about gaining capacity in
your personal life, your social life, your academic life, your professional life."
Overall, participants appeared to share a view that by working with others they
could provide an individualized, active learning experience for students in a holistic
sense. The next chapter explores themes surrounding what participants described as
supports and barriers to collaboration as they sought out ways to promote student
learning by building partnerships.
Chapter 4 began with an introduction of Buchmiller Hall. An overview of
individuals who were interviewed was also included, followed by a description of
participants' roles on campus and the ways they explained what student learning meant to
them in their work. Finally, Chapter 4 highlighted participants' perceptions of the ways
that collaboration allowed them to promote student learning at MWU.
This chapter explores the first overarching research question that addresses the
following: In what ways does a student affairs unit, Buchmiller Hall, interact with
campus partners to promote student learning? Interwoven throughout both overarching
research questions were the three sub-questions regarding how, why, and when
collaboration happens. In order to explore the first overarching question and subquestions interlaid within it, the first section of this chapter introduces the partnerships in
which participants were engaged, including whether partnerships focused on a specific
project or represented ongoing working relationships. The second section of this chapter
introduces one specific partnership, the new building initiative that involved Buchmiller
Hall and University Housing. The new building partnership is discussed more in-depth
because it was a partnership that became the focus during interviews for many
participants. The new building partnership was an example of a collaborative effort that
was focused around a specific project, the opening of a new residence hall on campus,
but provided the foundation for ongoing and continuous relationships.
Types of Partnerships
Partnerships that Involved Specific Projects
Although some partnerships described by participants spanned several months or
years, other relationships were built around a project that addressed a specific, often timespecific, issue rather than providing continuous interaction and support. For example,
Bruce described his work with Buchmiller staff and students primarily as taking place in
the fall when new students ordered books for fall semester courses. When asked how the
partnership was initiated, he said,
I heard someone tell me that a student worker did not help someone who was in a
wheelchair and asked for help. That person said "I can't leave the counter," or
something along that line.. .So that's why. I just called to make sure we're
servicing [Buchmiller students]. We're not the only bookstore on campus, but we
are the only one that's completely ADA compliant.
When Bruce contacted Buchmiller to ask how the bookstore could better meet the
needs of Buchmiller residents, he and Tina discussed whether it would be most effective
to stay open after hours one evening for only Buchmiller residents, so that they would
have more space and personal assistance when they purchased their books, or whether
there were other options to better serve the students. In the end, they agreed that
Buchmiller residents would be able to order their books online, and the bookstore would
deliver the books directly to Buchmiller Hall for no additional charge. In addition to
ordering books, Bruce also facilitated a short presentation on the process of selecting and
purchasing textbooks for new students at Buchmiller when they arrived shortly before fall
semester started.
Another example of a bounded partnership also took place during fall orientation.
Eddie described how community police officers led presentations on basic safety and
security for many groups of faculty and students across campus at the beginning of each
year. He said presentations included information regarding the most common crimes on
campus and their locations, in addition to what students could do "to prevent being the
victim of a theft or a crime on campus." Eddie worked with Buchmiller Hall and other
campus officers to conduct a safety presentation each fall for new students at Buchmiller.
When Glenn worked with Buchmiller, the work was often initiated by Sue
approaching him with a new concept for technology that promoted independence for
Buchmiller residents, addressing a particular issue. Referring to one such request, Glenn
said that Sue had asked him to create a technological interface to use in the classrooms.
Glenn explained, "It involved clickers that students can use to vote. The students weren't
able to participate because they weren't able to use the traditional ones." Glenn partnered
with Buchmiller on several specific projects, another of which included designing and
building a remote-control elevator to provide more accessible use for individuals with
disabilities. At the time of interviews, Glenn, the Buchmiller staff, and the rest of the
committee working together on the project were waiting for a patent that would allow
them to implement the technology on campus and elsewhere.
Partnerships that Involved Ongoing Working Relationships
In contrast to relationships that centered on a specific project and were often timespecific, other partnerships that Buchmiller staff identified included ongoing
collaborative efforts. Ongoing relationships included work with Disability Education
Program (DEP) partners, who fell within the same overarching academic unit and worked
as disability service providers on campus. In addition to working together to provide
improved support services to students with disabilities, ongoing partnerships also
included other long-term interactions that involved contributing toward a common goal.
Examples included interdisciplinary research and the implementation of retention efforts.
Debra, the DEP case manager for students with physical disabilities, referred to
what she described as a partnership with Buchmiller staff. She said, "The biggest thing,
in terms of the seamlessness, is having ongoing interaction with students. I think students
view me as 'academic stuff,' like a letter of accommodation. I'm 'quick questions'—
students think, 'I'm in and I'm out.'" Debra continued,
Sue gets more of a holistic view of the student over at Buchmiller.. ..She's right
there where they live so they might have a more, somewhat relaxed relationship.
[Students] may let their guard down in different ways about issues or concerns.
[Sue and I] communicate with each other to have a continuity between both of us
in terms of supporting students.
Heidi, the Director for Academic Services in DEP, said if there were student
issues or concerns, "Pamela picks up a phone and calls me, or I call over there." Heidi
went on to describe a weekly staff meeting "where all the supervisors and case managers
come together to problem-solve." Nellie provided another example of an ongoing
partnership between Buchmiller and University Housing. She described working with
DEP and Buchmiller to help students identify living spaces that would accommodate
their needs for both physical and non-physical disabilities.
In addition to the delivery of student services, research also presented an impetus
for ongoing partnerships. Rachelle, a faculty member, described the industrial design
course she taught, in which both students with and without disabilities enrolled. She also
described her ongoing research that involved applying industrial design to the everyday
living environment of Buchmiller Hall. Rachelle said, "There's a core team.. .we've been
working now together for two years. It's been a delight." Rachelle provided an example
of how one collaborative effort with Buchmiller, her design course, served as a launching
point to continue collaboration through the research project.
William, whose focus was on implementing and coordinating retention efforts
across the campus with under-represented students, said that his interaction with
Buchmiller took place not as a specific partnership, but more indirectly, because
Buchmiller and DEP staff worked with retention-based programs that he oversaw. He
explained, "The purview of the swath of undergraduate retention efforts is much broader
than the piece of it I work with." William did not identify students with disabilities as an
under-represented population on campus.
The New Building Partnership
The remainder of this chapter discusses more in-depth one specific partnership
that provided an example of collaboration around a specific project but was ongoing and
not limited to a specific period of time. What I refer to as the new building partnership
involved the construction of a new residence hall within the University Housing system
at Midwestern University (MWU). Current plans for the new building under construction
incorporated the programmatic piece of Buchmiller into the first floor of the University
Housing residence hall, which would allow Buchmiller to move from its current facility.
The new building partnership was an initiative that yielded years of shared planning and
preparation between Buchmiller Hall and University Housing; this partnership is
described in greater detail in order to provide a snapshot of what became the focus of
many of the participants' conversations.
The Series
An integral piece of the planning process of the new building partnership involved
what participants described as "The Series," which was a time for Pamela and the
Buchmiller staff to come together with University Housing staff for a professional
development series of sessions. In December of 2008, the University Housing planning
committee for the new construction broke into two groups. Pamela joined the planning
committee for the new building in late winter of 2009, but the planning committee did not
meet December to March because, as Laney said,
We decided to get people who were going to be on the project team to go to the
staff development series because we would learn so much more than just sitting
around in a room, the 9 to 10 of us, asking the same questions.. ..I thought that
when more people were exposed to Pamela and her staff, then they would say,
"Oh, ok. Pamela and your staff, would you like to join our team?"
The Series involved a group of Buchmiller and University Housing staff who took
a forefront role in planning the new building. The first two sessions of The Series took
place at Buchmiller and were facilitated by the Buchmiller staff. The first meeting of The
Series served as an introduction to Buchmiller so that the group could gain a feel for the
current Buchmiller facility and program. The second session addressed the social and
developmental needs of students with disabilities. Pamela said that during the second
session the group began to understand how residents in University Housing and
Buchmiller Hall were similar in regard to developmental needs, such as feeling entitled
and not having effective time management skills. During the third session of The Series,
the group broke into four functional areas that included desk services, student leadership,
dining, and security, in order to discuss what was essential in each area. Laney said the
approach for the third session was, "If we're going to construct a building that's going to
house the Buchmiller students, but it's in the University Housing system, what gaps are
there? What are we not doing right now to best serve the students?" The fourth session
addressed social inclusion around the topic of disability.
Laney and Pamela shared that The Series was an introduction to the new building
partnership. Laney summarized the questions posed to the group of staff members
participating at the end of The Series: "What have you thought about? How can you think
creatively? How are we going to staff differently? How are we going to serve students
differently?" The notes taken during The Series were given to the project team for the
new building, and Laney said that now the project team was "dissecting all that
information and trying to make some recommendations" from it.
Pamela reflected on the importance of the foundation laid by The Series. She said,
"The first part of the semester, it was educating, and now it's working together with
[everyone] because they're having to make all of the decisions for the entire building."
The Project Team
The project team, which received the recommendations generated through The
Series, was comprised of a group including staff members from residence life, facilities,
marketing, and other areas of University Housing. In addition to the project team, a
middle manager group met periodically to implement the everyday systems and
programmatic details of the new building. Pamela served a unique role as someone who
attended both the project team meetings and the mid-manager meetings. She shared that
from her dual role she was able to look at one concept being discussed, "overflow" ADA
accessible rooms on the second floor of the new building, from both upper-level and midmanager perspectives. Because she attended both meetings, Pamela believed she was able
to contribute to a more effective decision regarding the use of the overflow rooms. She
said, "It would not have happened if I had not been at the mid-management or the upperlevel meetings.. .1 opened my mouth, and we looked at things programmatically [at the
upper-level meeting]. It made sense."
Pamela reflected on the benefit of being a conduit between the two groups, a role
that was given to her because she was uniquely positioned for it, particularly because of
her roles as Director of Beckwith and Assistant Director of DEP. She also shared the
strain of her dual role and how her dual-role meant that she was able to spend less time in
her other roles. She shared, "I get tired—I want somebody else to share some of the
meeting times, because I like being with students."
The New Building Process of Collaboration
After the Series laid the foundation for the new building partnership, the project
team initiated movement on the project. The process of integrating Buchmiller into a new
community, however, included the collaboration of many more individuals in a long-term
and multi-layered process. Three major components of plans for the new building
partnership emerged: negotiation of the physical space; systems and processes for
staffing, maintenance, and other areas; and the programmatic identity of both Buchmiller
Hall and University Housing. Each of these three planning areas is described in the
following sections.
Negotiating Physical Space
The entire first floor of the new building would be devoted to housing Buchmiller,
and included 22 student rooms in the first phase of construction. The first year several of
the rooms on that floor would temporarily serve as staff offices for Pamela, Tina, and
Sue. A year later, the temporary offices would be converted to additional resident living
space and the offices would be moved into the building next door that was involved in the
next phase of construction. In planning space, participants had to consider the upcoming
physical transition. They also described the need to re-think pieces of their environments
that currently worked for their population but that would need to be adjusted in the new
building. For example, Pamela described a need for an accessible elevator for moving
between floors in the new building. In the current two-story Buchmiller hall, a student
rolled onto a sensor pad in the elevator, prompting the elevator to move to the other floor.
She stated, "We know that our elevator here works because people can just roll on it. Just
two floors. Our new building has four floors. That system's not going to work."
The construction of new space provided the opportunity for Buchmiller to
incorporate additional technology and services into the living environment, about which
several participants expressed enthusiasm. Plans included proximity readers, kick plates
that would open bathroom doors, showers with a 5-foot-turning radius, and new
technology designed to allow residents in wheelchairs to use a lift attached to the ceiling
to transfer them from their bed to their bathroom. Madeline shared that prior to the new
building, the lift system had not yet been installed in a residential facility in the United
States. She said, "We have a new system, which is coming from Germany.. ..It's a system
where residents can put themselves in it, and it will swing them around. There's tracking
in their rooms."
In addition, another "state-of-the-art system," as Sue referred to it, was a system
to be installed that would include environmental-control options for temperature in each
room. Although details had not yet been confirmed, the environmental control system had
the potential to turn lights on and off, provide contact with a staff member on duty, and
adjust the temperature of each room through a touch pad or voice activation system.
When describing the new technology that would be available to Buchmiller residents,
Sue added, "Yeah, it's going to be totally wild."
Merging Systems
In addition to plans for physical space and environment, other plans for the new
building required a negotiation of systems. Because Buchmiller and University Housing
had separate systems for staffing, maintenance, finances, safety and other everyday
processes, an intentional "merging" of systems was necessary that would allow both
partners to operate effectively in the new building. Nellie said in her first interview,
"We're still trying to figure out how it's going to work. Because it's sharing resources.
It's blending staffs." Madeline emphasized the importance of being intentional in the
decision-making surrounding how Buchmiller would integrate with the larger
community. She said, "So it is about mainstreaming, but maintaining those special needs
that we need to keep special, which means that you have to spend a lot of time reviewing
processes so you don't make assumptions."
Laney described working on what she referred to as "The Buchmiller
Agreement," which she explained had been "the charter for this merger." She said, "It's
the nuts and bolts of who's paying for what, and what students are going to pay. Room
and board rates, and that kind of thing." Beyond the foundational "Buchmiller
Agreement," which laid out the large pieces of collaborative efforts, Laney and Pamela
also described the "Memo of Understanding." They spoke of reaching an agreement
through the drafting of this document as an ongoing process between representatives of
University Housing and Buchmiller Hall. A draft of the "Memo of Understanding" had
recently been finished in October of 2009, shortly before the second interviews for the
current study were conducted. Pamela explained that the document delineated "the things
that Housing is going to offer the students living on the first floor.. .whether it's laundry
service, daily maid service, or what the fee will be for room and board." When asked
about the "Memo of Understanding," Laney said, "We hit bumps in the road every once
in awhile.. .we're in new territory here. When a housing operation opens a new building,
it's usually just theirs.. ..We're negotiating with another unit to be a partner. That doesn't
happen a whole lot."
Retaining Programmatic Identity
In addition to plans for physical space and systems in the new building,
participants also spoke of being intentional during the planning process to allow
Buchmiller to retain its own identity. Participants recognized the importance of allowing
Buchmiller to remain a unique program, but at the same time blending it into the broader
community of the new building. Laney said,
The Buchmiller program is a specialized program, but it's going to be in our hall
surrounded by the community. It's not its own kingdom. It's not its own isolated
program where we're renting out space. Buchmiller is going to be part of [the new
building].. .Students are not going to see it as two separate programs. Students are
going to say, "I live in.. .[the new building]."
Laney explained further, "It's not a buy-out.. ..We didn't bring [Buchmiller members]
into the hall, take their product, and change it.. .The Buchmiller staff are coming with the
program, and they are what makes it personal for each student."
Participants acknowledged that in the process of merging into the larger
University Housing building, Buchmiller would lose an element of autonomy;
Buchmiller would be sharing a facility, in addition to some systems and processes in a
way that was necessary through the incorporation of Buchmiller into a residence hall
environment. Participants recognized both positive aspects and challenges, approaching
the change as a learning step from which they could grow. In regard to the challenges,
Tina reflected,
I think this move into Housing is going to be difficult. There are going to be some
bridges to cross. If we just look at what is best for the students, I think we'll be
fine. It's giving up that independence, that autonomy, that we have here and going
into their realm.
Chapter 5 provided an overview of the partnerships in which participants engaged
with Buchmiller Hall, including whether partnerships were centered around a specific
project or involved ongoing working relationships. One example of collaboration, the
new building partnership between Buchmiller Hall and University Housing, was
described more in-depth in order to provide a foundation of understanding for one
intensive partnership that involved many of the participants in this study. Elements of the
new building partnership included the following: The Series, the project team, and the
process of collaboration involved in the partnership, which included negotiating physical
space, merging systems, and retaining programmatic identity.
This chapter explores the second overarching research question with its three
interwoven sub-questions, which addresses the following: What factors influence the
interaction between organizational units that work together to promote seamless learning?
Findings in this chapter introduce themes that emerged regarding factors that were
supports or barriers to collaborative efforts with whom participants identified as partners
on campus. Because participants articulated different concepts of what "partnership" or
"collaboration" meant to them, as described in Chapter 5, the two terms are used
interchangeably. The focus of the current study was not to determine what constituted a
specific type of partnership initiative, but rather sought to explore participants'
experiences of building relationships with who they identified as partners. Furthermore,
several participants described relationships they engaged in with partners other than
Buchmiller staff. Participants' responses are included in the remaining chapters, whether
they directly referred to working with Buchmiller or another unit on campus.
The following sections explore themes that emerged from participants' responses,
which were supplemented with document analysis. First, factors that were barriers to
working together are presented, followed by factors that were described as promoting
Factors that Were Barriers to Collaboration
Participants spoke barriers to collaboration, which they experienced in
partnerships included in this study, in addition to their efforts in partnerships that had not
successfully formed or been sustained. They described five factors they perceived as
barriers to building partnerships on campus that included the following: size and
decentralization of Midwestern University (MWU), organizational hierarchy on campus,
being embedded within multiple systems, understanding the needs of students with
disabilities, and "keeping up with the everyday." Each of these barrier themes is
described in the following section.
Size and Decentralization
The first barrier to collaboration described by participants addressed the size and
decentralization of MWU. Size was brought up during interviews in a variety of ways,
namely in regard to the immense size and decentralization of MWU, in addition to the
size of University Housing as a department. The former, the vastness of the university,
was often described as an obstacle to be overcome. "It might be slower to build
connections because it's so large.. .as opposed to if there were only a hundred faculty on
campus, versus, thousands that come and go, and change over time," said Heidi. William
also reflected on the challenge that size presented to collaborating across the university,
saying, "We suffer, like most institutions of our size, from our decentralization. We have
a lot of wonderful things happening in a lot of places, and we don't know about them."
William continued, describing how, not only size, but also decentralization, characterized
organizational dynamics surrounding collaboration at MWU. He said,
I think the institution's size—and the kind of institutional culture that supports
decentralization—is a challenge. It's a uniqueness that we revel in. It means that
we have a lot of strong identities within the colleges and communities.. .But it
means that sometimes it's not as efficient as it could be were there more
intentional routes of communication and collaboration.
Reflecting the decentralization of MWU, Buchmiller was located on a separate
part of campus from both the Disability Education Program (DEP) Building and
University Housing residence halls. Referring to the physical and figurative distance
between buildings, Tina said, "I think it has kept us from being partners, because we've
been separate. We're not part of housing. We're considered private housing under DEP,
and.. .it puts a barrier onto us." Both Tina and Heidi shared that they believed the new
building partnership, in which Buchmiller and University Housing will share physical
space, will help to build connections that will allow Buchmiller residents to integrate
more fully into the campus community.
The Hierarchy
The second barrier to collaboration that participants referred to was the hierarchy
they perceived to exist within the organizational functioning of MWU. For example, a
number of participants referred to a lack of communication among organizational levels
in the new building project, which they described as a barrier within the partnership.
When asked about challenges in the new building project, one participant responded,
We can't make decisions.. .We still don't know if [the housekeepers, linen maids,
and maintenance worker] are coming with us.. ..We're not the ones making those
decisions. So, we can't decide what kinds of services [to provide].. .That is the
obstacle of the hierarchy.
A disconnect was perceived to exist among different levels within the
organizational structure of the university. For example, several "on-the-ground" staff
members in both Buchmiller and University Housing expressed frustration with either not
being included in decision-making or being expected to implement everyday processes
and procedures without being given the parameters within which to do so. As another
participant said, "Once you know the framework, then you know how to plan. I just want
to know what the framework is." In reference to the way decisions were being made, one
participant said, "You know, this feels like a weird power thing."
Tina provided an example of being excluded from the process of making
decisions regarding furniture in the new student rooms for Buchmiller students. "They
brought in an ADA specialist from outside and didn't ask us.. .We didn't get closets
because they aren't accessible. So we got chifforobes.. .1 mean a closet is more
accessible." Tina explained that she worked with the Buchmiller residents everyday and
had a realistic understanding of their needs. By bringing in an outside ADA specialist,
she expressed, the new facilities would meet legislative requirements but the building
would not necessarily meet the needs of students living there. Tina continued, "You
know, we are in this day-to-day... 'Talk to us.' The ADA specialist comes in, and he's
just going by standards." She added, "We're way above minimum standards."
Embedded within Multiple Systems
In addition to existing within the organizational hierarchy, participants also spoke
of how they functioned within multiple campus, state, and federal systems in a way that
emerged as the third barrier theme to collaboration. Participants described the need to
understand how overarching systems worked in order to meet requirements put forth to
them, many times to gain approval so they could move forward in concert with others on
partnership initiatives. For example, Rachelle relayed how the Institutional Review Board
(IRB), which must approve all research at the university, prevented her from moving
forward in her research with Buchmiller. The IRB is a federally mandated system put in
place on college and university campuses across the country with the espoused purpose
of protecting human participants involved in research. Rachelle expressed concern,
however, with how long it took to receive IRB approval, which she needed to receive
before beginning data collection with Buchmiller residents. She said, "The whole point is
that when I'm [at Buchmiller], I'm some use. So what has been—I want to say fly in the
ointment, but I don't want to be negative about the IRB—it's just taken longer." Another
type of monitoring system on campus hindered the partnership between Glenn and
Buchmiller staff members. After the new elevator had been designed, safety systems
prevented integration of the newly developed technology into campus buildings. Glenn
said, "It's not a problem with us. It's not a problem with Buchmiller or the students. It's a
problem with the standards for the elevators, and the guys that maintain the elevators
feeling comfortable with the modifications with the elevators."
Elements of working within the current legal framework also presented a barrier.
Tina described others' perceptions of state or federal litigation systems, referring to
partners' fear of liability as an obstacle to building partnerships. During the first
interview with Tina, she described plans for engaging in a partnership with another
private-certified housing facility at MWU. As part of the partnership, Tina had planned to
work with the private-certified housing facility to help it connect students with
disabilities to PAs in the area, based on a pilot program similar to that in Buchmiller.
Personal assistants were often students at MWU, who were trained by Buchmiller staff
and were hired personally by individuals with disabilities to provide assistance in
everyday living activities such as showering, dressing, and performing other daily
routines. During the second interview, however, Tina relayed how the other hall had
"backed off from the partnership due to fear of a liability concern, which the other
housing unit perceived could result from working with Buchmiller. Tina said,
"Everyone's afraid of liability."
At other times, overarching systems, such as safety systems or legal framework,
did not negatively impact collaborative efforts, but did limit with whom partnerships
were initiated. For example, Sue described how she reached out to units who offered
other accessible on-campus housing options. Forming connections with them allowed her
to provide additional information regarding living spaces to residents who were preparing
to transition out of Buchmiller. She explained, however, that the funding system through
the state rehabilitation system provided less funding to college students if they moved to
an off-campus apartment, compared to what they received if they lived in housing
provided by the university. As a result, Sue focused primarily on building partnerships
with on-campus housing units where students were most likely to transition, rather than
other living options in the community.
Understanding the Needs of Students with Disabilities
A fourth barrier to collaboration involved the lack of knowledge surrounding the
individualized needs of students with disabilities, which became evident in discussion
about new dining services. The new dining facility, which was part of University
Housing, was being constructed at the same time as the new residence hall, and it became
a salient point during conversations that discussed the integration of the Buchmiller and
University Housing systems. Dining services were mentioned occasionally during first
interviews in the spring and summer of 2009. Only during second interviews that fall,
after construction had made significant progress and systems were more clearly defined,
did dining systems emerge as a major point. A difference in expectations between
partners reflected varying levels of knowledge about specific daily living needs, such as
eating, of students who lived in Buchmiller.
Pamela, who had been the primary voice from Buchmiller in the dining services
conversation, described her role as balancing advocacy with compromise. In addition to
managing its own facilities, the current Buchmiller Hall also contained its own dining
services, which were contracted out by the university so that a cook came in each day to
prepare meals in the kitchen in Buchmiller. With the new building, however, dining
services would be combined for all students living in the new residence hall. Pamela
described the process of working with University Housing to determine the new dining
system. First, physical access had been discussed, including space, table height, and
similar issues. In addition, details such as plans to go "tray-less," provide flexible straws,
and have students swipe their own identification cards were discussed and agreed upon.
A major obstacle emerged, however, with the discussion of the role of meal assistants, or
staff members who currently worked in Buchmiller. Meal assistants carried trays, cut
food, and fed students who lacked fine motor skills or needed assistance eating for other
reasons. Although Buchmiller provided meal assistants as part of its dining facility,
University Housing staff members expressed their view that having meal assistants
presented a liability concern.
After an agreement was reached that allowed meal assistants into the eating area,
dining services told Pamela that meal assistants would not be allowed to cut food, a
decision that presented a major obstacle for some students. At one point, Pamela said,
someone had suggested to her that students unable to cut their own food should be
directed to eat only food that was mashed or pre-cut. In another discussion, a University
Housing dining services staff member had suggested that if students were unable to eat
without assistance, they could be provided take-out containers and be allowed to take
food to their rooms to eat. Pamela said, "That is not the model of operation . We do not
want people eating in their rooms. No. No."
Keeping Up with the Everyday
The fifth barrier that participants described involved completing everyday tasks
and "keeping up with the everyday." Many participants expressed that they simply did
not have enough time to build new partnerships with others on campus because of time
committed to routine obligations. Fulton explained that an obvious challenge for
disability support services was "the hierarchy of need kind-of-thing." He said, "If you
can't get through your delivery of services today.. .it's hard to [build] collaborative
partnerships." Echoing a similar experience in University Housing, Laney said, "Our
daily work just pulls us away.. .We have had student suicides, active, completed suicides.
We have had [weapons]. We've had domestic violence.. .Those things pull you away
from the dreaming and the collaboration and the partnerships." Laney continued, "I've
spent a lot of time this year doing follow-up to incidents rather than being able to have a
lot of luxury to have the time to do some advanced, proactive work."
A number of participants described themselves as feeling "tired" or "old" as a
result of the multiple demands they faced. Pamela admitted, "You're probably getting me
at a bad time because it's December," and went on to describe an unusual semester in
regard to a high number of behavioral concerns and extensive alcohol abuse. One
participant said, after describing a negative experience with a particular partnership,
"Depending on the day of the week it is, and how old you're feeling and how old you feel
certain days, it really is [interesting]. Right now I'm not feeling really good." Referring to
the commitment of her research and teaching, which she described as a learning
partnership, Rachelle said somewhat facetiously, "You know the kids, they age me, but
they keep my spirit young. So I'm wrinkled and I'm gray because of that, but my spirit's
still young."
In addition to facing limitations of resources such as time and energy, participants
also described a lack of initiative resulting from the monotony of everyday routine. Sue
People fall into ruts if they've been in their job forever and ever and ever, and
they don't want to put any more effort out.. .So if new opportunities are afforded
to them, they may not take the time to look into them, because they say they're
too busy or they just don't want to put the time and effort into developing
Speaking to the idea of challenging the everyday status quo, William described a need for
"catalysts" to initiate collaboration. He said, "There's so much going on in each of the
different contexts, you get sucked into your routine.. .often times you can't get your head
up above the day-to-day."
Factors that Supported Collaboration
In addition to describing barriers that inhibited collaboration, participants also
described factors that supported collaboration. The following section examines six factors
that participants discussed as promoting collaboration, which allowed them to share
information and create a coherent learning experience for students. Supporting factors
included the following: sharing mission and goals, engaging in committee work, using a
common language, finding a point person, having a history on campus, and "letting go."
Each of these factors is addressed in the following sections.
Shared Mission and Goals
The first factor that promoted collaboration was a sense of shared mission and
goals, which reflected mission and goals of both organizational units within the
university and the university's overall mission. Ways in which participants described how
the mission of their individual units promoted collaboration is presented, followed by a
description of how an institution-level mission was articulated as promoting collaborative
Mission and Goals of the Units
The first way that shared mission and goals emerged as a support theme for
collaboration took place at the divisional or departmental level. Referring to the planning
process for the new building, Pamela shared that she often heard Laney and other
members from University Housing express their goal of promoting student success,
regardless of whether or not students were residents of University Housing. Pamela
described how partners in University Housing often said, "These are our students, and we
should be serving them." Pamela continued, saying, "That's huge for me. It's like here
are 20 some odd students. They're ours." Other partners also expressed a shared sense of
purpose and the necessity of working together in order to achieve learning outcomes.
Eddie said, "Everyone has to be on the same page when it comes to public safety.. .We
can't do it alone. You know everybody has to be on board... Everybody plays a big part
in making this place run smoothly."
Many times the mission of an individual unit reflected shared goals that laid a
foundation for collaboration with other units. The partnership with University Housing in
constructing the new building allowed Buchmiller participants to not only further the
mission of promoting independence by providing more up-to-date facilities, but also by
exposing students to other resources and opportunities, such as being more integrated
with their peers. In a sense, the new building partnership allowed participants to re-focus
the Buchmiller mission by taking away the current responsibility of facilities and
maintenance. In the new building, those roles would be taken by University Housing so
that Pamela, Tina, and Sue would be responsible for only the programmatic piece of
Buchmiller. Laney voiced that having Buchmiller be part of the new building would also
help University Housing to further its mission. Laney stated that she believed integrating
Buchmiller into the new building would expose University Housing residents to
additional diversity in ways that would help them learn about others who were different
from themselves.
Mission and Goals of the University
In addition to shared goals based on the mission of Buchmiller and partners, the
mission of MWU as a world-recognized research university and land grant institution
promoted collaboration on campus. This section examines research as a support factor
that promoted collaboration, in addition to the role of MWU's identity as a land grant
institution that espoused values of access and outreach.
Participants referred frequently to MWU's identity as a research-prominent
university and its self-stated role of creating and applying knowledge. William spoke of
his belief that teachers and learners must "create knowledge and information together."
He said, "It's only through that process that.. .we build a context where [students] can be
successful and partner with us in the greater mission of the institution." Fulton described
how, because DEP supported MWU's academic mission with a strong emphasis on
research, other units on campus "become partners in some of the research
collaborations." Pamela provided a specific example of how research promoted
partnership-building by bringing various units together on campus through a summit on
disability research. She said,
We can.. .do some things with coordinated efforts within the community—within
the university—because we have researchers who have done community health
research within our college. By working together, we can have a much bigger
impact in terms of programs and services.
As a land grant institution, MWU espoused the value of embracing diversity and
inclusiveness. Partnerships, which were designed to provide a seamless experience for
students, also focused on retention-efforts designed to promote academic success that
extended beyond mere physical or financial access to the university. Fulton spoke of a
long-standing partnership between DEP and the counseling center on campus, describing
the need for additional support for students coming from under-resourced secondary
school systems. Referring to students coming from poorer schools, who may have
undiagnosed disabilities, he explained,
Some of the young people going through [large city] public schools, who were
very bright, were able to rely on their strengths in the slow and not-so-deep
currents of [large city] public schools. But if they were attracted here and
recruited here and enrolled here, some percentage of these students would have
survived on their strengths, but with impairments that would have been identified
in [well-resourced schools].
Fulton went on to describe how providing additional support for these students
from inner-city schools, who may or may not have disabilities, improved overall retention
of students. He said, "It's not just helping us identify and retain students with disabilities,
but, also, a broad-spectrum of students who are at risk."
Committees As Formal Opportunities to Connect
The second support theme for collaboration involved committee work. Nearly
every participant described how committee work with others across the campus allowed
them to build connections with other units. "We do a lot of work by committee here, as
most institutions do," William said. "[We can] have a perspective that we would have a
richer product if we had more diversity of thought, and that diversity of thought does
mean between student affairs and academic affairs."
An important change that had allowed Buchmiller staff to forge additional
partnerships during the past several years was the addition of a third full-time Buchmiller
staff member. Before that point, only two staff members composed the leadership team in
Buchmiller. Having only two people had presented a challenge because the on-call safety
system in place required at least one full-time staff member to be in the building during
the business day. Having the third team member afforded Buchmiller leadership
additional flexibility to be in different places throughout campus. Pamela said,
Buchmiller is a great place to live, a great place to work—the best kept secret on
campus.. .The only way you can get the word out is by being present, by being on
campus committees, and by being out there. With three of us here, it allows us to
do that.
Having a formalized time for the committee to meet opened access to partners and
promoted collaboration, participants said. One example provided by a number of
Buchmiller and DEP staff members was the Disability Access Committee (DAC). Debra
spoke of the formal time as allowing them to "once a week, just to come together, talk
about student issues, talk about what else is going on, and what [they] need to be aware
of." Heidi described how DAC meetings promoted regular communication among
partners. She said, "It's a time when everyone is in one place so you can keep up to date
on the students and communicate." Pamela described how, when an issue was brought to
DAC, committee members discussed it, saying, '"How can we deal with this?' or 'What
are the channels within the university that we have to deal with?'"
Sharing A Common Language
The third support theme that promoted collaboration was the ability to share a
common language, particularly between individuals in similar roles within the complex
organizational hierarchy of MWU. Speaking of Pamela, Laney said, "We're on more of
the same level within an organization.. .we were thinking about details, the day-today. . .what are [the students'] needs. And so I recognized it, and I think she recognized it,
that, 'Oh you speak my language and I speak yours.'" Debra mentioned that, in regard to
Buchmiller staff, she most often speaks with Sue because she and Sue engage in work
with students that focus on similar learning outcomes. Debra said, "Certainly Tina and
Pamela are very accessible as well. But because Sue deals with the disability
management planning element.. .we tend to gravitate toward each other, based on the
roles that we have with students."
Glenn also spoke of the importance of speaking a common language, in particular
in regard to communicating with others on engineering projects and translating technical
engineering terminology. He said,
I work with committees all the time. It's just finding out what needs to be done.
Then the biggest thing with the elevator is just translating it from the handicapped
language to something we understood, and then communicating with the elevator
people from their language to something we understood so we could work
between the two groups to come up with a solution. They all speak different
terms, and it's just figuring out what needs to be done.
Although Rachelle spoke of a common language in a more conceptual sense, she
shared the underlying message that partners must be able to communicate about shared
goals. Rachelle also described navigating language and meaning within the sciences. She
said, "I didn't realize that design was the bridge between the sciences, technology, and
engineering—and how people live their lives. So we speak both languages, and we can
translate that into tangible outcomes."
Fulton referred to the magnitude of simple word choice and approaching a topic
using a perspective understood by someone with a different background. He said,
If I call it "research," and I'm dealing with someone on staff who doesn't have a
terminal degree, it's a pretty intimidating word. So we talk about "program
evaluation." Making sure what we do has some measurable output that indicates
our progress toward what our objective is, and that we actually implement that
and measure it, and assess it and modify it based on what we realize in our data.
Eddie also spoke of the need to relate to students and partners using language they
understood. He said, "You need to communicate with people and talk to them in plain
language. Not police terms.. .but language that everyone can understand."
Finding the Point Person
Participants identified that it was often easier to speak a common language with
someone on a similar level within the organizational structure; being able to identify such
a contact person with whom they could connect was a challenge they shared. The fourth
support theme that promoted collaboration involved finding the right point of contact.
Pamela said, "It's kind of what the organizational chart is, and what level you're on." She
continued, "So part of that, really, is having a sense of.. .how the individual units are
organized and being able to find out what's the appropriate level of contact for that unit at
that point."
In order to form successful partnerships, Debra said,
I think the first and most important thing is to have a designated contact within a
given office, or some kind of initiated relationship, or a familiarity with someone
in that office. Secondly, I need to know who to go to in order to address certain
issues. Do I go directly to the director, or do we deal with that designated contact
person in that office?
Over time, people who worked in DEP had developed a knowledge of contacts
within particular areas of the university. Heidi gave an example, saying, "If the person I
know in the general curriculum isn't there, I'll go to Mary and say, 'Well, who else
works here?' Or someone will ask me, in Vet Med, who do they need to go to." Heidi
explained, "We all have our own little areas. That's good because that way you're not
responsible for figuring out the whole system."
After a contact person had been identified, either through an established
relationship or a public avenue for obtaining information, persistence was at times
necessary. Pamela described how, after sending an email or making a phone call to
someone on campus, for example legal counsel, she made a note to follow-up the next
week. She said, "I just know that Buchmiller is not, in the great scheme of things.. .not
big. We're just a really tiny fish. But, I still need [the services of the university's
Laney spoke of staff transition during recent years, and said that the changes had
made making connections in various areas a challenge. "[MWU is] just so big," she said.
"It's so big and staff turnover happens so often that you don't know who the new contact
person is.. .We've had a lot of turnover at the leadership level in student affairs." Sharing
a similar sentiment, Heidi described how she knew several deans in the graduate school
who had served as close contact people there. Heidi said, though, "They had a transition
over the past couple of years, and I think we're still trying to figure out a good go-to
person there if students have questions."
So Large—Having A History Helps
The fifth support theme for collaboration that participants described involved time
spent at MWU. Having a history on campus was one factor that helped participants
identify who was an appropriate contact person. Participants described the importance of,
over a period of years, developing relationships and trust with others, in addition to
building a working knowledge of how various areas of the university functioned and
interacted. For example, Laney stated that she believed her own experience in the large
environment of University Housing varied greatly from Pamela's, particularly during
Pamela's transition into the much larger system. Laney explained, "I already live in that
gigantic empire and know how to navigate it.. .There's ease of navigation when you've
been here that long." Other participants also described how having a history was a benefit
because they not only knew how to accomplish tasks, but also knew with whom to
In a similar sense, Heidi said, "MWU is so large." She continued, "The longer
you're here, the more partnerships or collaboration you have, just because you get
connected to more people. So you know more people." Eddie shared a similar view,
reflecting on his tenure in campus safety at MWU. "After being in police work for 22
years here, I'm very knowledgeable. If I don't know, I know who does know." Pamela
shared that one of the reasons she felt Fulton was able to effectively influence decisionmaking processes, and enact change on campus, was his longevity. "He's been around a
long time," she said. "He's made partnerships.. .and relationships with people."
Letting Go
The sixth support theme that promoted collaboration, or at least sustained
collaborative efforts, involved participants' ability to "let go." Participants described
letting go of control when faced with unknowns, or being able to "live with the
ambiguity." Pamela acknowledged that the process of opening the new building would
not be completely smooth, but relayed that she believed all the details would eventually
fall into place. "There are just a lot of meetings and a lot of details," she said. "And I just
know we're going to forget something along the way. And we're just going to have to
work it out, and work it through." Sharing a similar sentiment, Nellie said of the new
building. "It's a fly-by-night operation right now." She acknowledged, "We're not sure
how it's all going to work. It will be fine in the end, but right now it's just that people
have their own little thing that they've got to worry about."
A number of participants described letting go in the sense of being creative and
flexible in order to overcome unexpected hurdles when encountering new situations. For
example, Bruce remembered a time when two residents from Buchmiller, who were in
wheelchairs, had been on the lower level of the bookstore when the elevator's mechanical
system failed. Bruce recounted, "Both of them said, 'Well, this isn't a problem. Do you
have three beefy guys? Here, pick these places up on the wheelchair and carry me up the
Letting go also involved a release of personal fears and inhibitions, or comfort
levels. Rachelle explained how her design research differed from scientific research. She
said, "People feel more secure with 'knowns.' But when you go to them and say, 'I'm
going to shadow you for three hours. I have no idea what we'll find,' that in itself can be
a little bit disconcerting..." Participants also described how some leaders empowered
staff to be successful and to have the confidence to push past their own boundaries of
familiarity in ways that prompted them to be innovative. For example, Debra spoke about
the departmental support she experienced, specifically in having the autonomy to try new
things and build new connections with others on and off campus.
Another capacity of letting go included ceding individual control in order to
achieve a shared outcome. The need to trust one another was particularly at the forefront
of conversations regarding the new building partnership as both units were negotiating
systems while moving into a shared space. Pamela said of Laney, "I say that it comes
back to trust. I trust her. I trust her to do what is right by our program because I think she
believes in what we do." Tina described a similar perspective when asked what promoted
collaboration in the partnership with the new building. "They are wanting to make it
work.. .They've been really open to learning. They want to learn. They want to
incorporate us. It makes the bridge so much easier."
Chapter 6 described themes that emerged as barriers or supports to collaborative
efforts. Five barrier themes to collaboration included the following: size and
decentralization of MWU, organizational hierarchy on campus, being embedded within
multiple systems, understanding the needs of students with disabilities, and "keeping up
with the everyday." In addition to factors that inhibited partnership-building, six support
themes for collaboration included the following: sharing mission and goals, engaging in
committee work, using a common language, finding a point person, having a history on
campus, and "letting go."
Chapters 5 and 6 provided themes that emerged from the two overarching
research questions and three sub-questions, regarding how Buchmiller Hall and its
partners collaborated to promote student learning and what influenced those
relationships. More specifically, the research questions included the following:
1. In what ways does a student affairs unit that provides disability services,
Buchmiller Hall, interact with campus partners to promote student learning?
2. What factors influence the interaction between these organizational units?
The three research sub-questions embedded within the major research questions
included the following: (1) "How does interaction take place?" (2), "Why does
interaction take place?" and (3), "When does interaction take place?" Because these subquestions cut across both research questions, the text of Chapter 7 is organized around the
three sub-questions and provides discussion surrounding themes discussed in Chapters 5
and 6. Following discussion, this chapter concludes with implications and limitations of
the current study.
Because the current study uses a constructivist approach (Denzin & Lincoln,
2005a; Stake, 2005), participants were asked to use their own interpretation of campus
partnerships in order to reflect their individual experiences. As a result, the relationships
described in the findings section and discussed below cover a broad spectrum of
interactions, ranging from what some authors define as shorter-term cooperation
(Hillebrand & Biemans, 2003; Stein & Short, 2001) to more coordinated, in-depth
collaboration (Amey & Brown, 2004). I explain in this chapter how the partnerships that
participants described were influenced in distinct ways by the unique context of
supporting students with disabilities.
How Does Interaction Take Place?
The first sub-question embedded within the two overarching research questions
addressed how collaboration took place. Through their responses, from which themes
emerged in Chapters 5 and 6, participants described partnership-building as navigating
various types of boundaries, which were uniquely shaped by the context of disability.
First, in order to understand how participants engaged in navigational efforts, the concept
of existing boundaries that they encountered is discussed. Second, the ways in which
participants described navigation of these boundaries is explored.
Types of Boundaries
The current study sought to address the research questions regarding how staff in
Buchmiller Hall interacted with campus partners to promote seamless learning for
students with disabilities. "Seamless," as a concept, "suggests that what was once
believed to be separate, distinct parts.. .are now of one piece bound together so as to
appear whole or continuous" (Kuh, 1996, p. 136). Inherent in the idea of seamlessness is
a smoothing, or navigating, of boundaries within an organization in order to produce a
sense of continuity. Organizations can be viewed as "social structures created by
individuals to support the collaborative pursuit of specified goals" (Scott, 2003, p. 11),
and when structures are constructed, various types of boundaries are naturally created.
The boundaries described in the current study represented what were inherently
distinct areas as a result of a collective of individuals or units, or actors (Scott, 2003),
coming together in a complex and decentralized organization. In other words, the
boundaries discussed by participants were not always barriers. Rather, "organizational
structure, rules, regulations, and procedures are viewed as rational instruments intended
to aid task performance" (Morgan, 1997, p. 175). Participants spoke of the ways in which
they utilized factors that promoted collaboration in order to counter the factors that were
barriers to collaboration, which were described as support and barrier themes in Chapter
6, while navigating a variety of boundaries.
Current literature often discusses the boundary between academic and student
affairs as a dichotomy that inhibits partnership-building (ACPA, 1996; ACPA et al.,
2006; Kuh, 1996; Lamadrid, 1999; Magolda, 2005; Philpott & Strange, 2003).
Participants in the current study were asked about their perception of the relationship
between the two historically distinct areas of academia; only one participant, however,
described a divide between academic and student affairs as a barrier in a general sense. In
response to the question regarding his view of the organizational relationship at
Midwestern University (MWU), William said, "The bifurcation between academic affairs
and student affairs is artificial. I've had the great opportunity of working on both sides of
the house for many years, and we share the same students." As a result, this study does
not support research that suggested differences in culture and role expectations between
student and academic affairs resulted in "irreconcilable conflicts" (Philpott & Strange,
2003, p. 91).
In addition to the organizational boundary between academic and student affairs,
literature highlights a number of types of organizational boundaries, for example, those
defined by membership, interaction, activity, and cultural-cognitive boundaries (Scott,
2003). In the current study, participants described three major types of boundaries that
were shaped by support and barrier themes described in the last chapter: organizational
position, personal identity, and physical space. The following section discusses these
three types of boundaries, along with their distinct characteristics regarding partnerships
designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
Boundaries of Position
The first type of boundary included positional boundaries around individuals'
formalized roles within the organizational framework (Scott, 2003); positional boundaries
represented lines in the organizational chart at MWU, as highlighted by the theme of
hierarchy described in Chapter 6. In each of their particular positions, participants played
a specific role in performing tasks and functions on campus, which allowed them to
develop an area of expertise. Building campus partnerships allowed participants to bridge
organizational divides and to build "cross-functional, interdepartmental linkages that
combine resources and expertise to address the learning needs of students" (Whitt et al.,
2008, p. 236). Participants reached out to others in different positions on campus (e.g.,
Rachelle, a faculty member, connecting with Buchmiller staff members) in order to build
connections and partnerships with them because they believed in the importance of
providing an effective learning experience for students that was not confined within the
boundaries of a classroom (ACPA et al., 2006). Furthermore, the action of building
bridges allowed participants to connect students to services or information that
participants were unable to provide through the resources of their position alone.
Boundaries of position played a salient role because Buchmiller staff members were often
viewed as the "experts" in regard to providing disability support services. Campus
partners perceived that Buchmiller staff members could provide the knowledge and tools
that partners lacked for meeting the needs of students with disabilities.
In some instances, connection-building involved knowing the name of a contact
or point person in another unit; knowing the name of someone with whom to connect was
a support theme for collaboration. Heidi described the way in which members of her
office developed roles akin to that of an ambassador, in addition to their positional role.
An ambassador role was one in which a member was known to have a certain connection
to, or knowledge of, a specific organizational area of campus. Members served as the "go
to" person in the office, who others approached if they needed to build on the connection
already established with the other unit through the ambassador role.
At other times, reaching out beyond one's position involved a more sustained
action of boundary management (Morgan, 1997), or boundary-spanning (Scott, 2003).
Many participants described boundary-crossing in "side-to-side," or lateral, connections.
Responses highlighted side-to-side relationships, pointing to the importance of
connecting with someone in a similar position within the organization. Pamela also
described her role as an "up-and-down," or vertical, boundary-crosser through her dualrole as member of both the mid-manager team and the project team in the new building
Boundaries of Personal Identity
Because organizational structures "are personal in the most profound sense"
(Morgan, 1997, p. 245), boundaries did not exist only in formalized positional roles, as
discussed above. The second type of boundary that participants described included
informal areas of separation involving an element of their roles less quantifiable than job
descriptions: personal identity. In this discussion, it is important to consider that
"organizations represent extensions of ourselves" (Scott, 2003, p. 7). Informal boundaries
surrounding the identities of participants as individuals overlapped with their formal roles
as professionals, demonstrating that job descriptions are necessarily supplemented with
characteristics individuals bring to their positions. Simultaneously, the positions and roles
of the participants were shaped by participants' beliefs (Kezar, 2001), or values, which
are described later in this chapter.
I propose that participants in the current study blurred boundaries of personal
identity in a unique way because the partnerships in which they engaged focused on
meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Being a person with a disability is a
deeply-rooted identity, and because of this, participants were forced to re-examine the
ways they incorporated access and advocacy around disability into their professional
roles. The ways they blurred boundaries were based on their own personal experiences as
an individual with a disability, relationships with people who had a disability, or general
knowledge of disabilities. Participants described how building partnerships on campus
promoted an integration of multiple self-identities not only for themselves, but also for
students. Participants engaged in partnerships in ways that aligned with how they defined
student learning as empowerment, as discussed in Chapter 4. Intertwined through their
conversations was their work in challenging students with disabilities to move beyond
their comfort zones in ways that allowed students to embrace identities of being both a
person with a disability and a college student.
Illustrating her approach to promote student learning, Rachelle spoke of herself as
both teacher and researcher. She described blurring the boundaries between the two roles,
allowing her to navigate what could have been considered separate spheres of her
formalized position and help students learn in a more holistic sense. She said, "My
research and my teaching are as one. They're inseparable." Rachelle spoke of how she
internalized both roles into her life with passion because she believed both were essential
to student learning. For Rachelle, being a teacher and researcher of industrial design was
her identity as an individual. Her identity went beyond personality and acquired
knowledge, representing her fundamental "epistemological, ontological, and/or
methodological view" (Creamer, 2003, p. 463). In a similar way, other participants
blurred boundaries not only between "job" and career as an extension of self, but also
between multiple elements of self.
Pamela provided another example of blurring the boundary between multiple
identity roles within a formalized organizational position. In drawing on her personal
belief system in her role as advocate, Pamela was able to inform colleagues of ways that
mediated the difference in perception and expectations in the new building partnership,
resulting in compromise. Pamela did not need to bridge bifurcated roles of individual and
professional, but by navigating the natural boundary between the two areas, she
strengthened her role as a professional who was an advocate and an ally. Pamela spoke of
her background as a faculty member at another institution, in addition to her work in
community living centers. She not only described how her past experiences flavored her
current leadership style of meeting staff members "where they are at," but she also spoke
about how she had integrated her personal values of advocating for people with
disabilities into her current professional role. She was a hall director, and, on a more
personal level, she was also an ally for students with disabilities in a manner that
extended beyond what could be defined in a job description.
Boundaries of Physical Space
The third type of boundary described by participants addressed a separation of
physical space that required navigation, a boundary which came to light particularly in
regard to the theme of size and decentralization described in the previous chapter. "Two
useful indicators of significant boundaries are an organization's spatial barriers and their
guardians (i.e., fences, walls, doors, guards, receptionists" (Scott, 2003, p. 188). In
partnerships designed to provide disability services, space takes on a particularly salient
role. One of the most visible and discussed issues regarding disability on college
campuses addresses physical access; space becomes not only a logistical issue, but also a
legal one. In addition, sharing space, which is referred to below in regard to committee
work, becomes an important issue because disability support offices are often housed in
separate units, rather than being integrated throughout a campus (Myers, 2008).
In regard to Buchmiller and the Disability Education Program (DEP) partners, one
boundary was the space between the Buchmiller and DEP buildings, which may have
been exacerbated by the lack of parking space at Buchmiller Hall, which, as a result,
inhibited travel to Buchmiller for DEP partners. Current literature notes how geographic
distance between collaborators influences ways they work together, stating, "In the face
of.. .distances, physical and psychological, the challenge of collaboration often [takes] its
toll in exacting from participants excesses of time and energy" (Philpott & Strange, 2003,
p. 88). In addition, areas of the university were not only distanced through the
decentralization of the organizational structure, but also literally, in regard to geographic
distance on campus. As described in Chapter 6, Buchmiller's role as a program housed
within a stand-alone facility could be viewed as a representation of its role as a nontraditional residence hall. Simultaneously, although Buchmiller was a program in DEP
and the College of Health, it stood separate from their buildings as well. In other words,
Buchmiller's current independent location represented multiple formal organizational
The geographic expanse of the MWU campus presented a boundary to be
navigated. Committees served as both formal and informal means of navigation by
presenting a planned venue in which to interact with one another. Such venues then
provided a platform on which to build. In other words, when individuals from different
units and departments were brought together, often to share physical space in which to
engage in dialogue or work together, they reported an opportunity in which to build
further connections that could extend beyond the current area of focus for that committee.
On a campus as large as MWU, meeting individuals from various areas of campus was
the first step in building partnerships, as Debra said. Meeting others could take place in
more formalized roles by crossing boundaries of prescribed job descriptions, or more
personally and informally by building relationships along lines of common interests,
personal values, or shared experiences. In short, committee meetings were often formal
times to connect, albeit sometimes with an informal feel, and could serve as a platform
for building either the organizational or human aspects of navigation, which are discussed
Navigation of Boundaries
The previous section discussed three types of boundaries that participants
encountered when engaging in partnerships. Ways in which participants chose to navigate
boundaries were influenced by their particular context, including the barrier or support
themes for collaboration present to them. Within the concept of navigation, two subthemes emerged: the structural component of navigation and the human component of
navigation. Each of these sub-themes is discussed below.
Navigation: The Structural Component
The majority of participants in the current study at some point referred to the
organizational hierarchy inherent within a large university system. The distinction
regarding whether they perceived the hierarchical structure as a support or barrier to
collaborative efforts was founded on their ability to navigate the system in which they
functioned. Participants came from different areas of the university and represented
various levels within their units. As a result, a variety of factors influenced their view of
what they perceived as their ability, or inability, to access and share information or
engage in new initiatives. I refer to the first theme of navigation in the current study as
the structural component of navigation, which draws on Scott's (2003) description of the
formal social structure of organizations, in addition to Ozaki, Amey, and Watson's
(2007) discussion of organizational capital of leadership. The formal structure of
organizations involves "the social positions and the relationships.. .[that] have been
explicitly specified and are defined independently of the personal characteristics" (Scott,
p. 20). Organizational capital recognizes the formal structure, but broadens the concept
and says it "may be tied to formal position, or it may be a function of other less tangible
aspects of the organization" (Ozaki, Amey, & Watson, p. 109). Furthermore, Kezar's
(2003) framework that addresses collaboration between academic and student affairs was
developed using research questions, which in part, were based on structural theories of
change. Participants in the current study described using the structural component of
navigation in a variety of ways.
Pamela's role as a lateral boundary-spanner (Scott, 2003) was limited as she
navigated across organizational boundaries. She described the need to defer situations to
Fulton, her supervisor, who had access to particular boundary-spanning roles. In regard to
the organizational component of navigation, Fulton's position of authority within the
organizational chart carried a certain degree of power and authority with it (Scott). As a
result, he was able not only to enact certain change because of his position, but also
because he was allowed access to a different authority group. Fulton reported to the Dean
of the College of Health, who was an academic leader on campus with access to
additional capital because of his formal position.
Participants who expressed a sense of not being heard or involved in important
decisions were often the "on-the-ground" people. In the example of the new building
partnership, several staff members in both Buchmiller and University Housing, whose
work intersected with the everyday lives of students, described the experience of being
denied a voice in decisions for which they had detailed knowledge of what would be
most effective. One participant said, referring to upper-level administrators, "People kind
of got caught up in the awe of the building. The brick. What the rooms look like.. ..Very
excited about that part—so that they've forgotten how we're going to deal with [the
everyday systems of the new hall]."
Within the new building partnership, three levels of decision-makers emerged,
based on formalized roles and reporting lines: the "on-the-ground" staff members, the
mid-level decision-makers, and the upper-level decision-makers. The new building
initiative involved multi-layered, complex decisions, and a disconnect was perceived that
some participants expressed as disempowering. For example, upper-level decisionmakers were responsible for the major budgetary decisions, which then trickled down,
impacting what structures "on-the-ground" staff members were expected to implement.
Time played a part in furthering the sense of disconnect, presenting a pressure for those
implementing the everyday decisions against deadlines when they felt that they lacked
the necessary "framework," or parameters, from individuals with roles of higher
positional authority. In more complex partnerships, such as the new building partnership,
upper-level players made decisions regarding budget framework, and then others were
required to create a hiring and training schedule for staff by a certain date so that the new
building would be ready to operate by opening in fall of 2010.
Navigation: The Human Component
I call the second theme regarding the navigation of boundaries in the current study
the human component of navigation. The human component of navigation again draws
on the work of Scott (2003) and Ozaki, Amey, and Watson (2007), here examining
navigation across boundaries based on concepts of informal structure and social capital.
Scott described informal structure as existing when "it is impossible to distinguish
between the characteristics of the positions and the prescribed relations and the
characteristics and personal relations of the participants" (Scott, p. 20). Ozaki, Amey, and
Watson explained social capital of leadership as building on informal resources such as
social networks and reputation. They described social capital as affecting "partnerships of
reciprocity, trust-worthiness, location, and time sensitivity" (p. 108). Paramount to both
Scott's use of informal structure and Ozaki, Amey, and Watson's social capital is the
aspect of building personal relationships that transcend boundaries, which Whitt et al.,
(2008) described as a principle of good practice for partnership programs, and which
participants in the current study described as essential in navigation of the boundaries
they faced. Kezar's (2003) framework for understanding collaboration between student
and academic affairs used research questions that were in part based on cultural theories
of change that are related to what I term the human component of navigation.
I use the term human component to describe the more personal elements of
interaction that involve emotion, individual connection, and deeper-level values of each
person. In the current case study, those personal elements surrounded learning and
disability. Such personal elements cannot be viewed on an organizational chart. In a
similar sense, Morgan described how coalitions and alliances, types of connection within
organizations, are often "highly informal and to a degree invisible" (Morgan, 1997, p.
186). Morgan argued that alliances are built on the premise of being mutually beneficial.
In contrast to his description of alliances, participants in the current study more often
spoke of partnering in ways that allowed them to build on shared values and interests.
In one way, informal and personal connections provided an alternative entry point
in forging partnerships, as opposed to further developing already existing partnerships by
navigating organizational structures in place. In a second way, navigating the
organizational structure in place began with identifying the correct contact person within
the appropriate level of the organization and then navigating the personal element of
relationships. Both types of the human component of navigation allowed participants to
connect with colleagues beyond a formal organizational role in a more informal manner
based on human emotion and personal connection. In other words, the first way of
navigating the human component of interaction involved the initiation of the partnership;
the latter way addressed developing the partnership and sustaining it. The two aspects of
navigating the human component of an organization are discussed below.
The first aspect of navigating the human component of navigation involved
initiating partnerships based on a personal relationship or personal connection. For
example, Sue shared that she had known Glenn outside of a work context through Boy
Scouts. Because they had established an informal connection, they knew each other in a
non-work capacity that eventually prompted a professional partnership between
Buchmiller and the College of Engineering. Another example involved how Rachelle
reached out to DEP and Buchmiller, based on her personal values of inclusiveness, which
were inlaid within her research on emphatic design that centered on designing inclusive
environments. Furthermore, within a human component of navigation, Fulton had
developed a history on campus; gathering knowledge and building relationships over
time was described as a support theme in Chapter 6. Fulton's history was rooted within
the knowledge associated with a historical overview of MWU and years of being
personally involved in campus happenings. Participants described the personal and
professional relationships he had developed over time and how they provided social
capital (Ozaki, Amey & Watson, 2007).
The second aspect of the human component of navigation furthered a partnership
after connection had already been made based on organizational roles. Participants in
both academic and student affairs described positive interactions with others that just
"made it easy" because, after initiating a connection, partners were willing to share
information, resources, or time. Furthermore, they often were enthusiastic in doing so.
Personal relationships did not prompt the initiation of the partnership, but rather worked
to further and sustain it. Laney spoke of the business outcomes of what she referred to as
the merger of the new building, stating that the word "business" should be put in quotes.
She said, "But those aren't things I think about. I kind of think about, 'Oh, this is a good
relationship we've got going on here.'" In other words, Laney acknowledged that the
more structural and logistical aspects of the new building project provided an
infrastructure for the partnership, but she viewed her role as building the partnership
through the human aspect of navigating the natural separation of Buchmiller and
University Housing that currently existed. The current study supports research that found
that student affairs professionals perceived what Kezar (2003) termed cultural approaches
to collaboration, such as attitudes and personalities, as being highly effective.
Embedded within the human component of navigation was the need to trust one
another, particularly as both units in the new building partnership were engaged in the
negotiations involved with moving into a shared space. Ozaki, Amey, and Watson (2007)
discussed the importance of building trust as formal relationships moved toward social
relationships. Pamela said of Laney, "I trust her. I trust her to do what is right by our
program because I think that she believes in what we do." Tina implied a similar sense of
emotion when asked what factors have promoted collaboration in the partnership with the
new building. "They are wanting to make it work.. .And they've been really open to
learning, they want to learn, they want to incorporate us, and it's just, it makes the bridge
so much easier." In a slightly different sense, Rachelle spoke of the importance of being
genuine when collaborating with others in research in order to establish trust. She said,
I think people need.. .to see that you're sincere, and that you're authentic.. .If we
see Buchmiller participants as collaborators, I think that's a totally different
approach... shamelessly embracing subjectivity is part of this.
In addition to presenting the two pathways of partnership-building discussed
above, navigation of the human component of relationships could also eliminate
pathways to collaboration. One participant acknowledged, laughing, "There are certainly
people on campus I don't collaborate with because they're difficult." If a potential partner
appeared unwilling to cooperate, pathways at times were closed as a result of negative
personal dynamics. Laney went on to say that, although she did not often encounter such
situations, when a difference in personalities or personal expectations prevented working
together, her students faced a detriment because they received less information or fewer
services. The following section discusses the reasons why participants engaged, or failed
to engage, in partnerships.
Why Does Interaction Take Place?
A second sub-question embedded within the two overarching research questions
addressed why partnership efforts took place. In regard to change, organizations can
"become focused on the what or how of change and forget to consider the why" (Kezar,
2001). As important as considering how and in what ways collaboration existed, is
developing an understanding of why participants engaged in collaborative efforts. Two
major themes emerged in regard to why participants engaged in partnerships: (1) reasons
surrounding individuals' and leaders' values, and (2) the importance of having the
necessary tools to act on values in order to navigate boundaries. Reasons and tools for
engaging in partnerships are discussed next.
Reasons Surrounding Participants' and Leaders' Values
A distinct characteristic of models of collaboration in higher education, as
opposed to other sectors, is that values are often imbued within partnerships (Amey &
Brown, 2004). Although participants rarely articulated that a certain belief was an
important value in their life, their responses illustrated values embedded within their
multiple roles in the organization and as individuals. During second interviews,
participants and I more often engaged in less formal dialogue with one another;
participants often referred to their personal roles as students, mothers, fathers, and
individuals with a disability.
Developing a conversational relationship was an important intention of using a
subjectivist epistemology, which allowed "continuing, and meaningful interaction
between the investigator and the respondents" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 107). Through
more informal conversation, in addition to their responses as a whole, values emerged as
an underlying theme that served as a foundation upon which participants based decisions
and actions, including ways to engage in collaboration with others. The component of
organizations that includes values, norms, and role expectations is known as the
normative structure (Scott, 2003). Within the normative structure, values are described as
"the criteria employed in selecting the goals of behavior" (Scott, p. 18).
Values that were prompting forces for initiating action in partnership efforts with
Buchmiller were not always tied to the specific beliefs of promoting independent living
or advocacy around disability. A number of participants did speak of the need to increase
accessibility or provide support services for students with disabilities. More important for
participants involved in the current study, however, appeared to be the underlying value
of providing student services in effective ways that promoted student learning and
success. The goal of promoting student learning supports the findings of Nesheim et al.
(2007), who demonstrated that student learning was a major outcome from student and
academic affairs collaborative partnership programs. The broader value of "helping"
students in meaningful ways was applied by participants in a variety of situations and
contexts, and was often couched with other values such as openness to new ideas,
willingness to enact change, empowerment of individuals, and constructing inclusive
environments for all students.
As evidenced by their responses in Chapter 5, participants viewed learning in line
with Learning Reconsidered: A Campus-wide focus on the Student Experience, which
stated that learning is "a comprehensive, holistic, transformative activity that integrates
academic learning and student development" (ACPA & NASPA, 2004, p. 4).
Participants' more expansive values around learning were then applied to the specific
context of working with Buchmiller, thus resulting in the support of learning specifically
for students with disabilities. At times, the process of partnering with others involved a
sense of compromise based on each partner's values, for example in regard to the
timeline and level of involvement of the current contextual factors. Because "no
decision...can optimize all values" (Birnbaum, 1991, p. 61), participants faced choices
regarding the avenues to pursue that they felt were most important at that point.
A number of participants expressed that they had limited interaction with students
with disabilities prior to their work with Buchmiller. As a result, some participants had
little knowledge surrounding needs of students with various types of disabilities. Goals
that participants spoke of took shape in more general outcomes, such as providing
particular resources to students or helping them to take steps to ensure their own safety—
which were applications of student learning described in Chapter 5 and were present in
the support theme of mission in Chapter 6.1 argue that underlying values that prompted
partnership-building did not need to be specific to access and inclusion in regard to
disability. However, the presence of what I term "disability champion" was often
necessary to build connections and cultivate a common language and values with partners
who were open to learning the ways to meet most effectively the individualized needs of
students with disabilities.
A champion can be a formal or informal leader who is an advocate for a particular
issue (Amey, Eddy, & Ozaki, 2007); a disability champion advocates specifically for
partnerships designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Furthermore, a
disability champion articulates clear values of inclusion, building on the role of disability
ally (Evans, Assadi, & Herriott, 2005) contextualized within the action of collaboration,
while building on support themes of collaboration, as described in Chapter 6.
Communicating values around the process of collaboration is an integral piece of Kezar's
(2005) first stage of collaboration, building commitment. Kezar noted that "what made
the story created through the values.. .work is that [individuals].. .provided additional
validity since peers were supporting the notion being distributed through the network" (p.
847). In other words, values should not be communicated in a top-down manner only.
Values, instead, needed to be infused into a peer network, which, in the current study,
could be led by a disability champion. The following sections focus on the themes of
individuals' values and leaders' values that impacted why participants chose to engage in
Participants' Values
The first theme of values included personal beliefs of individual participants. As
discussed earlier, an overarching value was to provide a more comprehensive and
coherent delivery of services to students in ways that promoted student learning. In
addition to promoting student learning, participants also spoke of furthering their own
learning for themselves as professionals and individuals. For example, Rachelle described
her research with students with disabilities, saying, "It's making me rethink my material
landscape. And that's the reward." In a similar sense, Laney said, "I feel more
knowledgeable myself.. .I've learned so much about people with disabilities and their
Another personal value that participants described was that of specifically
promoting an inclusive and supportive environment for students on campus. For example,
Madeline's bachelor degree was in social work. "I've told people I've just been a social
worker of the world. I just happen to practice in a different area," she said, referring to
her desire to help people, here more specifically individuals with a disability.
Furthermore, several participants shared that they had a connection to disability, which
may have prompted them to initiate or engage in partnerships to meet the needs of
students with disabilities. Some participants shared that either they or a person close to
them had a disability, and, as a result, they had personal experience in advocating for
individuals with a disability.
Leaders' Values
The second theme surrounding values that emerged involved the values of
leaders. Participants described ways in which leaders embraced values through role
modeling and the dissemination of both formal and informal messages. Individuals
described by participants in the current study as leaders tended to be people of higher
positional status than themselves within the organizational structure, whether on campus
or within a divisional unit. Leaders, as defined by formal position, often have "important
sources of power through which they can encourage, reward, or punish those who follow
their lead" (Morgan, 1997, p. 137). Participants described how dimensions of leadership
set the context for serving students, whether that promoted a willingness to innovate in
ways that removes boundaries, or perpetuated and solidified boundaries. Certain leaders'
values led to a sense of restriction or inhibition around working with others, putting
participants in a "survival" mentality with regard to their everyday work. In the current
study, however, participants generally viewed the infusion of leaders' values in a positive
Through a variety of both implicit and explicit messages, leaders communicated
their values and set expectations around them. Values communicated by leaders in the
current study addressed a range of tenets including student learning, inclusiveness,
approach to decision-making, empowering staff and students, and transparent
communication, among others. When values were clearly articulated, they often
expressed overt goals (Birnbaum, 1991). For example, Tina and Debra both referred to
the Chancellor's goals to make the MWU campus more inclusive. Another example of
enacting explicit goals was Bruce's description of his supervisor prompting him to
contact Buchmiller due to concern that the bookstore staff was not adequately meeting
needs of all customers, particularly those with disabilities.
At other times, values were more subtly infused into the grain of the environment,
setting a tone of expectation for what work should happen and the manner in which it
should move forward. More subtle values often relayed overt goals (Birnbaum, 1991).
For example, Pamela referred to the benefit of having a Director of DEP with a Ph.D.
Research was not verbalized as a daily goal for DEP staff members, but the concept of
using data to inform best practice infused many participants' responses. During my
interview with Fulton, the Director of DEP, he provided numerous examples of how he
believed conducting research was essential to being a state-of-the-art disability service
unit that promoted student learning and success. Although participants in this study did
not describe experiences in which explicit or overt goals clashed with one other, literature
cites the tension that can exist when espoused values, or those articulated, vary from
values enacted, or those related to action that takes place (Philpott & Strange, 2003).
The values that participants described as prompting partnership action reflected
elements of their definitions for student learning. In addition to describing the influential
role of leaders' values, participants also spoke of their own values in regard to leading
others. Participants promoted learning for individuals they supervised; as leaders, they
emboldened staff members to have confidence to move beyond boundaries of familiarity
in ways similar to how participants challenged students to do so in a safe environment.
Having the Necessary Tools
The above sections described both participants' and leaders' values that, in part,
served as reasons why participants engaged in partnership efforts. The second theme,
regarding why partnerships took place, addressed access to the appropriate resources.
Beyond having the desire to act upon personal or professional beliefs, participants
described a need to feel that they had the necessary tools to be successful in partnership
efforts (Stein & Short, 2001). In other words, participants described existing boundaries
and the avenues through which they were able to navigate those boundaries in regard to
the first sub-question of how partnerships existed. In regard to the second sub-question of
why they were able to navigate boundaries, participants not only described values that
prompted why partnering took place, but they also described an infrastructure of support
that enabled them to navigate boundaries and counter barriers to collaboration described
in Chapter 6.
In order to build upon the momentum provided by factors that promoted
collaboration, it was necessary for participants to feel empowered to effectively navigate
the boundaries in order to achieve their goals in partnership efforts. Navigation of
boundaries took place in a variety of ways. The different types of navigation may have
reflected how partnerships bridged rigid organizational boundaries to deliver a more
personalized learning experience to students, particularly students with disabilities who
had specialized needs. As a result, no prescribed route of partnership-building was
possible. Rather, participants described implementing a combination of strategies that
made use of three necessary tools. When participants did not have access to the following
tools, the partnership was not necessarily terminated, but participants expressed a
different level of engagement in the efforts, which may have influenced the overall
effectiveness of the partnership. Determining "success" of a particular partnership,
however, fell beyond the scope of this study. Developing a sense of ownership within a
higher education context is different from doing so in a corporate environment because
individuals "need to be convinced of the importance of the commitment" (Kezar, 2005, p.
Necessary Tools: Taking a Seat at the Decision-Making Table
Ways that participants described having the tools to either initiate a partnership,
or participate fully in it, are discussed next. Themes emerged around three necessary
tools that include the following: taking a seat at the decision-making table, having clear
communication, and knowing their circle of influence.
Decision-making, the first dimension of having the necessary tools to engage in
partnerships, took a variety of forms from verbal interaction to a general sense of keeping
participants "in the know." Being aware of decisions made and participating in decisionmaking processes was an important piece of navigating organizational boundaries
because "organizations are information systems. They are communication systems. And
they are decision-making systems" (Morgan, 1997, p. 78). Participants reported that
when transparent communication regarding decisions was in place, they felt valued and
prepared to perform their work well, for example, through engaging with others in
partnerships. When clear communication regarding decision-making processes did not
exist, however, participants felt isolated and encumbered without the ability to move
forward with various initiatives.
Participants reported being cognizant of the salient presence of the organizational
complexity of the institution in which they worked. The complexity they described was
not only that of "side-to-side" decentralization, but also "up-and-down" hierarchy
(Birnbaum, 1991). In the current study, participants most often spoke of whether or not
they were included in decisions within the hierarchy of their own units. Taking part in
decision-making across lateral organizational boundaries happened most often among
boundary-spanners (Scott, 2003), for example when Pamela and Laney made decisions in
the mid-manager meetings. Woven throughout participants' responses was a recognition
of the importance of being able to cope with uncertainty (Morgan, 1997) during the
decision-making process as partnerships took shape, often without clear-cut guidelines or
directions to follow.
Necessary Tools: Using Clear Communication
The second dimension of having necessary tools to navigate boundaries addressed
being able to communicate clearly with one another throughout partnership efforts
(Lamadrid, 1999). Although cross-functional dialogue and clear communication may
have been an important tool that influenced underlying perceptions and means of
interaction (Kuh, 1996), in the current study communication was more often viewed as a
practical everyday necessity. Participants discussed how communication was essential for
a variety of reasons, in particular because it allowed partners to identify goals and
intentions for partnership efforts, including expectations for one another (Bracken, 2007;
Kisker & Hauser, 2007). Furthermore, sharing a common language allowed participants
to understand each other's messages, develop connections based on similar experiences,
and convey value to others. In addition to being important across lateral organizational
boundaries, clear communication was also important in sharing information within the
vertical organizational hierarchy.
One example of the ways in which participants attempted to communicate clearly
role expectations across boundaries was brought forth in discussion around the
"Memorandum of Understanding." Pamela explained what she referred to as "The
Memo," in which Buchmiller and University Housing staff created a document together
in which they agreed which services would be provided to students from each partner.
Pamela said, "It's really trying to figure out who's going to be responsible for what
things." Having a formalized avenue through which to engage in open communication
was particularly important in the new building partnership because it represented a
ballerina collaborative effort, a term coined by Stein and Short (2001) to describe a
partnership in which separate programs continue to focus autonomously but within an
inter-connected framework. Although Buchmiller and University Housing were engaging
in a partnership in which they would share space and some systems, Buchmiller would
still continue to be a separate DEP program from University Housing, within the College
of Health.
Participants described, embedded within the need for clear communication, the
importance of sharing a common language. Although literature describes how language
can be divisive during efforts of collaboration, for example during the process of
selecting a shared name (Philpott & Strange, 2003), participants in the current study
referred to finding a common language as an effective strategy during collaboration, as
described as a support theme in Chapter 6. Participants referred to the concept literally in
regard to semantics and the avoidance of esoteric language unfamiliar to one or more
partners. Their ability to use a common language contrasted with other studies in which
individuals from student and academic affairs "spoke very different dialects of the same
language" (Philpott & Strange, p. 90).
Participants also described sharing a common language as a way of connecting
with someone who held a position similar to themselves in the organizational structure of
MWU. Sharing a common language allowed partners to share experiences with one
another, reinforcing the human component of navigating boundaries. Furthermore,
sharing a common language meant expressing the value of something in terms
understood by others. Fulton explained how research allowed DEP to demonstrate the
effectiveness of partnerships to upper-level administrators. Research data provided a
common language in the form of numbers and statistics, which were both understood and
valued by campus leaders, thus providing DEP additional leverage or capital because the
department was perceived to be providing an effective service. Having a common
language to communicate effectiveness was particularly important during a time of fiscal
constraint when budget cuts were being implemented across the university.
In addition to sharing a common language across lateral organizational
boundaries, participants also spoke of sharing knowledge and information through the
organizational hierarchy. Who had access to information (Magolda, 2005) influenced the
ways in which participants felt included or excluded at the decision-making table, as
discussed earlier. Important to the theme of necessary tools is recognition of the multiple
levels within an organization and understanding that participants at times perceived their
roles in making decisions differently, based on communication from various levels of
leadership. When others controlled the ways in which boundaries were navigated,
individuals monitoring the boundaries could perform a buffering function (Morgan,
1997), limiting communication across the boundary. In the example of the new building
partnership, the "on-the-ground" staff expressed frustration at not being included in the
decision-making processes that appeared to take place at the upper-most levels of
leadership within their units. However, in Buchmiller, Tina and Sue described Pamela,
their immediate supervisor, as a conduit of information that kept them informed and
included them in decision-making. Both Pamela and Laney spoke of the recognition of
their responsibilities as mid-level managers whose roles were to work with others at their
level in order to come to decisions and then to take the decisions to the "on-the-ground"
people for feedback and implementation.
Necessary Tools: Knowing Their Circle of Influence
The third dimension in having necessary tools included the ways in which
participants expressed knowing their circles of influence, or their understanding of the
ways they were able to most effectively partner with others. When asked to explain what
a campus partnership meant to them, participants provided a wide expanse of definitions
ranging from mere interaction in which one unit benefited more than the other, to deeperlevel reciprocal relationships in which both partners shared a common goal. Similar to the
diverse range of understandings surrounding partnership-building, participants described
a spectrum of interaction in regard to the partnerships they described actually
participating in; different types of partnerships were more effective in various contexts to
serve different purposes. When using a lens to view MWU as a rational, or bureaucratic
organization, the way that participants understood who reported to them in the
organizational structure could be viewed as "spans of control" (Morgan, 1997, p. 20).
Some partnerships changed between the participants' first and second interviews,
while other partnerships remained static during that time. Participants recognized the
complexity of the boundaries they described, in addition to the realistic limitations of
navigational tools. Participants expressed that they, at times, engaged in smaller-scale
partnerships that were not as involved as more comprehensive collaboration of "using
shared rules, norms, and structures, to act or decide on issues" centered around a problem
domain (Wood & Gray, 1991,146). Acknowledging their sphere of influence was
limited, participants re-focused efforts as was necessary in order to achieve particular
goals; re-focusing efforts was another reason why participants were able to navigate
boundaries and engage in partnerships.
During second interviews when participants described the progression of
partnerships, a number of participants referred to supports and barriers to collaboration,
as described in Chapter 6. Based on whether they perceived themselves to be "moving
forward" or not, participants adjusted their approach to engaging in partnerships. First
interviews took place in late spring and summer of 2009, and second interviews were
conducted late in the fall semester of 2009. During second interviews, participants
described responding to widespread H1N1 sickness on campus, facing budget cuts, and
having spent a great amount of time responding to student conduct concerns. Although
participants did not report being less engaged in partnerships, many expressed less focus
on them, perhaps because of the need to balance time, energy, and resources with other
issues at that point in the academic year. In other words, participants faced choices
regarding where to direct energies and how to direct their influence at different points of
When Does Interaction Take Place?
A third sub-question woven throughout the two overarching research questions
addressed when collaboration or partnerships took place. Participants described how
multiple influences contributed to what Rachelle called "an incredible moment." She
said, "So it's kind of an incredible moment where all these people come together—and I
don't think it could have happened any other time," referring to the confluence of
contextual factors, including the right alignment of people, resources (Morgan, 1997) and
Participants described a number of contextual factors that could lead to different
outcomes depending on current circumstances at a particular time, including whether
participants had access to navigational tools, as described in the previous section. For
example, the status of widespread budget constraints was identified by participants as
both promoting and inhibiting collaboration, similar to that noted in the literature
regarding collaborative efforts of colleges of technology (Eddy, 2007) and four-year
universities with community colleges (Hoffman-Johnson, 2007). Although fears over
funding could legitimately be viewed as discouraging collaboration because of
diminished resources, participants could shift focus to the benefits of reducing
redundancy or the duplication of services provided through two separate units. When
participants felt they were able to actively contribute to decisions being made regarding
the budget, they felt empowered to think in new and innovative terms, rather than
restricted by the cutbacks.
The "when" of partnerships was determined by the process of building buy-in.
Developing a sense of momentum of progressing beyond what Sue referred to as "falling
into a rut" ensured that individuals could move beyond the "survival mode" of just
keeping up with everyday tasks or routines. Smaller scale partnerships in the current
study involved only two or three partners, and, as a result, the need to build a sense of
buy-in was less extensive than in larger-scale initiatives, such as the new building
partnership. Promoting a sense of ownership for all individuals included in a partnership
involved generating a sense of excitement around what could be possible as a result of
collaborative efforts. Madeline described enthusiasm surrounding the new building
partnership saying, "There's just an excitement about it." In a similar sense, others shared
a sense of enthusiasm in creating something new. Rachelle said, "There are no
guidebooks. So we're making a lot of this up." Laney said simply, "I mean we're just
dreaming stuff up."
Obstacles were encountered when a proper sense of buy-in failed to develop with
all individuals involved in the partnership, particularly throughout organizational levels.
Being left out at the decision-making table led participants to describe feelings of "being
handed" a decision and a mandate for action, rather than being empowered to participate
in "reaching out" to others. Even if contextual factors came together on one level that
promoted collaboration, those same factors did not necessarily align within other
organizational levels if all participants did not have access to navigational tools at a
particular time. As a result, partnerships may have gone forth, but with differing levels of
involvement and sense of ownership among various positions and roles.
Implications and Limitations of the Current Study
The next sections include recommendations based on findings and the above
discussion of this case study. Although Buchmiller Hall provides a single example of a
student affairs unit that engaged in partnership efforts, this case study brings to light
many issues that apply broadly to higher education. From this case, practitioners and
scholars can learn about organizational dynamics that exist in higher education, and more
specifically, student affairs. For example, this study illustrates the presence of
organizational hierarchy and the obstacles associated with the perception of a more rigid
adherence to formalized roles and positions; how the context of disability uniquely
flavors partnership endeavors; that technical knowledge of disability is not necessary in
order to engage in partnerships that support students with disabilities, the importance of
the emotional piece of the human component of navigation; and that negotiating shared
spaced involves a process that requires intentionality, planning, and time.
In addition to the partnerships included in the current study, the current
organizational structure and mission of Buchmiller provides questions for future
consideration. Providing a stand-alone building facility, such as Buchmiller, where
students with disabilities are separated, in a sense, from the rest of campus, garners words
of both praise and criticism. This study illustrates the ways that Buchmiller staff provided
an individual focus and sense of care in supporting and challenging residents. They were
the staff members with the technical expertise of specific disabilities and resources for
how to meet the physical, social, and psychological needs of residents living in
Buchmiller Hall. In addition to the specialized knowledge of Buchmiller staff, the current
facility provided a place where residents could "let their hair down," as Tina said. For
many of the Buchmiller residents, living in Buchmiller was one of the few times in their
lives when they had the opportunity to live in a community of individuals who also had
disabilities and shared certain experiences similar to their own. Although some
individuals extol the value of an independent model such as this, criticism can also exist
based on the belief that the community of Buchmiller Hall should be integrated into the
MWU campus in more visible ways, such as is being done with the new building
In a similar sense, multicultural housing and other identity-specific communities
provide the support of a peer network with others who may share similar experiences. I
believe that communities such as Buchmiller and other identity-based living spaces must
be viewed in the context of many factors surrounding them. For example, Buchmiller was
a stand-alone facility but had a constant flow of MWU students throughout the day
because many of the personal assistants (PAs) were MWU students. In other words, the
separation of a building itself did not relegate a sense of separation that inferred
segregation. However, efforts are needed on the part of staff and students in any identitybased community to build intentional connections with other areas of campus to prevent
feelings of isolation. The context of whether or not active social connections, both workbased, such as through the provision of PA services in Buchmiller Hall, and more social,
such as friendship-based, is as important as the geographical placement of a building. The
social element of Buchmiller Hall, in concert with the visible and concrete location of the
building, parallel the human and structural components of navigation discussed earlier in
this chapter. Both pieces are important. Future practice and research should continue to
consider the important elements of context and how processes and systems are actually
carried out in the midst of current contextual factors, in addition to what those processes
and systems say on paper.
Next I present implications for practice, followed by implications for research. In
addition, I offer a brief discussion of the limitations of this study that should be
considered in light of the implications discussed.
Implications for Practice
I provide four implications for practice based on findings and discussion from the
current study; implications for practice are structured around major themes that emerged
from the three research sub-questions discussed above. First, departmental and divisional
units should create additional opportunities for partners to meet one another in formal and
informal ways. Second, institutions should provide systemic mechanisms that recognize
collaborative efforts. Third, pathways for clear communication must exist within and
between organizational units while promoting seamless learning. Finally, individuals and
units should seek out platforms that allow them to build on individual areas of expertise,
particularly in regard to supporting the needs of students with disabilities.
Pathways for People to Meet in Formal and Informal Ways
The first implication for practice involves themes that emerged surrounding types
of boundaries and ways to navigate those boundaries in response to the sub-question of
how partners collaborated. Departmental and divisional units must develop physical
opportunities for individuals to meet one another and engage both formally and
informally through a variety of events. Kezar (2005) recommended that campuses include
more "mechanisms for people to interact," (p. 857) such as communal dining areas or
retreats. Such pathways for meeting others, however, should offer the opportunity to
communicate values, for example, by recognizing accomplishments, engaging in
partnership-building efforts, and supporting students with disabilities. Creating new
rituals for meeting one another, such as divisional welcome receptions or end-of-the-year
award ceremonies, colleges and universities can embed informal connection-building
opportunities into the formal structure of their organization (Morgan, 1997). William
spoke of how committees must be "nimble," referring to how short-term work groups
with a greater degree of flexibility were sometimes more effective than longer-lasting and
more formalized standing committees. Institutions must recognize that the creation of
additional inter-unit committees is not the sole answer to building pathways that cut
across organizational boundaries. Rather, colleges and universities must be creative in
how they design meeting times to include both formal and informal activities for work
and celebration.
Several participants spoke of the importance of having a physical venue in which
to bring people together in order to communicate their values and explain their work on
campus. The Series in the new building partnership provided an example in which this
took place successfully during several discussion sessions that brought Buchmiller and
University Housing staff together. Such opportunities appeared to be infrequent,
however. Institutions should intentionally create additional pathways in which interaction
can take place, allowing individuals and units to build capital in regard to both the human
and structural components of navigation. When events take place that allow individuals
to interact informally, various means to meet across organizational boundaries can help
people to identify "point people" with whom they are able to connect. In addition, such
events could help individuals learn about available resources that exist on campus, and
for what purpose they may wish to collaborate in order to use resources. Relationships
can be fostered that promote working together in ways that support integration of student
learning and disability services into the "fabric of the campus" (Myers, 2008, p. 4) as
individuals learn to effectively navigate boundaries of position, identity, and space.
Formalized Recognition of Collaborative Efforts
The second implication for practice addresses the theme of implicit and explicit
values, which emerged in response to the sub-question of why partnerships existed. This
case study presents data that suggest faculty, staff, and administrators at colleges and
universities should create systematic mechanisms to encourage, recognize, and laud
collaborative efforts in order to construct a campus culture that explicitly values
partnerships. Mechanisms that promote collaboration must be integrated into systems of
reward and recognition, such as the tenure system for faculty members (Stein & Short,
2001). Faculty members should be encouraged to conduct interdisciplinary research,
particularly with other individuals on their own campus as they seek to understand ways
to promote learning, both inside and outside the classroom. In the current study, Rachelle
had already achieved tenure status and described the importance of belonging to the
institute for interdisciplinary research on campus. She spoke of institutional support for
engaging in interdisciplinary research. In academia in general, it is not uncommon for
faculty members to face separate expectations within the distinct spheres of teaching,
research, and service (Altbach, 2005). However, when institutions articulate support for
faculty members to navigate boundaries in effective ways among the three areas, faculty
members may feel more encouraged to collaborate with others.
Recognition systems, which are structured differently for staff members than for
the professoriate, are often more heavily embedded within performance evaluations or
promotion. Motivation to engage in partnerships for staff members could include small
institutional "grants" to support partnership efforts and research on collaboration.
Campus or division-wide awards could acknowledge individuals and units engaged in
partnership efforts, particularly within the context of disability in ways that not only
express value for partnership-building, but increase awareness of disability issues.
Participants in the current study spoke of encouragement they received from specific
leaders to pursue partnerships; if support were to be integrated in tangible ways across the
campus, additional individuals might be prompted to explore collaborative initiatives.
Institutions benefit from the fiscal savings that result from fewer redundant and
ineffective efforts. Thus, institutions should view the construction of recognition systems
for collaboration as a worthy investment that promotes a culture of collaboration rather
than a system where partnering is considered a time or money add-on. "[Culture] must be
understood as an active, living phenomenon through which people jointly create and
recreate the worlds in which they live" (Morgan, 1997, p. 141). By formalizing means
that affirm and promote collaboration, institutions can shape organizational culture so
that working together is a shared expectation of the environment, rather than one built on
select participants' or leaders' values, such as those discussed earlier in this chapter.
Clear Pathways of Communication
The third implication for practice also addresses themes that emerged from the
sub-question regarding why partnerships existed in the current case study. More
specifically, within the theme of having access to necessary tools, three sub-themes
emerged, one of which was clear communication; this implication addresses the need for
institutions to put pathways in place to ensure clear communication throughout the
organization. The first implication for practice recommended that institutions create
physical venues through which individuals can meet, allowing them to navigate
organizational boundaries. The current implication, however, addresses the systems and
pathways through which a variety of types of communication can happen, including nonphysical means.
Institutions must find pathways for information to be shared laterally throughout
the organization. Dissemination of information across organizational boundaries is not
only necessary in order to build connections and to learn who may become a disability
champion, but also to build ownership and support from different areas of the
organization. Institutions must provide a common language that articulates values shared
by both individuals and leaders around promoting seamless learning for students with
disabilities. Clear communication around a shared value is one way in which to bridge
what has been described as a dichotomy between academic and student affairs. As
William said, "We share the same students."
In addition to providing opportunities for people to spend time together,
institutions must ensure that individuals with power and positional authority share
information with those at other levels of the organization. Whether through top-down
bureaucratic dissemination of knowledge, or a more diffuse, flattened model of
organizational functioning, individuals must receive clear and accurate information
regarding expectations for their own work from persons with higher organizational
authority. Those supervised must also have avenues to respond and provide information,
for example through feedback loops (Amey, Eddy, & Ozaki, 2007) or stabilizing and
correcting loops (Birnbaum, 1991). On-the-ground people who are at the "front lines" of
student services, whether disability support services, residence life, or other areas of
student affairs, have a specialized knowledge regarding student needs. Because student
affairs professionals who work with students everyday have expertise regarding student
development, it is important that they are included in decisions (Frank & Wade, 1993)
made at a variety of levels within the institution. A two-way sharing of information
allows additional expertise to be used in effective ways.
Building on Areas of Expertise
The fourth implication for practice responds to the third research sub-question
regarding when partnerships took place. Earlier in this chapter, discussion addressed the
need for an appropriate alignment of people, values, and resources. Inherent in having the
right combination is the availability of knowledge and expertise during the "incredible
moment." The final implication for practice of the current study addresses how partners
must find ways to work together that allow them to bring their areas of expertise together
in new and creative ways. Current literature cites the importance of bridging fragmented
academic environments and areas of specialization (Blimling & Whitt, 1999). An
implication of the current study is that bridge-building must allow disability champions to
engage with partners who lack the expertise or technical knowledge around the provision
of disability services, but who offer other strengths as they work to promote student
The current study demonstrates that all members of a campus community have a
responsibility to construct learning environments that are more supportive for students
with disabilities. However, not every individual on campus may be well-versed regarding
disability-related legislation, or have technical expertise regarding accessible software or
other specific accommodations. The fourth implication addresses the need for members
of a community to connect in ways that allow them to build on their own area of
specialization, whether it be faculty members' content knowledge, student affairs
professionals' knowledge of students' developmental needs, or facilities staffs
knowledge of physical space requirements. Participants in the current study articulated
clearly their recognition that they each had skills or knowledge to bring to their
partnership. However, as they shared areas of expertise through partnerships, it was
important that they retain unique areas of specialization. For example, Laney reflected on
the need for Buchmiller to retain its identity as a specialized program. She emphasized
the expertise of Pamela, Tina, and Sue in providing an ethic of individualized support and
care for their residents. In other words, throughout the process of navigating boundaries,
the identities of individual units must be respected because various units each have their
own mission and area of specialization, in addition to their own culture (Philpott &
Strange, 2003).
The Student Learning Imperative (ACPA, 1996) stated that faculty members,
student affairs members, and students must work together in new ways to promote
learning. Processes must be created to develop synergy that combines all partners'
strengths, yet allows partners to retain the activities and functions they perform best. In
order to share areas of expertise and specialization, a common language is necessary;
partners need not articulate the same message but must share common values while
working toward a goal. In the process of drawing on individual and unit strengths and
areas of expertise, scholars and practitioners must take caution in regard to who is
defined as an "expert" and for what purpose. In the current study, individuals were
referred to as ADA experts, but they were not experts in how the ADA could be best
applied to meet the everyday needs of students living in the new building. An important
facet of participants' views of student learning was empowerment. Students should be
considered experts in regard to their individual needs as they are empowered to be
"managers of their own learning processes and goals" (ACPA & NASPA, 2004, p. 11).
Implications for Research
In addition to the implications for practice discussed above, this study also raises
questions for further research that offer theoretical and practical value. For example, the
importance of sharing a common language and values emerged as themes in how
partnerships were developed and sustained. Further research should examine the process
of how shared language and values are discovered, nurtured, and strengthened,
particularly during early efforts in fostering relationships. Additional questions for future
research include the following: How does the process of building partnerships take place
with the "on-the-ground" members of the organization, compared to with upper-level
leadership? Does relationship-building happen more often in formal ways, such as in
committee meetings, or informally, such as over a cup of coffee or a Boy Scout meeting?
What are the ways that the process of collaboration can be facilitated across multiple
levels of an organization? Furthermore, what are the essential elements for successful
partnerships? In Chapter 6, this study provided factors that participants described as
barriers or supports to collaboration, but what are the necessary components that must be
present for a partnership to take place? Where does variability exist, particularly in
environments that include different contextual factors, such as those discussed as
contributing to an "incredible moment"? For example, to what extent must values be
shared? Can a partnership continue to exist in meaningful ways if disparate values are
In addition to posing the above questions, I provide three implications of the
current study for research. Implications for practice were structured around the three
research sub-questions; implications for future research, however, cut across the findings
and discussion of the current case study. First, institutions should collect more in-depth
and longitudinal data regarding the effectiveness and learning outcomes of disability
support services. Second, additional research should be conducted to examine the role of
leadership in regard to building partnerships on and off campus in the context of
supporting students with disabilities. Third, future studies that examine partnerships to
support students with disabilities should be conducted at colleges or universities with a
variety of types of institutional environments.
Learning Outcomes for Disability Support Services
The first implication for research is that institutions should conduct additional
exploration surrounding how disability support services influence student learning.
Research that explores learning outcomes for students with disabilities should be
longitudinal in nature in order to demonstrate gains that students experience in various
areas of their lives before and after graduation from college. In the current study, Fulton
said, "How do you collaborate? Well, if you have data, you have power." He shared how
data provided a common language that was valued by upper-level administrators,
allowing DEP and Buchmiller to demonstrate the effectiveness of their larger-scale
initiatives. Fulton's comments reinforced existing literature that decries the lack of data
regarding how disability support service offices promote student learning and success
(Launey, Carter-Davis, & Launey, 2001; Sharpe & Johnson, 2001; Stodden & Whelley,
2001). The National Council on Disability (NCD, 2003) described how the lack of
research around effectiveness of disability support services creates an obstacle to
enacting policy change to better serve individuals with disabilities. The current study
focused on the experiences of faculty and staff members at MWU who engaged in
partnerships. Further research, however, is necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of
partnerships that support learning for students with disabilities. Future research should
also include students' perceptions of the services they receive and whether these services
meet their needs in effective ways.
Leadership in Building Partnerships to Support Students with Disabilities
The second implication for research is that future study should seek to understand
the role of leaders and how their actions influence partnerships that promote learning for
students with disabilities. The current study highlighted the influential roles of several
leaders, in particular those in formal positions, such as the Director of Buchmiller Hall
and the Director of DEP. Additional exploration is needed regarding the roles of
individuals who serve as both formal and informal leaders, in particular those who are
boundary-spanners (Scott, 2003) who navigate a variety of types of boundaries.
Additional research should be conducted to understand the implications of values
and actions of leaders who are disability champions, particularly on campuses with
various types of disability support service organizational models. For example, the roles
of formal and informal leaders may be different if a disability support office falls under
the umbrella of student affairs or within an academic unit, such as at MWU. Furthermore,
future study should examine motivational factors for disability champions and other
leaders who serve as allies and advocates. An additional area for future study in regard to
leadership addresses how to find an effective balance between "grass roots" efforts
through informal leaders and top-down measures through formal and higher-level
positional leadership in the process of enacting change within the unique context of
disability on college campuses. Kezar (2003) found that leadership was important in
varied institutional environments for different reasons; elements of leadership in the
context of disability must also be considered in light of different institutional factors.
Future Studies in Additional Types of Institutional Environments
The third implication for research addresses the need for additional exploration of
the research questions that guided this study in other types of institutional environments.
This study focused on partnerships that promoted learning for students with disabilities at
a large, decentralized and research-intensive institution, which was a specific
environment that was chosen with intentionality because it offered distinct characteristics
and organizational dynamics (Scott, 2003). MWU supported a large and well-resourced
disability support services office, in addition to a residence hall for students with severe
disabilities. The extensiveness of disability support services in this case study was in line
with current research that states large, public institutions are often able to provide a wider
range of disability support services than smaller institutional counterparts (Sharpe &
Johnson, 2001). Future research should examine ways that collaboration takes place to
promote learning for students with disabilities at small and mid-sized institutions, in
addition to private or liberal arts colleges and universities, which may have different
missions. Types of institutions may vary in regard to availability of resources, number of
students with disabilities, range of the disabilities that students have, and organizational
dynamics, such as ways that communication occurs and how decisions are made.
In light of findings and discussion from the current study, I offer several
recommendations for practice and future research. The implications described above,
however, should be viewed with respect to the limitations of the current study. For
example, in the current study, partners from other areas of the university were selected
based upon whom the Buchmiller staff team identified as partners. Because participants
from Buchmiller were encouraged to define campus partners in the sense they felt most
appropriate, it was likely that Buchmiller participants identified partners who held values
and working styles similar to their own. Furthermore, the scope of the current study
focused on currently existing partnerships, and only on rare occasions did participants
refer to proposed collaborative efforts that failed or that they perceived as unsuccessful.
Also important to consider is that this case did not examine certain areas, such as
services provided to all students with disabilities at MWU. This study included a single,
case study at one institution, which focused on partnership efforts with Buchmiller Hall at
MWU. In addition, in the current study the student voice played only a limited role
because I chose not to transcribe and analyze my interviews with students. Student
responses, however, provided a re-introduction for me to Buchmiller Hall and the
services that Buchmiller currently provided.
The design of the current study determined who I interviewed and the type of the
data I collected. Future research must recognize design considerations and how choices
made on the part of the researcher will influence the study. I chose to conduct interviews
primarily with Buchmiller staff members and the individuals they identified as partners. I
did not interview every individual who Buchmiller staff members identified, but instead,
I interviewed partners who engaged in sustained interaction over a period of time. For
example, Buchmiller staff members spoke of their relationship with a staff member at one
of the intramural athletic facilities on campus. I did not interview this individual as a
partner because the relationship between her and Buchmiller staff focused on occasional
tours of the intra-mural facilities rather than a relationship that was built and continued
over a period of time, whether a shorter or longer duration. Additional studies may utilize
other research designs, such as first interviewing upper-level leaders at an institution and
asking them to identify where they consider collaboration to be taking place on campus.
The new building partnership in this study was a unique historical event, and few
campuses are likely to experience the negotiation process of integrating an entire
residence hall for students with disabilities into the first floor of a new building in
University Housing. MWU had a history of being on the forefront of providing disabilityrelated services, and the DEP department was well-resourced to the extent that
caseworkers were able to focus on specific types of disabilities, such as physical,
psychological, or other types of disabilities. Buchmiller Hall itself was a unique place; a
very limited number of residential facilities in the country offer the types of services that
Buchmiller provided.
This case study includes only a snapshot in time. Although I reached saturation
(Creswell, 2007) with second interviews, the new building partnership was a complex
and time-intensive initiative. As a result, participants' experiences were unlikely to
remain static as construction is carried out to completion and the new hall is opened in
the fall of 2010. Other partnerships with Buchmiller Hall in this case study are also likely
to evolve as events happen and changes take place on the MWU campus.
Chapter 7 provided a discussion surrounding the themes that emerged in the
current case study from participant responses and analysis of documents. Discussion was
structured around the three research sub-questions, which addressed how, why, and when
partnerships took place. More specifically, participants described how they navigated
boundaries of position, personal identity, and space using both a human and a structural
component of navigation. Participants described why interaction happened as being
prompted by values, in addition to participants having access to appropriate tools that
allowed them to act on those values. Finally, participants spoke about when partnerships
took place, describing the importance of building on "the incredible moment." The
incredible moment happened when the right people, resources, and context aligned with
one another. Following discussion of themes that emerged from exploration of the three
research sub-questions, implications for practice and research were provided, in addition
to limitations of the current study.
Document Conclusion
The current study included a single, instrumental case study (Stake, 2005) that
employed a qualitative research framework (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005a; Patton, 2002;
Stake). Two overarching research questions structured the examination of collaborative
initiatives between staff members at Buchmiller Hall, a residence hall for students with
severe disabilities at Midwestern University (MWU), and campus partners. In addition to
exploring collaboration, this study also examined factors that influenced interaction
among units involved in the partnerships.
Chapter 1 provided an overview of the research topic and questions that examined
how organizational relationships promoted seamless learning for students with
disabilities at MWU, in addition to the significance of this study. Chapter 2 explored
pertinent literature that informed the study. Chapter 3 discussed the methods and
methodological approach used, in addition to the process for selecting the site for this
case study. Chapter 4 provided background information necessary to understand the
structure of Buchmiller Hall, in addition to an overview of the participants in the study.
Chapter 5 provided an overview of the breadth of partnerships in which participants
engaged. Chapter 5 also provided findings that were structured around the first
overarching research question, which addressed ways the partnership efforts took place.
Chapter 6 presented themes that emerged from the second overarching research question,
which addressed factors that influenced partnerships. More specifically, Chapter 6
provided factors that were barriers or supports to partnerships in the current study.
Finally, Chapter 7 discussed the findings presented in the previous two chapters, in
addition to implications of the current study for student affairs units and their institutions.
This study illustrates that a broad range of relationships and partnerships exist on
a college campus, particularly within student affairs. Not one type of partnership effort is
most appropriate for all situations, but rather a partnership is determined by how
individuals navigate a variety of types of boundaries using supports and barriers to
collaboration. Values, including those around student learning, lay a foundation for this
process of navigation, and tools allow individuals who are part of a collective to act upon
those values in order to form connections with others on campus. Relationships that are
developed to provide services to students with disabilities need not be rooted in technical
expertise surrounding specific disabilities. Instead, individuals must have a desire to help
students and be able to connect with someone who does have access to knowledge
regarding appropriate accommodations and specific needs of students with disabilities.
Traditional organizational boundaries, such as ones inherent within the complex
hierarchy and decentralization at a large university, must be balanced with those that
include a more personal element of relationship-building and recognition that expertise
lies in many voices, including "on-the-ground" staff members and students.
Appendix A - Interview Protocol
Introduction: The researcher will greet the participant and introduce herself. After
asking if the participant is comfortable, the researcher will share personal background
information as an icebreaker (doctoral student working on dissertation, at Michigan State
University, etc.).
Purpose: The researcher will then explain that the purpose of the current study is to learn
more about collaborative relationships between a student affairs unit and campus partners
that promote integrated learning opportunities for college students with disabilities.
Procedures: The researcher will also explain that open-ended questions and/or prompts
will be asked in individual interviews. Interviews will last approximately one hour,
depending on how much information the participant wishes to share. Conversations will
be recorded on an audio-recording device and transcribed. After data is collected, names
will be removed and data will be analyzed and included as part of the researcher's
dissertation. Information will be shared back with participants.
Consent: Participants will be encouraged to share only information with which they are
comfortable sharing. In addition, participants will be reminded that their privacy will be
protected through the use of pseudonyms and that they may choose to disengage at any
point. At this point, participants will be asked to provide a pseudonym for themselves. If
they choose not to provide one, the researcher will select one to use.
Dialogue: Preliminary interview questions (research instrument) are below.
For student campus partners who work in student affairs unit of focus (SALT):
What is the purpose or mission of SAU? What is your role in SAU?
Who are campus partners with SAU? How would you describe that partnership?
o How does interaction take place? (e.g., In formal or informal ways? As
part of ongoing relationships or partnerships?)
o Why does interaction take place? (e.g., What are espoused or enacted
goals? Is action driven from the top-down or bottom-up, neither, or both?
What messages are sent to individuals by the institution, departmental or
office unit, and students?
o When does interaction take place? (e.g., Who initiates action and with
what timeline? What sources of motivation are present?)
What are factors that promote or inhibit interaction with campus partners?
What are the benefits or rewards of your interaction with various campus
For campus partners:
What organizational unit do you work in? What is the purpose or mission of the
unit? What is your role in the unit?
How would you describe your partnership with S AU?
o How does interaction take place? (e.g., In formal or informal ways? As
part of ongoing relationships or partnerships?)
o Why does interaction take place? (e.g., What are espoused or enacted
goals? Is action driven from the top-down or bottom-up, neither, or both?
What messages are sent to individuals by the institution, departmental or
office unit, and students?
o When does interaction take place? (e.g., Who initiates action and with
what timeline? What sources of motivation are present?)
What are factors that promote or inhibit interaction with S AU?
What are the benefits or rewards of your interaction with S AU?
For students with disabilities who receive services from student affairs unit of focus:
• What are you studying? What is your year in school?
• What services does SAU provide to students? What role does SAU play in your
life as a college student?
• How does SAU help you to use resources or services across campus?
• How does SAU support you in your classes?
• What have you learned from going to/living in/etc. SAU?
Conclusion: The researcher will ask participants if they have any questions and thank
them for their participation.
Appendix B- Invitation to Participate
My name is Katie Stolz, and I am a doctoral student in the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong
Education (HALE) program at Michigan State University. For my dissertation study
under the direction of Dr. Matthew Wawrzynski, I am conducting a research project in
order to learn more about collaborative partnerships that promote seamless learning for
students with disabilities.
In order to do, this I hope to interview student affairs professionals and faculty members,
when appropriate, who are identified as campus partners with [the student affairs unit of
focus] in the current study. I also hope to interview student affairs professionals and other
staff members who work in [the student affairs unit of focus], in addition to students who
receive services from [the student affairs unit of focus]. During each interview, I will ask
participants several open-ended questions about their role in campus partnerships
included in the current study, in addition to asking questions to learn more about the
campus partnerships themselves.
After audio-taping our conversation, I will remove names and personal identification
information to protect participants' privacy and analyze data through a constant
comparative method as I look for themes that emerge from the data. Only objective thirdparty individuals who agree to keep information confidential will see responses during
the encoding process. Individuals who view data will have no direct identification
information and will not see participants' names. In addition, several other measures will
be taken to ensure that privacy will be protected to the maximum extent allowable by
law. Although every attempt will be made to keep identification information private,
some distinguishing characteristics shared by participants may reflect their identity.
If you are a student who receives services from [the student affairs unit of focus], a
student affairs professional or staff member who works at [the students affairs unit of
focus], or are a students affairs professional or staff member who is a campus partner
with [the student affairs unit of focus] and are interested in participating in an interview
that will last approximately one hour, please e-mail me by [date] at [email protected] If
you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Katie Stolz
[email protected]
Appendix C- Consent Form
Collaborative Partnerships That Promote Seamless Learning for Students with
Consent Letter
Dear Participant:
This is an invitation to participate in an interview that is part of a study exploring
collaborative partnerships that promote seamless learning for students with disabilities.
Your participation will contribute to the knowledge surrounding how campus partners
work together and will allow student affairs professionals to better understand how to
best support all students, especially students with disabilities. This study entitled
Collaborative Partnerships that Promote Seamless Learning for Students with
Disabilities is conducted by Katie Stolz, under the supervision of Dr. Matthew
Wawrzynski. Each interview will last approximately one hour, depending on how long
your responses are.
Your participation is completely voluntary. You may choose not to participate at all, or to
answer some questions and not others. Any direct identification information, including
your name, will be removed from data when responses are analyzed. Only objective
third-party individuals, who agree to keep information confidential, will see your
responses during the encoding process. They will have no direct identification
information and will not see your name. After your responses have been analyzed for like
themes, they will be compiled into a paper for as part of a dissertation research study.
Due to the personal nature of disability, individuals may be concerned about experiencing
social marginalization or discrimination in other ways if their responses were disclosed.
However, because information will be coded and kept confidential, this study poses little
to no risk to participants. Participants may feel unnecessary pressure to participate in this
study because of political pressure to engage in certain organizational relationships, either
as students or campus partners. As a result, the voluntary and confidential nature of
participation will be thoroughly stressed. Participants will benefit from engaging in the
process of self-reflection and developing a voice for their experiences while contributing
to the literature that explores campus partnerships that support students with disabilities.
A final copy of this study will not include your name or identifiable information.
Although every attempt will be made to keep your identification private, some
distinguishing responses that you share and other comments may reflect your identity.
Your responses or decision whether or not to participate in this study will have no penalty
of any kind and will not affect your status as a student or staff member. At any point, you
may decide to withdraw as a participant from this study. Your privacy will be protected
to the maximum extent allowable by law.
If you have any questions about this study, please contact Dr. Matthew Wawrzynski,
Assistant Professor in Educational Administration, 426 Erickson Hall, Michigan State
University, by phone at (517) 355-6617, or email at [email protected] If you have
any additional questions or concerns regarding your rights as a study participant, or are
dissatisfied at any time with any aspect of this study, you may contact - anonymously, if
you wish - Judy McMillan, Director, Human Research Protection Programs on Research
Involving Human Subjects, by phone: (517) 355-2180, fax: (517) 432-4503, email
address: [email protected], or postal mail: 202 Olds Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824.
Thank you for participating!
I agree to participate in this study. In addition, by signing below I agree to allow my
responses to be audio taped for research purposes of this study.
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