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Organizational Studies (2015)
The University of Michigan has long been known for its strength in the study of organizations. From the founding of the Institute for Social Research in the 1940s, through the Quality of Work Life Program in the 1970s and the founding of the Interdisciplinary Committee on Organizational Studies (ICOS) in the 1980s, Michigan has been a world-renowned center for interdisciplinary research and scholarship on organizations. The Organizational Studies Program, established in 2001, provides to Michigan students an intensive study of organizations at the undergraduate level. Although the program is barely a 15 years old, its history pre-dates the year of its founding, and is critical to understanding its imprint to this day.
The undergraduate study of organizations at the University was driven and continues to be guided to a great extent by student initiative, ambition and creativity. Before the Program was created, a large number of students chose to study organizations within the College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) by pursuing an independent concentration pathway (ICP). The ICP allowed undergraduates to invent their own major, subject to approval by a faculty member. It was designed to encourage creativity and independence for undergraduates and was especially useful for students interested in interdisciplinary study. Although some long-term faculty believe that students were pursuing ICP degrees in organizational studies as far back as the 1970s, University records indicate that the first ICP in organizational studies was awarded in 1989. During the early 1990s only a handful of students chose this option. In the mid-1990s, however, the number increased, and more than 40 students were completing this degree program every year. With the help of LSA advisor Toni Morales, students could select from a broad range of courses that allowed for an interdisciplinary study of organizations. Students even founded an organizational studies student association and created a website to establish a small community. This led to the emergence of an “underground” movement of students studying organizations.
By the late 1990s, more than 80 degrees per year were being awarded. This caught the attention of the LSA dean’s office and led to an inquiry regarding the rigor of the program. Initial conversations between the dean and an organizations scholar on campus, Richard (Rick) Price of the Department of Psychology, resulted in an informal review of samples of the students’ self-designed curricula. Each ICP required the support of a faculty member, and this review confirmed that the degrees being offered in organizational studies were meeting LSA standards. As recipients of the ICP organizational studies degree ballooned to 174 in 2000 and became one of the top half-dozen majors in LSA, however, the administration believed a program with such high demand required greater scrutiny and administrative oversight to ensure a level of quality consistent with the University’s standards.
As students began to fear that the ICP program was in jeopardy, and rumors of dismantling the program surfaced, one student, Jay Salliott, together with Morales, sought Price’s assistance in helping to justify the existence of the program. Price met with Shirley Neuman, then dean of LSA, and shortly afterward several organizational scholars on campus convened to review the possibility of launching an organizational studies program. Michael Cohen (Professor of Complex Systems, Information, and Public Policy), Jane Dutton (Professor of Business Administration and Psychology), Patricia Gurin (Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies) and Mark Mizruchi (Professor of Sociology and Business Administration) met with Price to determine the merits of launching such a program. In January 2000, Price submitted a proposal for the establishment of the Interdisciplinary Program in Organizational Studies, based on the discussions of the ad hoc faculty committee. Subsequent conversations with the dean’s office helped to cement what became two of its most notable aspects — ensuring the quality and controlling the size of the program by creating an admissions process; and allowing the program to be a tenure-granting unit reporting directly to the dean and grouped with the other social science departments.
Just as Price and Cohen were utilizing the LSA advisor’s template to draft a formal curriculum, the dean convened a meeting with Price, student leaders of the organizational studies student association, and other LSA deans to officially declare her acceptance of the program. Throughout the following year, Price and his colleagues labored through extensive proposals to the LSA curriculum committee to formalize a list of acceptable courses across the campus with organizational content. The ICP in organizational studies was discontinued. Permissions were requested from the various departments offering the courses that would become a part of the curriculum. After approval by the Association of University Presidents, which ensured that the nascent program would not compete with other state universities in Michigan, the Interdisciplinary Program in Organizational Studies (OS) was declared as a new major, effective September 2001.
Price was appointed director in 2001 and 38 juniors signed on as majors. Because the program had not yet hired any regular teaching faculty, it was supported instead by a number of affiliated faculty members from other departments. During that first year no courses were offered under an ORGSTUDY course number. Instead, OS majors selected from the extensive list of courses with organizational content created by Price and Cohen. Although organizational studies-specific courses were subsequently developed over time, the leaders recognized the importance of maintaining the interdisciplinary character of the program. The spirit of freedom exercised by those who had pursued an ICP degree has been maintained to this day. Majors continue to place organizational courses from other departments alongside OS courses in their curriculum, which allows OS students to play a primary role in devising their academic program.
Cohort and Curriculum Quality
The program’s commitment to a small cohort of students allowed OS to establish a high academic standard for its majors. From the beginning, OS was marked by a rigorous selection process. Students were required to excel in introductory courses in economics, psychology, and sociology to ensure they had the necessary foundation in the social sciences before starting the program. In addition to the prerequisite courses, applicants needed to submit a personal essay, a resume, and a university transcript. Within a few years of its inception, the program’s admission rate stabilized at about 30 percent, and OS student cohorts demonstrated one of the highest cohort GPAs in LSA.
The OS-related courses in other departments were heavily weighted toward theory. Price wanted to ensure that OS graduates had practical experience and were adequately prepared for working in organizations. This led to the establishment of the first OS departmental course. Launched in the fall of 2002, Advanced Research Methods in Organizational Studies focused on applied research in organizations and served as the capstone course for the program’s first class of graduating seniors. Advanced Research Methods had a structure unique among LSA courses: students learned organizational research methods while simultaneously conducting research in local host organizations. The inaugural cohort worked with the NSK Corporation, a Japanese ball-bearing manufacturing firm with an Ann Arbor division. After extensive research, students presented their findings to corporate officers, giving OS students real-world experience in organizational learning. Although the curriculum evolved over the years, Advanced Research Methods remained a highlight of the academic program and continued to set OS apart from other LSA departments as a model of curricular innovation.
The program launched two additional courses in the fall of 2002. Special Topics in Organizational Studies, a seminar course, enabled affiliated faculty with specific organizational expertise to share their research interests with students. Special topics courses spanned subjects such as nonprofit organizations, social innovators as leaders, and corporate social responsibility. After these courses had established a sufficient demand, several of them, including Negotiations, Networking, and Nonprofit Organizations, transitioned to regularly-offered stand-alone OS courses. The program also made use of the independent study option, which allowed OS students to explore a topic of their choosing under the supervision of a faculty member.
The following year, the program instituted the concentration pathway. The idea behind the pathway was to reinforce the principle of student-directed learning originally pioneered by ICP students. This flexible course selection tool was designed to help students navigate through the vast array of course offerings to select courses that fit their individual educational or career goals. Pathways could fall under broad organizational topics such as organizational structure and efficiency, corporate strategy, and organizations and social change. In defining their pathways, students produced a paragraph describing their educational and career goals along with a list of courses that would help them meet those goals.. The pathway was designed to be adaptive, and could be updated or modified to address changing objectives. Over time, students were provided with multiple additional tools to help craft their pathways, including a fall semester workshop and scheduled time with the peer mentors and OS advisor.
Faculty, Governance and Community
In the first two years of the program, Price worked diligently to create a governance system and to secure a physical space for the program. He negotiated a commitment for space from the College, an agreement for hiring staff members, and an initial set of faculty positions. The original home for OS was in the Modern Languages Building. In June 2001 Suzanne Jones, formerly of the Residential College, was hired as the unit’s key administrator. She played a significant role in benchmarking a curricular structure for the new unit, working with LSA to develop budgets and later becoming active in development efforts. Her experience with an undergraduate program also ensured that OS would become a student-focused community. Jones hired executive secretary Denise Yekulis and advisor Cathy Philbin, both of whom contributed substantially to the program’s emphasis on community and a student-driven academic program.
Price was aware of the importance of legitimizing the program to faculty across the campus. He sought guidance from members of the organizations scholarly community throughout the University as he developed the program in the early years. To formalize this support, he created the OS Advisory Committee, which included the members of the original ad hoc faculty committee that helped to launch the program, other faculty members, an associate dean, and two student representatives.
OS grew during the 2002-2003 academic year with the appointment of its first faculty member, Jason Owen-Smith. A sociologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona, Owen-Smith’s research focused on the interactions among science, commerce, and the law in contemporary societies. Through his study of innovation in high-tech companies, Owen-Smith quickly developed a distinguished reputation as a scholar, and he engaged many OS students in his research projects. Organizational Studies worked to create a program community, as the primary goals of the enrichment programs were to increase student leadership and to build a network of alumni support. Although the peer mentor program initially recruited OS majors to serve as student advisors, the role was expanded to include holding office hours, helping with the development of the concentration pathway, and organizing social and civic events for students in the program.
The formation of the Organizational Studies Leadership Committee (OSLC), a group of Michigan alumni who were philanthropists and leaders in their fields, enabled OS to become increasingly self-sustaining. The committee members not only helped to build an external community of advocates, they also helped to create opportunities for students to experience hands-on organizational learning and career development outside of the program. With the generosity of OSLC members, the program offered summer internships for OS students at organizations such as JetBlue Airways, St. John’s Healthcare, and the Dewey Ballantine law firm in New York. Founding OSLC members Susan Kahn Stern and Jeff Stern made a gift to the program that included the OS Internship Award, which helped students to cover living expenses during their summer internships.
The OSLC also took the first steps toward helping the program achieve greater financial sustainability. Beginning in 2003, OSLC chair Andy Lansing (then president and chief operating officer of Levy Restaurants) hosted an alumni dinner in Chicago to spread awareness of and encourage financial support for the program. Other OSLC members followed suit. As the OSLC members interacted with current students during “Leadership Links” group mentoring sessions, they became increasingly impressed with the quality of the students, which led them to create additional opportunities and to help market the program. A host of scholarships were created to help students in financial need. Among these was the endowed Andy and Ellyn Lansing Leader-Scholar Award, which recognizes an OS senior’s outstanding academic performance and leadership within OS and across the campus.
OS students also initiated their own set of opportunities. OS major Aaron Singer attended the London School of Economics (LSE) for a three-week summer session and returned convinced that more OS students could benefit from this experience. OS program administrators developed a relationship with LSE and sought financial support. The first six OS students attended the LSE in the summer of 2003, with support from the JetBlue Airways London School of Economics Scholarship, made possible by OSLC member David Barger (at the time the chief operating officer of JetBlue). This award enabled OS students from multiple cohorts to attend a three-week session at the LSE.
With a regular faculty member in place, the department was able to create two new foundation courses for the third incoming class of juniors. Formal Organizations and Environments, launched in fall 2003, was a survey course of theory and research on organizations, using both sociological and economic perspectives. It was designed to be taken in the first semester of the junior year and followed in the subsequent term by Inside Organizations (formerly Social Organization and Coordination), which focused on the social dynamics within organizations, including employee motivation, cooperation, organizational culture, and leadership. These two courses constituted the theoretical foundation for Organizational Studies, and were intended to equip majors to make analytic connections between more specialized courses across disciplines.
In addition to the new courses, OS instituted a series of extra-curricular activities. Monthly Organizational Studies Talks (MOSTs), a series of lunchtime discussions, began in September 2003. MOSTs originally served as a platform for University faculty to share their academic research with interested students, and the series later hosted visiting scholars and representatives from business and nonprofit organizations. After OS graduated its first cohort in 2003 and the program’s alumni showed an interest in returning to speak to students, the MOSTs began to emphasize the work and career experiences of the alumni community.
Setting the Pace for Growth
While Price was on sabbatical leave during the 2004-2005 academic year, David Winter, a former member of the OS Advisory Committee from the Department of Psychology, served as interim director. Winter hired a new assistant professor, Victoria Johnson, who earned a Ph.D. in sociology at Columbia University and completed post-doctoral work at the Ross School of Business, where she received a teaching award for her class on organizational behavior and management. Johnson’s interest in non-profit organizations and corporate social responsibility added breadth to a program that had previously focused mainly on for-profit corporations. Johnson developed seminar courses on corporate social responsibility and non-profit organizations and led another OS course innovation—Advanced Research Teams—in a project on organizational identity and transformation. Launched in the fall of 2005, Advanced Research Teams exposed OS students to an intensive, specialized research project. While performing preliminary research for Johnson’s investigation of the sustainability initiative at botanical gardens, students traveled to Chicago, Washington, and New York to interview botanical gardens staff members about their sustainability efforts.
During his interim term as director, Winter helped to successfully pilot the OS Honors program. Two rising seniors — Melissa Beras and Kate Wheeler — had been selected as the inaugural honors students in the winter of 2003. During the 2004-2005 academic year they completed a sequence that every honors student now follows: Research throughout the fall term of the senior year, and thesis writing, defense, and presentation during the winter term. The pilot was a success, and Beras and Wheeler graduated as the department’s first two honors students in the winter of 2005. The OS Honors program added a faculty honors coordinator and regular honors group meetings to enhance peer-to-peer support throughout the process.
OS secured a significant boost during the 2004-2005 year when David Barger provided the program with a $2 million endowed chair, named the Barger Family Professorship. A Michigan alumnus and charter member of the OS Leadership Committee, Barger’s goal was to ensure that OS would have a distinguished organizational scholar as its director. This gift was evidence not just of Barger’s generosity but of his belief that strong leadership and a clear vision are crucial to running any type of organization, including an academic program. Richard Price was named the first Barger Family Professor, effective September 2005, when he returned from sabbatical leave. Price presented his inaugural lecture as Barger Family Professor, “Social Innovators as Leaders,” in winter 2006.
As OS continued to develop innovative programs, it achieved recognition from the College and the student government. In October 2004, the dean’s office presented OS with the LSA Departmental Award for Contribution to Undergraduate Initiative for its rigorous academic content, recruitment of faculty, and development of strong ties with external organizations for research opportunities and internships. The department received the Departmental Excellence Award the following spring from the LSA Student Government based on student nominations (and again during the fall 2012 term). Student demand also grew. In January 2005, 146 students — almost three times the program capacity — applied for the upcoming academic year and the admitted cohort size increased by 10 percent.
Although the program’s faculty was small, its excellence was recognized with several awards for both teaching and scholarship. In 2006, Owen-Smith received the National Science Foundation Early Career Award and a major research grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. These grants were especially meaningful to the OS community because some of the pilot data that supported Owen-Smith’s grant applications were collected with the help of OS majors. In 2008, Owen-Smith received the Henry Russel Award, a University-wide honor that recognizes exceptional scholarship and conspicuous teaching ability. Johnson was selected as one of three national winners of the 2007 Hiett Prize in the Humanities for her research on the Paris Opera. The prize, sponsored by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, honors “young scholars whose work in the humanities shows extraordinary promise and has a significant public or applied component related to cultural concerns.”
OS also continued to expand its alumni programming. The OS Alumni Committee was established in 2006 to engage alumni and to provide an infrastructure for alumni activity. The group planned alumni weekends, alumni/student career panels, and regional alumni gatherings, and developed an alumni mentoring program for current students. In 2007 Barry Blattman, managing partner at Brookfield Asset Management, was appointed chair of the Organizational Studies Leadership Committee.
The Barger Leadership Institute
In fall 2007, Organizational Studies dedicated the Barger Leadership Institute (BLI), an important complement to the OS academic program aimed at creating organizational leaders by providing leadership learning experiences for U-M students. OSLC member David Barger provided the founding gift for the BLI, which included an endowed chair for the director. OSLC members Barry Blattman, Jamie Sprayregen, and Joe Kaplan also made significant gifts to launch the program. The BLI hired Tiffany Purnell in October 2007 as coordinator to implement the various streams of programming for OS undergraduates.
The BLI’s initial programming focused on student funding opportunities: global scholarships, global internship fellowships, and research fellowships, which provided funding on a competitive basis to OS majors to encourage leadership and global learning. Building on the energy from the original OS JetBlue awards, these fellowships provided support for study abroad beyond the original London School of Economics program. The BLI also launched a speaker series, “A Conversation With…,” which provided students the opportunity to meet organizational leaders in an informal setting. Barger gave the inaugural speech at the BLI’s dedication in October 2007.
The scope of the BLI’s programming expanded greatly over the next several years. A visitors’ program was launched in 2009, and the BLI hosted four scholars, including Robert Hooijberg, a professor at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, and Jin Nam Choi, a professor at Seoul National University. The BLI also launched a new program aimed at increasing faculty involvement through the funding of faculty-student research projects on leadership, in which undergraduate students played a key role. One example of a funded research team was Mark Mizruchi’s project, “The Changing Nature of Leadership in the American Corporate Elite.” Another project, directed by Michael Bastedo of the School of Education, examined the charismatic leadership of presidents of private colleges and its effects on organizational performance. The faculty-student research program continues to be offered regularly, resulting in funded projects on topics such as ethical leadership, community environmental and public health movements, and social dynamics in organizations and their relation to innovation.
In an effort to engage younger students and non-OS majors, the BLI implemented the Leadership Fellows program in fall 2010. The BLI solicited Fellows nominations from various units across campus and invited those nominated to participate in a series of not-for-credit workshops facilitated by faculty and aimed at developing student leadership skills. Fellows also received access to the funding sources within the BLI. The program was expanded the following year from one term to a full academic year. Fellows wishing to remain active in the BLI were invited to apply for the newly designed Ambassadors Program, in which students serve as mentors to BLI Fellows, participate in workshops as co-facilitators, and work on a project to benefit the community. Working with OSLC member Mike Dulworth, the BLI in 2011 created an opportunity for the first ambassadors to participate in a capstone shadowing experience in the San Francisco Bay area. Ambassadors observed leaders of companies in technology, strategy, consulting, and venture capitalism. As of this writing, the Barger Leadership Institute had reached more than 300 students campus-wide, and its programs continued to grow.
The Continued Development of Organizational Studies
In 2008, Price was reappointed as the Barger Family Professor and director of Organizational Studies, effective through the 2009-2010 academic year. During this period, Price was instrumental in the hiring of three new faculty members. In September 2008, Stephen M. Garcia was named assistant professor. A social psychologist with a Ph.D. from Princeton University, Garcia taught a course on negotiation which became a popular seminar for OS students. His research involved the dynamics of competition in organizations, which he focused on in small research teams with OS majors. Garcia also taught the OS core course, Inside Organizations. Continuing the OS tradition of teaching excellence, Garcia was later recognized for his innovative teaching of this course, in which students used the principles of competition to raise more than $20,000 for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit as part of their final project.
Two additional appointments during the 2009-2010 academic year brought greater breadth to the faculty and curriculum. Elizabeth A. Armstrong, a sociologist with a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, focused on higher education, gender and sexuality, social movements, and the sociology of culture. Armstrong led an advanced research team that examined data from a study she had conducted of a women’s floor in a dormitory, and she taught a seminar on the organization of college life. Michael T. Heaney, a political scientist with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, helped to expand the breadth of liberal arts fields represented in OS. Heaney has taught seminars and led research teams on networking, interest groups, and social movements. He also assumed leadership of the honors program, and mentored the thesis projects of several OS students each year. In 2010-2011, OS hired its first historian, Sebastian Prange, who had received his Ph.D. from the University of London and was hired jointly with the Department of History. Prange, whose focus was on the history of trade in the Indian Ocean region, spent only one year in the program, but he helped OS extend its reach across the social sciences, as well as its cooperative relations with other LSA departments.
In response to increased demand for courses from students who were not majors in the program, OS introduced lower-level courses in 2009. The first such course, Organizations and Society, was taught by Jason Owen-Smith. This class, which was cross-listed with the Department of Sociology, introduced first- and second-year students to organizational theory and practice. Other courses in this series include classes on leadership, political organizing and activism, and proposed courses on nonprofit organizations and sustainability. These 200-level courses have allowed OS to reach a broader pool of students and to build a pipeline for applicants to the program.
The year 2010 brought changes in OS leadership. After more than a decade working to develop the program, Price stepped down as director in summer 2010. In the fall Dan Denison — chairman and founding partner of Denison Consulting and professor of management and organization at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland — became the OSLC Leadership Committee chair. Jason Owen-Smith assumed the position of interim director for the next two years. Owen-Smith also became director of the Barger Leadership Institute and Barger Leadership Institute Professor (a second faculty chair endowed by David Barger). Owen-Smith continued to reach out to a wider audience of University students to expand the lower-level OS courses as well as the Barger Leadership Fellows program. As part of LSA’s sophomore initiative, Owen-Smith launched a two-semester introductory leadership sequence offered to freshman and sophomores in fall 2012. In the first term, Leadership and Collaboration featured academic readings, leader profiles, and practical exercises to examine the factors associated with good leadership. In the second component of the sequence, Practicum in Leadership and Collaboration, students implemented and evaluated projects proposed in the first semester.
Owen-Smith also added Sara Soderstrom to the OS faculty. Soderstrom received undergraduate and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from the U-M College of Engineering, and after working as a consultant for McKinsey and Company, she earned a Ph.D. from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and served as a postdoctoral fellow at Michigan’s Erb Institute. Soderstrom introduced courses on sustainability and the natural environment, and she taught Advanced Research Methods.
Owen-Smith continued to develop OS’s strong connection with its alumni with the creation of the OS Career Exploration and Preparation Series — an idea piloted by OS advisor Cathy Philbin and developed by OS’s key administrator, Melissa Eljamal, who had assumed this position in 2007. Previously taught under the mini-course Exploring Careers in OS, these events featured OS and other Michigan alumni from fields such as law, public service, public health, consulting, social justice and nonprofit work, finance, and banking to help students understand how the study of organizations has enhanced their work. The series also included career and internship preparation workshops. This program has provided opportunities for alumni to serve as mentors for current students. It has also helped to provide network ties for students that have proven useful as they investigate career opportunities.
By the time Owen-Smith assumed the directorship, the OS program had developed an increasingly broad and distinguished faculty. Owen-Smith had become the program’s first tenured professor in 2008. Garcia and Johnson earned tenure in 2011. And Armstrong had arrived at Michigan with tenure in 2010. These appointments provided not just distinction but stability and strength for the future.
In July 2012, Mark Mizruchi, professor of sociology and business administration, became the Barger Family Professor and director of the OS Program. Mizruchi had served on the OS Advisory Committee since its inception. His initiatives focused on planning for the renovation of Dennison into the new academic building of the future (now Weiser Hall), a restructuring of the OS Advisory Committee, the development of new funding opportunities within OS for students (such as the Research Encouragement and Development Award), and the development of the International Education Initiative, a program designed to provide OS students with opportunities to study abroad. Working with the OS faculty, the LSA administration, and the program’s Leadership Committee, Mizruchi also began plans to expand the size of the program, to ensure that more U-M students would have an opportunity to earn an Organizational Studies degree. As part of this effort, the program added three new faculty members—Jeremy Levine, Ashley Harrell, and Steven Samford—and prepared to hire additional faculty to accommodate the growth of students.
Organizational Studies continues to thrive as an intellectually rigorous interdisciplinary program dedicated to the intensive theoretical, empirical, and experiential study of organizations in society. It has maintained its commitment to an engaged community of undergraduate learning and is dedicated to preparing its students to participate as leaders in the complex organizational world. Organizational Studies and the Barger Leadership Institute have found new ways to reach out to broader populations on the campus as it educates global citizens of the future.