External stakeholder salience in the college sector : who and what really counts?
The purpose of this study was to examine how selected senior college leaders perceive the salience of particular external stakeholders, as represented by individuals, companies, associations, sectors or groups. The study also explored leader perceptions of the factors and values that influenced the salience of these stakeholders. The stakeholder salience model (Mitchell, Agle, & Wood, 1997) was applied to investigate which groups and individuals were viewed by college and institute senior leaders as external stakeholders and to determine the salience of these stakeholders as perceived by senior college leaders. This qualitative case study drew on principles of naturalistic inquiry and was situated within an interpretive paradigm. Purposive sampling resulted in ten participants chosen based on their leadership positions within Canadian colleges. Data collection was through semi-structured interviews. A conceptual framework based upon Freeman’s (1984) stakeholder theory and the theory of stakeholder salience (Mitchell et al., 1997) guided the study. The stakeholder salience model (Mitchell et al.), which proposes that the attributes of power, legitimacy and urgency determine stakeholder salience, was applied to the data provided by senior college leaders. The study also examined the values and beliefs of the senior college leaders as they relate to the mission, mandate and priorities of their college. It was found that the Mitchell et al. framework did not fit well to the Canadian public college sector as the leaders did not view salience in a way that is consistent with the elements of the framework. Attempting to limit the study to external stakeholders was problematic as respondents were unable to separate students from their thoughts, answers and examples. Also, the leaders did not describe the elements of stakeholder salience in a way that was congruent with the Mitchell et al. (1997) theory. Most of the participants identified government as the only stakeholder that was truly powerful and yet they believed that many other groups, including students, should have some power. Paradoxically, many of the respondents seemed to feel that government lacked legitimacy due to the political nature of decisions. The findings highlighted the importance of the values held by the senior college leaders as a major factor in stakeholder salience and as an influence in determining institutional priorities. Though this study is based on a limited number of participants, it does raise questions regarding the actions of provincial governments which are generally viewed as problematic for the Canadian college sector. Also, students and industry are central to the college but their power largely depends on voice. The contribution of this research to leadership and educational administration is a greater understanding of the nature and role of stakeholder relationships at the senior college leadership level, as well as greater insight into how senior college leaders think about external stakeholders or, in other words, who and what really counts. Findings of this study may be valuable to senior college leaders who deal and interact with influential external stakeholders. The study also contributed to the higher education field by documenting how senior college leaders perceive the salience of external stakeholders.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorHajnal, Vivian J.
CommitteeRenihan, Patrick J.; Bens, Susan; Claypool, Tim R.; Burgess, David Q.; da Costa, Jose L.
Copyright DateNovember 2014