Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education



First Advisor

Janet Johnson


Higher education has the power to facilitate social and economic mobility, as well as academic and personal growth for individuals, families, and communities. The problem is not located in the potential of institutions, but rather in some of the economic and social forces that influence the operations and actions in higher education, such as Academic Capitalism (Slaughter & Rhoades, 1997) and neoliberal ideology (Harvey, 2006; Giroux, 2002). This study sought to understand the forces at play that draw institutions away from the free thinking and transformative power of higher education and how participants recognize and respond to systemic issues in higher education. A qualitative phenomenological research design (Smith et al., 2009) was used to explore the lived experiences of professional staff who identify as women and how they arrive at and engage in change work to support students across campus.

This project was guided by the following research questions: (1) How do participants make sense of their experiences of change work in higher education? and (2) In what ways do participants describe their efforts to persist in their attempts to influence change? The findings of this study suggest that the common experiences of change work include relational work, emotional labor, pressures of evaluation and relevance and experiences of both empowerment and disempowerment. The strategies of survival described by participants in this study centered on personal agency and building partnerships across the institution and with external partners.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.