Date of Award


Degree Type



Education and Human Services

First Advisor

Hansman, Catherine

Subject Headings

State universities and colleges -- Public relations -- United States, Urban universities and colleges -- Public relations -- United States, Community and college -- United States, Interorganizational relations -- United States, Universities and colleges -- United States -- Administration, Communication in organizations, university community engagement boundary spanner role conflict


Universities are increasingly seeking partnerships with external organizations for student learning and inter-organizational access to resources (Austin, 2010 Sandmann, 2006). The focus of such partnerships includes employee training, business development, affordable housing, community schools, community health centers, and other projects of reciprocal value to both the universities and community partners. Such work is frequently labeled university-community engagement (Carnegie Foundation, 2007). University staff members who build and sustain partnerships between their institutions and the broader community are referred to as boundary spanners (AASCU, 2004). Working as agents of the institution, a boundary spanner must be capable of working both sides of the university-community organizational boundary to bring together people and resources and to move toward outcomes sought by both parties. Institutions frequently employ formally sanctioned, full-time university staff to serve as boundary spanners. It is common, though not exclusive, that such staff is administrative or allied staff versus tenure track faculty or academic unit administrators. Even in those institutions fully committed to the principles of community engagement, it seems inevitable that boundary spanners attempting to design mutually beneficial relationships between separate entities will experience role conflict as they seek to align diverse community and institutional agendas. The challenges of creating such partnerships are even greater for urban universities that operate in complex environments. A constructivist grounded theory study was carried out to explore role conflict experienced by non-academic university staff members who work across organizational boundaries in urban universities to address the needs of both their host institutions and their communities. Key findings of the study included that (1) the experience of role conflict is an integral part of the boundary spanner role, (2) individual boundary spanners' responses

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