First Advisor

Sherril Gelmon

Term of Graduation

Fall 2008

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Administration and Policy


Public Administration




Public universities and colleges -- United States -- Organization -- Management, Public universities and colleges -- United States -- Safety measures, Public universities and colleges -- United States -- Business management



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, ix, 217 pages)


The American research university is composed of two related but relatively independent structures. The academic core composed of faculty guilds, has the primary responsibility for academic content and quality. The administrative shell is responsible for mobilizing and distributing resources that support the work of the guilds and it protects guilds from harmful external forces. Part of the complex relationship between the academic core and the administrative shell is enabling the creation of internal quality through arranging institutional conditions to prepare resources to better manage risk. The need for research universities to develop infrastructures regarding environmental health and safety (EHS) to inform decision-making in regard to managing resource risk has been reported.

High Reliability Organization (HRO) theory has emerged out of the study of complex, tightly coupled, high-risk organizations that operate under difficult conditions with very low rates of accidents. There are five organizational characteristics consistently observed across the high-risk sectors studied. This descriptive research extends the application of HRO theory to public research universities in order to determine organizational arrangements that affect university performance based on the five HRO characteristics.

Data collection instruments included (1) a web-based survey sent to 165 EHS directors at U.S. public research universities, and (2) a Website Review Protocol to collect institutional website information from a subset of survey respondents. The dimensions of data collected included organizational relationships, safety governance, HRO capacity, and safety message framing.

The research was guided by five sub-problem tasks. The final task included the analysis of select nominal scale variables from the findings of previous sub-problem tasks and other survey data using Ragin's (2006) Qualitative Comparative Analysis software to determine the presence or absence of each variable under conditions of either presence or absence of high reliability.

The findings suggest that the presence of certain organizational arrangements can be linked to either high or low HRO performance in universities. Conclusions are drawn that the application of HRO theory to universities demonstrates utility for examining these complex institutions and assessing various social structures and social actions as predictors of high reliability.


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