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Revisiting resistance to change at the university. An interpretative approach

By Alain Vas and Christophe Lejeune


Generally perceived as a negative phenomenon to overcome, resistance to change (RTC) has been discussed widely in the organization literature. However, opting for a manichean view of RTC seems to be simplistic. In this paper we focus on exploring professors ' reactions to change induced by the Bologna reform at the university. Based on 38 in-depth interviews and using Pettigrew's framework (context – content – process), we observe that reactions to change are mostly ambivalent, containing both positive and negative representations. This leads us to introduce the concept of reluctance to change as a result of the ambivalent reactions. Going further in our exploration, we emphasize some main elements that explain the negative representations: a lack of shared vision, an uncertain political context and a perceived lack of resources. We also emphasize incompatibilities that nurture ambivalence: a university culture characterized by stability, slowness, academic freedom, incremental and consensus-based change, is not adapted to the Bologna reform, which occurs with an overall sense of urgency, a rapid rhythm of adaptation, an imposed and complex process. This paper shows that university is not a simple and homogenous organization since it is composed of different subcultures. Based on these results, we suggest university managers develop a common sense-making and take reluctance to change into account as an indicator of future potential brakes in the Bologna process

Year: 2004
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