Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Linda Eisenmann

Second Advisor

Zelda Gamson

Third Advisor

Frances A. Maher


This study examined the institutional viability of three interdisciplinary women's studies programs in public universities to determine whether interdisciplinary programs are marginal or fragile. The research question has three related parts: (a) What factors influence assessments of institutional viability? (b) do assessments of institutional viability vary significantly according to differences in program structure? and (c) what strategies have emerged to maintain program viability over the next ten or 20 years?

A conceptual framework of three domains was utilized in this qualitative case study: (a) program history, (b) organizational effectiveness of program, and (c) alliances built by program leaders. Organizational effectiveness of programs of different structures with respect to faculty lines was assessed using dimensions derived in a study of institutions of higher education by Cameron (1978). In Phase One of the study a survey of 34 women's studies program directors confirmed these dimensions as appropriate indicators for assessing viability of women's studies programs. The dimensions are student satisfaction, faculty satisfaction, quality of faculty, ability to acquire resources, organizational health, and alliances. In Phase Two of the study, three programs were selected for in depth case studies. Data from documents and interviews with program director, faculty members, dean and provost at each site were analyzed to develop an emerging social construct of "institutional viability" for interdisciplinary programs in specific university contexts.

The findings showed that interdisciplinary structure was not a barrier to program development. With respect to all the dimensions the three programs were perceived as effective, and had achieved long-term viability. No program was marginal or fragile. Two programs without faculty lines or joint appointments face more uncertainties with respect to ability to acquire resources and organizational health. Thus there is minor variation in viability assessments. Other findings were that (a) the leadership styles of program directors contributed to program success, (b) generational differences among faculty on the place of gender theory in women's studies may influence program structure in the future, and (c) achieving institutional viability is an ongoing process.