Institutional Culture and Identity: Dominican Ethos and Leadership Identity Development

Institutional Culture and Identity: Dominican Ethos and Leadership Identity Development

Suzanne Carol Otte (Edgewood College, USA) and M. J. Best (Edgewood College, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2551-6.ch012
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Our Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership aims to develop leaders whose fundamental leadership identity is grounded in the Catholic, Dominican tradition. The values, studium, and COR questions are detailed as part of the Dominican ethos. The chapter describes a process by which the comprehensive exams were replaced with a qualitative program assessment focused on building three identities: academic writer, scholarly researcher, and an Edgewood Leader. The Edgewood Leader identity is built upon the Dominican ethos and is the focus of this study. Three models of assessment and the literature on leadership development were used to implement this assessment system. The findings related to leadership identity growth are detailed. Conclusions regarding program themes, strengths and weaknesses are described. The discussion connects the Dominican culture and heritage operating at the institution and the leadership development literature to the program assessment system currently in place.
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Doctoral Assessment In Transition

The objective of our study is to propose a model for qualitative program assessment, one that replaces the comprehensive exams in doctoral education, and to delineate the results, difficulties, and benefits we found in creating a system that more closely aligns with our Dominican ethos. We present a model that also provides an opportunity for students to engage in metacognition regarding their identity development and can provide a program with valuable data to engage in program improvement.

The comprehensive exam is a commonly understood element of summative assessment in American doctoral programs and serves as a critical gateway. One main purpose of the comprehensive exam is to identify that a student has internalized the requisite content knowledge and skills prior to engaging in the research and dissertation phase of a doctoral program. However, over the past 50 years, attrition rates for doctoral degrees have stayed at about 50% (Dorn & Papalwis, 1997; Golde, 2005; Lovitts, 2008). In addition, the sources of attrition do not include comprehensive exams (Austin et al., 2009; Golde, 2005). The combination of the attrition rates and the sources of attrition led us to question the predictive value of the comprehensive exams, as others have (Cassuto, 2012; Furstenburg & Nicholas-Casebolt, 2001).

Through focus groups and online surveys, we established that students in our program had several issues with the comprehensive exam. Students found the comprehensive exam time consuming and questioned the purpose of it. They felt they were simply regurgitating information. Students found the comprehensive exam disruptive because it took place after they began to immerse themselves in their dissertation research. Further, the comprehensive exam did not serve as a gatekeeper. Students could successfully complete the comprehensive exams, and yet not complete the research sequence and/or dissertation. The literature corroborates our experience (e.g. Austin et al., 2009; Cassuto, 2012; Furstenburg & Nicholas-Casebolt, 2001; Golde, 2005).

We recognized some serious limitations to the comprehensive exams and revised our summative assessment to a) be formative, b) document and encourage student growth in leader, writer, and researcher identities, and c) root the growth in student leadership identity in the Catholic, Dominican ethos imbedded in the College. This formative assessment has a foundation in leadership, supports existing program components, includes a portfolio, and embodies the Dominican ethos of the institution. In establishing it, we sought to assure our students, colleagues, and outside accreditors that this replacement for the comprehensive exam was scholarly, rigorous, relevant, and aligned with our organizational culture.

Our organizational culture and the formative assessment of our doctoral students are based on the mission of Edgewood College. That mission is stated as being “rooted in the Dominican tradition and seeking to engage students within a community of learners committed to building a just and compassionate world. The College educates students for a meaningful personal and a reflective professional life of ethical leadership, service, and a lifelong search toward truth” (Edgewood College, n.d.). This mission is the impetus for the doctoral program’s focus on supporting student growth in three identities. Those identities are academic writer, scholarly researcher, and Edgewood leader.

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