Date of Award

Spring 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies



Committee Chair

John Meyer

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Kathryn Anthony

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Marcus Coleman

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Steven Venette

Committee Member 4 School


Committee Member 5

Wendy Atkins-Sayre

Committee Member 5 School



Given the nature of differing risks that can damage higher education institutions, perception from leaders’ perspectives is crucial in viewing organizational behavior regarding potential damage to the system. This case study investigated how a university staff perceives, communicates, and organizes about risk. Thirty interviews (27 one-on-one, 2 via email, and 1 over the phone) with campus leaders sought to identify how those in a higher education institution collectively communicates elements of risk within and beyond its environment while potentially forming relationships in attempts to mitigate it. An applied thematic analysis revealed that informants perceived risk as a system issue to overcome that extended beyond one’s departmental duties. Risk was also predominantly communicated as resulting from political, social, and cultural voices rather than from naturalistic events. Finally, risk was organized through collaborative partnerships between internal and external stakeholders seen largely through the role of boundary spanners at the university. Findings implicate that risk in a 21st century higher education institution is perceived as an opportunity more than a danger, and such responses organize the concept through a general systems approach in which each leader is keenly aware of a larger organizational purpose, their role in fulfilling purpose, and the ability to remain open to a changing environment in higher education.

Keywords: Risk, Organizational Communication, General Systems Theory