Higher education in post-apartheid South Africa has experienced a relatively rapid changing landscape (Cloete, Maassen, Fehnel, & Moja, 2006). As such, the organizational environment in which university administrators operate is an increasingly important area of study. This study is grounded in organizational theory and adopts an open systems perspective, which emphasizes the reciprocal influence of the organization with its environment (Scott & Davis, 2007). More specifically, this study's theoretical framework is embedded in environmental enactment (Weick, 1979). Environmental enactment refers to individuals constructing, rearranging, singling out, and demolishing features of their environment for the purpose of dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity (Johnson & Fauske, 2000; Weick, 1979).
This study examined how university administrators made sense of, or constructed, their university's organizational environment by investigating their reported experiences concerning critical, important, and memorable incidents, and how they selectively perceived and attended to their organizational environment in the post-apartheid era, particularly in the context of institutions undergoing transformation. The following overarching research question guided this study: What do university administrators in an institution undergoing post-apartheid transformation focus on in the university environment?
This study employed a qualitative, case study framework that has been influenced by the constructivist paradigm. A case study of one university was conducted and six university administrators who were members of the university's executive management team participated in the study. The primary means of data collection was conducting individual semi-structured interviews with participants. Additional data collection consisted of conducting observations and gathering documents and archival data. Data analysis procedures took place in order to identify and develop themes and generate findings.
Participants identified three major categories of critical, important, and memorable incidents: strikes and clashes, special projects, and the recent merger. The results of this study indicate that participating executive management team members largely focus on disruptions, legitimacy, and personal relationships in their university environment. This study provided the opportunity for a cross-national comparison of Johnson and Fauske's (2000) work on U.S. principals. Consistency with previous research and added dimensions are highlighted.