Understanding Alumni Responses to an Organizational Scandal

Open Access
Eury, Jennifer Lynn
Graduate Program:
Higher Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 25, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Robert M Hendrickson, Dissertation Advisor
  • Neal H Hutchens, Committee Chair
  • Dennis Arnold Gioia, Committee Member
  • Linda K Trevino, Committee Member
  • alumni
  • scandal
  • identification
  • affect
  • qualitative study
In this qualitative study, I adopted a grounded theory approach to understand how alumni respond to organizational scandal and how organizational scandal is associated with the expressed affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses and identification statements of alumni. I examined alumni responses to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State; I analyzed a subsample (of approximately 1,500) from more than 25,000 e-mails and summaries of telephone conversations that came from more than 14,000 alumni, directed at various organizational officials, in the year following the scandal (November 2011 – December 2012). I also considered the results from two of the university’s alumni opinion surveys and six issues of the university’s alumni magazine. I found that alumni expressed a wide range of emotions and cognitions—positive, negative, and disparate—during the year following the scandal. Alumni targeted their expressions toward inside agents of the institution, outside “enemies,” and the institution. They also expressed unconditional identification (and supportive intentions and actions), selective identification (and supportive and non-supportive intentions and actions expressed in the same communications), conditional identification (and conditional intentions and actions), and disidentification (and non-supportive intentions and actions). I found that alumni tended to express negative emotions and cognitions toward inside agents of the institution and outside “enemies” so that, in general, they could maintain complete, partial, or conditional identification with the institution and its ideals.