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Colección: La Educación
Número: (118) II
Año: 1994


Virtually all texts that pertain to Latin American higher education work from quite similar initial premises. The lack of funding, the relatively low number of full-time faculty, the massification of the student body, the dilemmas of research, and a host of other “social facts” form a base with which authors begin their analyses. As with social science research in general, these analyses derive from a mixture of methodologies—historical, quantitative, and economic, to name a few—and diverse theoretical frameworks.

In a helpful article, Paulston (1992) has argued that researchers have used four overarching theoretical frameworks to discuss Latin American education. He labels these frameworks, “structural-functionalist,” “radical functionalist,” “interpretive,” and “radical interpretive.” With regard to interpretive views Paulston comments, “Interpretive representations of Latin American education, although they lack a strong research tradition, definitely constitute an idea whose time has come” (193). If we were to use an interpretive framework and methodology to analyze Latin American higher education, what kinds of questions would be asked, how would they be asked, and perhaps most importantly, how would they be analyzed?

In this text I use an interpretive, or what I shall call a cultural, framework to answer those questions and to analyze the problems and challenges that currently confront one Latin American university. My purpose is twofold. I first explicate how we might use a cultural framework and methodology of organizations to interpret postsecondary institutions in Latin America. I then suggest the implications for such a framework with regard to decision making and strategy.

Accordingly, in the first part of the paper I define the terms pertaining to organizational culture and apply them to Latin American postsecondary organizations. I then offer a case study of one institution to highlight how we might analyze the activities of such an organization by using an interpretive framework. The implications follow, and I conclude with suggestions for further research. * William G. Tierney is Professor and Senior Scientist of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University.