deep springs and institutional isomorphism
A few days ago, I posted about Deep Springs College’s decision to admit women in 2013. In the comments, “Frances Quarel,” disputed my contention that the decision reflected institutional pressures (i.e., single ed was a much less legitimate organizational form in the 2000s). Essentially, Quarel argued that Deep Springs reflected *no* response to the institutional environment. Quarel correctly notes that the Deep Springs displays very little resemblance to other colleges. So isomorphism is a bad explanation.
My response: theories of isomorphism are usually arguments about resource dependency. In most formulations, the argument is that the more that an organization requires material or symbolic resources, the more it will be susceptible to external pressures for conformity. If you want to establish a university with thousands of students and tons of research grants, you’ll probably need to conform. If you want to let thirteen dudes clean stables and read Plato on a desert ranch, no need to conform. As long as you have a little pot of money, nothing will prevent you from doing your own thing.
So I’d agree with the general thurst of Quarel’s comment. Deep Springs hasn’t conformed much to the higher ed system. But that doesn’t mean that Deep Springs is completely immune to external pressures. The school just has a very low responsiveness to the outside world. The new co-ed policy reflects one of the ways that the college is connected to a broader institutional environment – the association with Telluride and newer cohorts of students, who turn into the alumni who then pressed for change. The emergence of coed education as a taken for granted standard in higher wasn’t hatched in the deserts of California.