Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

First Advisor

Laura Bostick


With sensemaking as a framework, the researcher used document analysis and semi-structured interviews to examine the main institutional logics, culture, and values used in communication from university leaders related to changes in response to crisis. Qualitative data from analysis of written communication from the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic and interviews with presidents and chief communication officers (CCOs) were consolidated to address the research questions: (1) What sensemaking strategies do university leaders employ to frame organizational events and actions? and (2) Are institutional logics and culture used within leadership communication related to university presidents’ framing of the change process, and if so, how are they related?

Participants were limited to the presidents and chief communication officers of institutions within a large university system in the southern United States. Focused interviews with six university presidents and four CCOs and written communications from eight universities comprised the data set. The following conclusions were drawn from the findings:

  • Through content analysis of 118 artifacts (presidential communication issued between March 2020 and June 2020), the researcher found eight individual codes used to communicate changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic: Health and Safety, Caring, Retention, Student Centered, Challenge, Change, Online Instruction, and Continuity of Learning.
  • Interviews with university presidents and CCOs yielded data that coalesced in six themes: Caring, Change, Retention, Reaction, Values, and Sensemaking.
  • In interviews, CCOs and presidents stated that they were aware of the presence of institutional values in leadership communication related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes it necessitated; however, the majority did not indicate that the inclusion of values and culture was conscious.

The diagnostic data gathered in this study may be used in a prescriptive manner to craft communication related to changes in response to crisis. Based on the findings, concrete and actionable recommendations are provided on how to use sensemaking in communication to help stakeholders comprehend the necessary changes when crisis is encountered.