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    Saybrook University
  Apr 25, 2024
2016-2017 Academic Catalog and Student Handbook 
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2016-2017 Academic Catalog and Student Handbook [Archived Catalog]

Organizational Systems, Ph.D.

Degree Program Overview

The Ph.D. in Organizational Systems (OS) explores organizational systems in their professional and global environments. It develops professionals who want to lead as distinctive members in the forefront of their fields.

Students accomplish this by learning organizational systems and much, much more, which provides a base of knowledge and skills they can use in many settings.  The Ph.D. develops strategic leader-managers who work in challenging situations, who need to identify and address complex problems, and who learn to collaboratively design and implement solutions that make a difference.

Today’s organizations are complex systems. Many have globally-dispersed operations and all, regardless of size, are globally influenced every day.  Thus, organizations must be able to recognize and assess forces that impact them. To thrive, they must mobilize the energy and commitment of their people as co-collaborators, as stakeholders who see themselves as leaders, and as willing participants in transformation as the world’s adaptive demands escalate. Expertise in systems-based leadership and management is essential to meet such demands.

The Ph.D. curriculum equips professionals to meet such demands to envision and support the kind of systemic change needed for organizations to be resilient in their 21st Century milieu and to operate in a sustainable and socially responsive manner. It aids professionals to develop innovative, successful systems that respond to the emerging global needs for sustainability while creating the conditions for all within an organization to contribute to their full potential. 

The program offers flexibility to chart a course of study that fits students’ general or specific areas of interest within the broad focus of organizational systems design and transformation, innovative leadership, collaborative management, distributive organizational behavior, and sustainability and social innovation. As the program expands, healthcare and collaborative management will be emphasized in addition to education.

Currently, four ways to specialize are available:

  • The general curriculum of the Organizational Systems degree, to capitalize on the broad applicability of systems approaches to pursue their management and leadership interests in any setting.
  • The specialization in Leadership of Sustainable Systems, to focus on the challenges of sustainability for any organizational context.
  • The specialization in Educational Leadership, to focus on leadership in the higher education milieu.
  • The specialization in Humane Education, to focus on integrating major aspects of social justice with all levels of formal education. 

Distinctive Features

Systems approaches. Courses cover subjects such as organizational systems design, organizational change models, collaborative systems operations, and applied behavioral science, and systems thinking becomes a hallmark of understanding social systems and situations.

Cross-cutting relevance. The curriculum equips professionals to recognize and create necessary long-lasting social, economic, political, and structural changes by learning how to build responsive solutions with systems-oriented principles and approaches that can adapt and transfer across organizational contexts.

Real-world emphasis.

  • Application-focused. Professionals develop more sophisticated systems analysis and solution-building by applying their high-level theoretical knowledge to work needed in the trenches of current issues and chosen professions.
  • Crossing disciplinary boundaries. The program evolves a culture of recognizing the value of gaining knowledge and practice from multiple disciplines to inform context-specific systems interventions and to be able to communicate across professions.  
  • Change, adaptive innovation, and transformation. Through immersion in systems thinking and analysis, professionals recognize why 21st Century economic, environmental, and social challenges demand innovative leadership to transform people and organizations with adaptive capacities to thrive while changing the way they engage such challenges.   
  • The human-information-technology interface. Professionals learn to use the systems-advantage in assessing and designing information-flows and technical resources to support the efficiency and effectiveness of stakeholders at all levels of organizations and partnerships from local to global. 
  • Collaboration and communication. Professionals apply skills in systems thinking and analysis to drive the design and implementation of collaborative systems for diverse individuals, teams, and organizations to communicate multiple perspectives and approaches to solutions, and to coordinate their routine work and innovative initiatives.

Program Learning Outcomes

Organizational Systems Ph.D. Students will be able to:

  • Assess, design, lead, manage, and evaluate complex organizational change initiatives in their chosen professions, places of work, and/or in the wider global community;
    • Apply systems thinking to analyze fundamental properties and behaviors of social systems and ways to manage or transform them;
    • Apply systems design principles to lead in creating or transforming organizational or other social systems through engaging the community or organization in collaborative model building and action;
    • Operate consistently within a solid framework of individual and collective ethics and social responsibility;
    • Consistently use self-awareness, appreciation of diversity, and constructive dialogue to help build authentic relationships that support collaboration;
    • Design and conduct sophisticated organizational research that employs strong critical analysis in both thinking and writing. 

Program Requirements of all Ph.D. degrees in Organizational Systems

The Ph.D. degree requires a total of 80 credit hours earned in 3 phases.

Phase 1: 56 credits total, distributed across the following:

  • Core Required Content Courses
  • Core Research Sequence (including Writing) Courses
  • Content courses (requirements vary depending on specialization; see below). 

Phase 2: 12 credits

  • Candidacy Qualifying Essays: Three essays, 3 credits each; total 9 credits
  • Practicum: 3 credits

Phase 3:  12 credits - Dissertation

Residential Requirements: Participation in all twice-annual, 5-day residential conferences is required until Dissertation work begins (i.e., until after the completion of the 3 Candidacy Qualifying essays).

Transfer Credit Policy:  Transfer credits, to be considered, must have been (a) awarded by a regionally accredited university, (b) earned at the graduate level (master’s or doctoral), (c) earned outside of an already-awarded degree or certificate credential, (d) earned at the grade level of B or better and (e) evaluated by the Program Director as equivalent to a degree course for which a substitution is appropriate. While transfer credit policy may vary by degree and specialization, unless applying for the doctoral degree completion program, no more than 9 credits may be transferred.  See the Ph.D. Program Guidebook.

See the Ph.D. Program Guidebook for policy unique to this Ph.D. program and any specialization-specific policy.


Below are the course requirements for the Ph.D. in Organizational Systems (without declared specialization). 

Total: 80 Credits