Some other specific
ways that we achieved a more equal power structure included:
dividing up leadership responsibilities for work tasks
(such as conducting research for a case study); rotating
the responsibility of forming our meeting agendas and
maintaining our project task list; occasionally meeting
outside Johns office in a more neutral setting (such
as the library, a lounge, or outside); and assigning each
other background reading material for a monthly discussion
about public disputes, conflict resolution and mediation.
On the lighter side, we occasionally switched chairs in
John's office so that Meredith was behind the desk. The
reaction of surprise and curiosity from people walking
by John's office was illuminating.
of the Partnership Paradigm
Inherent in any faculty-research assistant working relationship
is the difference in each persons expertise and
in the long-term stake in the faculty member's work. For
these reasons, it is often appropriate for the faculty
member to be more directive. This structural difference
can easily result in a power imbalance. It is a challenge
for a student to take the initiative with a professor,
due to strategic reasons grounded in acculturation to
be deferential in a student-faculty relationship. If a
research assistant comes across as pushy or unbending,
such an impression could have negative consequences if
he/she takes a course from the faculty member or if the
negative impression is shared with other teachers. It
is important for the faculty member to understand that
a student may have limits on his/her time and other professional
development priorities. In a partnership, these limitations
must be both recognized and respected. Mutual respect
is an important way to create a balance in power.
We deliberately worked on this power issue. John's faculty
position allowed him to learn of and begin developing
new projects in public dispute resolution before talking
with Meredith. These new efforts necessitated joint discussion
on whether to shift resources (research time and writing)
from one project to another, or to work outside of the
RA-faculty arrangement (i.e., by John alone or by John
and other colleagues). Although we mate these changes
openly, the imbalance of John's greater background information
and his responsibility for the long-term development of
research, teaching ant writing limited the mutuality of
our partnership work. This left John feeling at several
points that he was being more directive in the relationship
and undercutting partnership paradigm values. While Meredith
felt this was not a barrier, it is important to be aware
of the structural limits of a partnership approach to
A colleague noted that a difference of perception could
complicate a power imbalance. For instance, if a RA-faculty
pair commits to work more in partnership, and the faculty
member believes it is being accomplished but the RA does
not share that impression, the RA is in a doubly difficult
position. Thus, one of our recommendations relates to
how RAs have opportunities to share their impressions
of their work arrangements.
Another fruitful question from a RA colleague was "What's
in it for faculty?" Her observation was that it seemed
while there was great benefit to the student RA (increased
power, learning and challenge), the benefit to the professor
would be moderate at best. Indeed, if a faculty person
is concerned about sharing/giving up power and is more
interested in gaining limited assistance on particular
projects, a partnership paradigm is not worthwhile. For
John, his interest was to express principles of work relationships
in general, to try a new arrangement in a low risk setting,
and to educate himself.
The creation of the partnership took significant time.
Once the faculty-driven model is abandoned, many large
and small decisions are open for discussion. True joint
decision making is time consuming We kept an openness
to revise priorities, handle new information, and decide
who took the lead on a particular task or project. While
some of the time for joint decision-making could have
been telescoped (e.g., making larger decisions earlier
on so that fewer procedural questions needed to be decided
later), we did not consider making hard definitions of
roles early on.
We found that our flexibility made us more productive,
but we both sometimes felt pressed to set clear deadlines
for specific tasks and work products for each other's
review. The central challenge for John was how best to
balance the exploration of and learning about a partnership
paradigm with the specific short-term demands for teaching,
research, writing and program development required by
his department. Meredith initially had to spend more time
learning about John's area of expertise so she could feel
confident writing and making decisions in a new subject
One benefit we think we can offer is our experience (above)
and recommendations (below) to reduce the planning time
needed for other faculty-RA pairs. For instance, in a
seminar at UNC-CH before our colleagues, they confirmed
our sense of being "trailblazers" and we sensed
that offering some guidelines from our experience would
make it easier for others to apply and adapt our model.
As much as we think we have made our RA-faculty relationship
more equal, there were several structural factors which
limited a truly equal partnership. Some have been mentioned
above: the faculty member having greater expertise; faculty
having more time and more responsibility in the long run;
and the RA's needs for academic development. John's larger
array of interests and needs were not all brought into
the partnership. For instance, while John informed Meredith
of his teaching schedule, and encouraged her to observe
and give feedback, there were no teaching elements brought
into the partnership.
Similar Social Backgrounds
Heterogeneity of personal backgrounds and attributes could
be a challenge for enacting a partnership approach to
RA-faculty work. We believe our relatively similar backgrounds
and personal characteristics made our experiment easier.
We share the same racial and socioeconomic class background,
and both of us had experience working in government positions
in Washington, DC. We are very culturally similar, which
may be an important factor in the ease of initiating a
partnership paradigm for RA-faculty work. While Meredith
did not see public dispute resolution as being of special
interest for her degree and career development, she saw
it as complementary to her substantive interests in education
and youth. Specifically, she already had a positive regard
for John's substantive area through a friend who worked
in the dispute resolution field.
experiment in a partnership paradigm was formally completed
in April, 1997 when Merediths research assistantship
ended. However, we agreed to continue to prepare this
article, and have conducted presentations on this topic
both to the MPA program, and to a University-wide audience.
Despite our modest experience, we will boldly offer recommendations
for other RA-faculty pairs interested in a partnership
working relationship. We offer our recommendations in
a general form to make them applicable across a range
of academic disciplines and professional studies. Specific
steps are summarized in Table 2.
in Making a RA-Faculty Partnership Work
1) Determine if a more equal working relationship is important
for academic and professional development.
2) Establish a policy of voluntary RA-faculty assignments.
3) Hold an orientation/ exploration session on effective
RA-faculty working relationships with an option of working
in a partnership arrangement.
4) Individual RA-faculty pairs determine their procedural
and content goals for a working relationship.
5) In a partnership relationship, each RA-faculty pair
should hold periodic feedback sessions on the effectiveness
of their working relationship separate from the content
of their work. We recommend such sessions twice a semester.
6) At least once a year, assess the experiences of all
RA-faculty pairs working in a partnership arrangement
and share the assessment with all faculty and students.
Whether to Create a Partnership: Will it Achieve Pedagogical
and Professional Goals?
potential benefit of a partnership paradigm fits neatly
with many professional graduate programs in general and
changes in the workplace in particular. Because the UNC-CH
MPA program combines classroom teaching, formal and informal
seminars with practitioners, internships and a major research
project, a partnership paradigm enhances the student's
educational and professional development. Since more workplaces
are less hierarchical and more team oriented, experience
in a partnership paradigm enacts collaborative values
and offers experience relevant to career-long needs. Similarly,
a more collegial working relationship is realistic for
MPA careers involving cross-function coordination; problem-solving
involving public servants, citizens and private interests;
and multi-agency cooperation to address interrelated needs
or problems. The paradigm also challenges faculty to embody
the values of cooperation or CO-management that are now
dominant in management and organizational development
Other graduate and professional programs may have different
goals and more traditional postgraduate work environments.
Thus the relevance of a partnership paradigm for RA-faculty
work depends on the goals and values of the graduate or
professional degree program.
project of Campus Conflict Resolution
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo
to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.
send comments, bug reports, etc. to the Editor.
© 2000-2005 William C. Warters & WSU,
All rights reserved.