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Volume 2, Number 3, May 2002

Extending Campus Conflict Resolution Efforts Beyond the Mediation Table (page 2 of 6)

Conflict Resolution Skill Training and Coaching

Some of the most valuable work that campus mediation personnel do is to provide conflict resolution skill training. This often involves training a diverse group of volunteer mediators from across the campus community. This training can build valuable new networks, and lead to increased levels of volunteer self-esteem and the regular use of these skills in volunteer's daily lives. Many mediation programs have branched out by offering training to other sectors of the campus community. Other departments on campus may also provide training support. Conflict resolution and mediation training has been offered to summer college preparedness programs for disadvantaged youth, new student orientations, residential life staff trainings, student organizations, fraternities and sororities, human resource programs, peer helper programs, faculty professional development seminars, campus police, noncredit and credit short-courses, teaching assistant training programs, department chair workshops, and more.

Conflict Coaching/Problem-Solving for One

Individuals already embroiled in a conflict can also benefit from training on how to resolve their disputes effectively and nonviolently. Informal conflict resolution coaching is provided by many ombuds offices and EAP services, and by a growing number of campus mediation programs. This kind of one-on-one training makes sense because in many cases, individuals involved in a dispute are not necessarily looking for a mediator, as they would prefer to handle it themselves. However, they may feel uncertain as to how to best approach the other party, and they appreciate help and support from a "coach". Other individuals who might prefer the services of a mediator may discover that the second party in the dispute is unresponsive to invitations to mediate, or agrees to mediate but then does not show up at the appointed time.

To respond to this need for additional assistance, some mediation programs now offer special sessions and materials for individual who are motivated to handle conflicts on their own. Allan Tidwell's 1997 and 2001 Mediation Quarterly articles on "Problem-Solving for One" provide a rather detailed example of a service developed by the Macquarie University campus mediation project in Australia. The process seeks to assist the lone party in developing conflict management plans and strategies. The procedure includes a problem analysis, review of options and costs, review of communication skills needed, and the creation of a problem-solving strategy that includes plans for future action.

The Conflict Education Resource Team at Temple University is an example of another program that provides individual coaching support, but in a somewhat different form. See the conflict coaching article by Ross Brinkert in our last issue for more information on their work.

In addition to face-to-face coaching, many mediation programs also distribute conflict handling "tips" sheets as handouts, web-documents, and as educational columns in campus newspapers or newsletters.

Conflict Prevention Activities

While there is considerable overlap, another broad category of useful non-mediation activities are those that are designed specifically with conflict prevention in mind. Campus conflict handlers are in a good position to notice patterns of conflict over time and thus are often able to suggest methods to reduce the recurrence of similar disputes in the future.

Preventing or Reducing Student/Faculty Conflicts

Conflicts between students and their instructors or advisors are relatively common. A growing number of initiatives have been developed addressing what is being called incivility in the classroom as well as conflicts over grading and evaluation practices, advising, interpersonal relations and harassment. Many of these prevention and training initiatives are housed in offices of teaching and learning, teaching assistant preparation programs or faculty professional development offices. A relatively common technique involves assisting faculty in more carefully spelling out course expectations in syllabi and verbally at the beginning of class, including such topics as a professor's absentee policy, exams and exam make-ups, academic integrity, extra credit, and acceptable classroom behavior. Some campuses have also developed statements of student, faculty and university shared responsibilities for classroom learning that are included in syllabi. Other campuses have developed brief documents providing suggestions for dealing with in-class conflicts that are distributed to TA's and faculty.

Prevention Training for Faculty

A good example of a broadly targeted faculty conflict management and prevention training tool is the Critical Incidents vignettes series developed by the Learning and Teaching Centre at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Their collection of 4 different videotapes, each containing 10 dramatized vignettes, depicts a wide variety of challenges associated with teaching and learning in higher education. The tapes present a series of highly compressed case studies that pose a problem but offer no preferred solution. Each scene lasts for 3-4 minutes and discussion questions follow each episode. A discussion guidebook is included to assist would-be facilitators. The Center for Instructional Development at Syracuse University has also produced a set of 17 vignettes of difficult classroom situations. These kinds of tapes are most effectively used in teaching development workshops for faculty, adjunct faculty and teaching assistants where a facilitator is present to guide the discussion.

Reducing Graduate Student/Advisor Conflicts

Some student/faculty conflict prevention projects are more focused and intensive. For example, at Michigan State University the Building Mutuality/Setting Expectations Program proactively addresses issues that can lead to conflicts between graduate students and faculty. Unresolved conflicts with their advisors can have very real and painful consequences for graduate students. They are usually quite dependant on their advisors for financial support via assistantships, as well as more general political support as they develop and conduct their research, defend their dissertations or thesis, and request letters of reference and recommendations. The MSU project has a number of key goals, including introducing faculty and students to the practice of interest-based negotiation skills and the process of setting expectations and resolving conflicts; raising awareness of issues of potential conflict in doctoral education; and improving graduate handbooks.

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Page last updated 11/27/2005

A project of Campus Conflict Resolution Resources.
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.

Correspondence to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.

Please send comments, bug reports, etc. to the Editor.

© 2000-2005 William C. Warters & WSU, All rights reserved.