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Volume 2, Number 3, May 2002

Extending Campus Conflict Resolution Efforts Beyond the Mediation Table (page 3 of 6)

Reducing Student/Student Conflicts

Other prevention efforts are aimed specifically at reducing conflicts between students who live together. The work often begins before students arrive on campus, as some conflicts can be headed off through careful matching of roommates based on information provided on application forms.

Many residence life programs also promote the use of "roommate agreement forms" and "floormate agreement forms" in residence halls. The forms prompt students to discuss, often with the aid of Residential Assistants, a list of potentially conflicting issues with their roommates and sometimes floormates, at the start of their time living together. The forms provide a starting place for discussion and agreement building, and may be used to encourage further discussion and renegotiation if problems arise.

Improving the Student Work Group Experience

Some campuses are also working to increase students' ability to function effectively within the kinds of adhoc groups that they may encounter in labs and when doing group assignments for class. Some departments or individual faculty members with courses requiring a significant amount of group work have group skills training built into their curriculum. They sometimes draw on campus mediation program personnel to help develop and staff these training sessions, or to prepare specialized group work handouts.

Mediation programs have also worked hand-in-hand with student governments. For instance, due to their perceived neutrality, mediation program volunteers have been called on to help monitor hotly contested student government elections by observing the polling sites, and serving as the first point of contact for student election-related grievances. They have also moderated candidate forums, provided recount services, and facilitated contentious budget meetings.

Partnering to Enhance Campus Construction Efforts

Another kind of dispute prevention concept catching on at colleges and universities is called Partnering. The process is most commonly used to facilitate the successful completion of major campus construction projects.

Pioneered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1990s, Partnering has quickly become very popular within the construction industry. The Partnering process normally involves a one or two-day retreat attended by all stakeholders (decision makers as well as job site supervisors) in the particular project. The retreat is usually held at a neutral location (a resort or private meeting facility) and is led by experienced facilitators who help the participants to focus on communication, negotiation, identification of mutual goals and objectives, and details of project-specific potential problems and solutions. The purpose is not to change any contractual responsibilities but rather to focus on building the working relationships among the participants. Common documents created at sessions to smooth onsite problem-solving include "issue escalation matrixes" detailing who has decision-making authority over what issues, and a "partnering charter" that lays out general agreements in principle supported by all participants.

Changes in Labor Relations on Campus

Unionized colleges and universities are exploring ways to reduce the time and considerable costs associated with disputes that go to outside arbitrators. On some campuses this has meant increased support for and use of internal grievance mediation as a step prior to outside arbitration. Another interesting model is the one developed by four campuses within the Connecticut State University System. In this system, an arbitration-type step was built into the grievance process, but it remains within the State System rather than being sent outside. When handling faculty grievances, the CSU System uses grievance arbitration panels comprised in equal parts of employees representing the administration and faculty members. These individuals, drawn from each of the 3 neighboring institutions, have sufficient distance from the area of dispute to guarantee some measure of detachment. Each panel is comprised of three members of the AAUP and three members of the administration, with the stipulation that no panel member can be from the university where the grievance originated. The grievance-arbitration panel is the final step before professional arbitration is engaged. Only in the event of a 3-3 tie vote can either party, if it chooses, take the issue to outside arbitration.

Interest-Based Bargaining

Unionized campuses are beginning to experiment with a new form of collective bargaining known as interest-based or collaborative bargaining, in an attempt to reduce some of the negative effects of traditional contentious negotiations. Interest-Based Bargaining is essentially an alternative style of negotiating used to achieve positive results for both parties. The emphasis in traditional bargaining is on the relative power of the parties and their willingness to use it both in regard to specific issues as well as the overall settlement. Interest-Based Bargaining is instead a problem solving/consensus approach to negotiations that focuses on the interests of the parties.

In order to apply Interest-Based Bargaining administration and faculty usually begin by participating in joint training provided by bargaining consultants. The workshops introduce parties to non-adversarial collective bargaining concepts, give both sides a common language, educate them as to what's involved and who is involved, and explore the steps that would be required to develop a collaborative working relationship. The interest-based bargaining process used at the University of Montana and Eastern Washington University is well documented in a 1997 Negotiation Journal article by Dennison, Drummond, and Hobgood on collaborative bargaining in public universities.

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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.