An Effective Way to Restore Collegiality and Shared Governance in Dysfunctional
Jetta Todaro, M.A.; Cheryl Brattlie, M.A.; and Joseph H. Stafford, Ph.D.
happens everywhere; however, in a higher education setting, there are factors
such as academic freedom, tenure, and a peculiar governance structure that may
under various circumstances open up creative possibilities to a mediator.
university faculty have focused on teaching and research,
but now institutions of higher education are placing more
serious emphasis on the notion of service or "community"
service which often includes collaboration between or among
departments or with other universities and agencies. While
the traditional responsibilities of teaching and research
may be oriented to smaller groups and can be more solitary
in nature, current trends indicate a growing need for faculty
members to communicate more effectively within and between
groups, and to find ways to become more efficient. Departments
may add members, increase their diversity, separate or consolidate
or reorganize, and as responsibilities become more complex,
resources typically become more limited, and perceptions
by educators that they are not respected by others continues
to grow. An alternative departments have when faced with
these challenges is to become dysfunctional (or more dysfunctional)
by denying, avoiding, or somehow accommodating conflict
--- the latter typically accomplished by "negative"
traditional organizational structure and administration
and management of a college or university can, by its nature,
create dysfunction. Dysfunction in any group can lead to
problemsolving methods that create even more dysfunction
and acrimony. As mediators, the authors have witnessed all
the favorite ways of dealing with conflict and a few less
conventional: avoidance; denial; increased sense of competition
(aggressiveness); marginalizing or isolation of members
of the group; unsatisfactory compromise or accommodation;
legal action (or threats of legal action); and yes, reported
violence, perceived violence, or threats of violence.
some colleges and universities still prefer to eschew contentious
environments, others are addressing the increasingly competitive
and complex campus workplace by providing professional growth
and development opportunities. These efforts include providing
organizational, management, presentation, communication,
leadership, or consulting skills for new and experienced
faculty, or for graduate students who aspire to become educators.
Still others choose to confront certain ongoing conflicts
directly, providing the means by which faculty, and sometimes
staff, can address serious conflicts in a more productive,
lasting manner, while providing the means by which the group
can establish working guidelines and ground rules for future
are the interests of universities in the development of
problemsolving models, and what are the interests of faculties
(faculty members) in learning how to collaborate and problem
solve in different ways?
a modern, complex, higher education environment, faculty
members often want more information about routine, departmental
business; input into decision making regarding the administration
and management of the department; input into budget processes
and staffing decisions - both faculty and administrative;
action on quality of life issues (space, teaching assignments);
as well as information on how departmental changes might
influence who has power, who doesn't, who gets resources,
i.e., money and recognition.
may be called upon to assist faculties in discussing difficulties in separating
"academic freedom issues" from "administrative governance"
or management issues. Academic freedom can be seen as an excuse for taking a certain
action. What are the issues related to: academic freedom for individuals vs. the
collective interests of the academy; or conflict between group rights and responsibilities
and individual rights and responsibilities? The Academy has held as a strong core
value that an individual faculty member has certain rights to express opinions
and controversial views. Sometimes the protection of individual rights and associate
responsibilities to pursue the truth as opposed to what may be good for the organization
as a whole must be explored.
as an intervention in this setting calls for mediators to assist a potential client
in deciding if and how to use this kind of interest-based problem solving by an
impartial third party to address departmental/faculty disputes. There will be
questions about: using an external impartial third party as opposed to an internal
party who "knows us;" whether this is counseling or therapy instead
of direct problem solving; what this interest-based vocabulary means; the difference
between positions and interests (often a new concept); and questions on where
the money for the intervention is going to come from.
the "roadblocks" encountered, five stand out because they have, in this
mediator's experience, occurred more often in higher education settings than in
other settings. Anticipating them empowers the mediator and the process.
strong verbal resistance, (and several times downright obstreperousness) toward
participating in the problem solving sessions. Faculty members will express disagreement
with a process in which they will be sitting across the table from someone with
whom they have a strong difference of opinion. It may come in an initial refusal
to meet, or it could be stated in the meetings that the process is a waste of
of understanding or a resistance to the concept of what confidentiality means
in a group mediation. WHO can speak TO WHOM about WHAT and at WHAT POINT become
valid interests. This discussion can also be a way to stall the meeting process.
will try to control the environment of the sessions to the degree that they feel
out of control of the process. There may be attempts both prior to and during
the meetings to change the geographical location of the meeting(s), table arrangement,
the seating of groups of faculty or staff, groupings of people within information
gathering or brainstorming activities, or time of the sessions or breaks.
may be attempts to disrupt the trust the mediator needs to establish between him/herself
and the participants. "Ex parte" conversations or communications prior
to, during and following sessions, either in person or through e-mail, can occur.
These attempts can subvert the mediator's efforts to be impartial and can make
it necessary to address why some people have certain information and not others.
credibility is sometimes challenged in order to stall or caste doubt on the process.
This can occur because of a lack of information about the experience and background
of a professional mediator, or because lack of understanding of the interest-based
problem solving conducted by an "outsider."
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.
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