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Volume 3, Number 1, Oct 2002

Mediation: An Effective Way to Restore Collegiality and Shared Governance in Dysfunctional University Departments
(page 2 of 2)

Knowing about potential obstacles is helpful because one can plan how to address them if confronted. Often the time prior to a mediation is filled attending to a plethora of details that one can predict. To have time taken away in an already "charged" atmosphere from those details and placed on things that may disrupt the working environment can be problematic.

It is often easier to address attempts to circumvent or derail the process if the group is small; however, the larger the group the more involved the mediator should be in the preparation of the parties regarding the process. Whether the mediation is voluntary or "required" (officially or unofficially) it is in the best interests of the process for everyone to be clear on some of the logistics. The parties must know what interests they have in attending and participating in the mediation. The interests, which can be personal, professional or a combination, can be described to them or elicited from them. Parties often do not see the multiple interests they might have in being a part of a solution.

Solutions

Confidentiality is a topic to be challenged because of the complex nature of issues that might be raised. Ground rules related specifically to details about confidentiality have been devised and agreed upon in these settings. In addition, participants may move in and out of the mediation if conducted over an extended period of time, and all ground rules, including these, must be reviewed and agreement reestablished.

Faculty members have walked into a room, reviewed the environment and have "humorously," but seriously, "accused" this mediator of attempting to "get us to talk to each other!" This has been followed by suggestions about and attempts to move to an alternative room down the hall, or reconfigure the furniture. Others will move to another table, sit on the periphery of the group, stand or leave a meeting at a given time. Again, a reminder of the interests to be met in staying with the process must be reviewed, and ground rules about how to go forward must be established, with the entire group.

Mediators must be clear from the beginning about the kinds of communication that are acceptable and unacceptable between the mediators and the parties. The maintenance of neutrality should be evident to everyone at all times. Other guidelines about types of conversations that are appropriate or inappropriate and how and if information related in the conversations will be shared, must be established. Lack of trust can be spread very quickly if it is perceived that information has been discussed outside of the mediation sessions. Following the ground rules as well as full disclosure is critical.

Mediator credibility must be established very early in the process. With some clients, detailed information about the mediator's background or credentials (other than mediation) is less important. This mediator has found that "credentials" (education, experience in higher education issues, work experience, mediation expertise) are an important part of establishing credibility. Groups also have responded positively to a more thorough description of the process, the research and/or philosophy behind the process, information about the literature on the effectiveness and benefits of mediation, as part of the preparation for problem solving sessions. In addition, it has also been helpful, when addressing some issues, to describe what is happening during the mediation.

Diversity

It is important to think through diversity or the lack of diversity in higher education and how it can affect the process environment for problem solving. Diversity may be a factor in any combination of ways. There are often more men than women in certain disciplines, departments, or areas of study. International and cultural characteristics and language may affect the logistics of the mediation. There can be differences due to faculties having an enthusiastic, young, entering group of faculty (demonstrating optimism) along with faculty members who are more experienced in the ways of university life and culture (and therefore, more resistant to change or showing signs of cynicism). Common interests may be difficult to find because of the nature of higher education specialties and expertise in narrowly defined areas. Also, individuals in different disciplines may discuss, create, and problem solve in very different ways, i.e., cultures of social sciences, the arts, bench science. The intervention designed can take some, although not all, of these diverse skills, points of view, and ways of looking at the world into consideration.

Although higher education has unique features, we should continue to keep in mind that conflict in this setting derives from the same sources as other conflict: limited resources, unmet basic human needs, and tugs-of-war over how we express our values through our behavior toward others. If we keep this in mind while creatively applying the process and skills that we know, we can help them explore common interests and solutions.

Jetta A. Todaro, M.A., is private practice mediator and strategic planner, and has been an adjunct professor at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas (jettat@academicplanet.com); Joseph Stafford, Ph,D., is the vice provost for research and graduate studies, professor of economics at The University of Texas at San Antonio, and was associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at The University of Texas System; and Cheryl Brattlie, M.A.H.S., is a graduate of a master's of program in conflict resolution and is a software engineer at Analysts International Corporation placed at I.B.M.

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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.


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Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
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