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Conflict Management in Higher Ed Report
printfriendlyVolume 5, Number 1, Sept 2004

A Tale of Two Colleges:
Diversity, Conflict, and
Conflict Resolution

A Tale of Two Colleges was written to show how real people can achieve dramatically different outcomes depending on the strategies they devise and the methods they employ. The first chapter shows people digging in to their positions and trying to force the Other Person to give in. The second chapter shows similarly situated people using the problem-solving negotiation strategy popularized in the book Getting To Yes.

Chapter 1

"The faculty and staff group are here for their appointment." Caroline Kwaitkowski's announcement pulled the provost of Kohlberg College out of concentration on the budget he was reviewing. Dr. Sam Jernigan had agreed to meet with the group but had put the meeting out of his mind in the meantime. He had no desire to deal with the demands of yet another group when the budget was already overextended. Dr. Jernigan asked his assistant to show them in.

Dr. Jernigan greeted them warmly and asked them to take a seat. He had not risen to his present position of importance by giving vent to every burst of aggravation welling up within him. After assuring that all the visitors were comfortably seated and had been offered something to drink, Dr. Jernigan asked them why they wanted to see him.

Professor Molly Beyers responded by introducing the three other members of the group, Professor Jane Ragel, Sandy Fillman, and Mary Schultz. Professor Beyers explained that they were here to demand that the college finally acknowledge the special needs and burdens of parents of small children working at the college by setting up a college child-care center. She went into considerable detail about why a child-care center was essential. "The college is behind the curve on this. Other corporate employers have long since recognized the importance of providing on-side child care. It's time the college get with the program."

Dr. Jernigan was not unsympathetic to the desires of the women in front of him, but he felt sure they did not understand the position he was in. Enrollment was down and alumni contributions during the last capital campaign did not reach the campaign's goal. He was at this very moment wrestling with how to avoid laying off some people and cutting back on course offerings in order to come in with a balanced budget. he could not possibly introduce a child-care program now. He couldn't even talk about a contribution to off-site child care as part of the employee benefits package.

"I'm afraid that a child-care center is out of the question at the moment," Dr. Jernigan responded. He was never one to beat around the bush. "I am already trying to figure out how to pare our spending to come within our anticipated revenues. There just isn't any money available for anything new at the moment."

"There isn't anything new for women, is what you mean, isn't it?" Professor Beyers was known on campus as a militant feminist, part of the mix of different views with which the college sought to season the academic discussion. She was known for her bluntness, which some saw as deliberately provocative. "Let's face it. If men could get pregnant and had the primary responsibility for child care in our society, this college would have had an on-site child-care center long ago. It's a question of priorities. You spend the money where it's most important. Well, if you want us to continue working here, you'll find a way to treat this issue with the importance it deserves. We're tired of waiting. If we don't see some action on this matter, we'll create a public furor that will make your budget problems look like child's play."

The other women in the room said nothing, but their body language made clear that they agreed with Professor Beyers.

"Let's not be overly hasty about that," said Dr. Jernigan." Perhaps we'll be able to work something out over time. It's just that now is not a good time to be introducing a new program. I agree with you that child care is a good thing. But I couldn't get what you want past the President, much less the board of trustees, which would have to be consulted on something as far-reaching as this. Why don't we set up a committee to study the matter and report back to us within 6-12 months? Would any of you like to be on the committee?"

Professor Beyers knew what was going on. The Provost was trying to deflect them with a ploy that would cost him nothing but would also not improve their working situation. He hadn't even wanted to hear why a child-care center was necessary. And why should he? He was a comfortable, white, middle-aged male who had never worried a day about taking care of children. She knew his type and refused to be put off.

"Look, Dr. Jernigan. We didn't come here to be side-tracked with some study group. I could give you reams of studies on the need for on-site child care. The time for study has passed. It's time for action. If we don't get some action from the college within the next six weeks, you'll be getting some action from us. We know our rights." And with that Professor Beyers stood up and motioned to the other women to follow her out the door.

Sam Jernigan did not know quite what to do. He had neither the resources nor the stomach for a pitched battle with any faction of the college, even a small fringe group. They were small now but might grow. He had no money for child care. He guessed his best approach would be simply to wait to see what they did next. Ride out the storm, if and when it came. For now he went back to the budget.

"Can you believe that self-satisfied chauvinist?" Sandy Fillman was saying. If it weren't for the work we do, there would be no college. You would think he had no conception of what it means to be a parent and hold down a job at the same time.

Molly tried to cool passions for a moment by suggesting they meet in two days to plan their next course of action. Child care was too important an issue to let drop. Besides, the matter was also about the distribution of power. As long as men were running the college, the resources would be used primarily to satisfy their needs. It was time that women got a share of that power themselves.

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