Resolve-it College
Administration

Welcome to the Resolve-it College Administration Center. We're glad you took the time to visit what we think of as the real nerve center of the College. It's kind of quiet around here right now, however, because a lot of folks have just headed over to the Student Center to participate in the Town Hall Meeting. Should be an interesting meeting, with the protesters and all. I hope they work something out.

Admittedly, members of the Dean's Council may not be the most idealistic group on campus, but they certainly ARE pragmatic. As you may have heard by now, the College has decided to undertake a review and redesign of our entire dispute processing system. The move toward a redesign gained momentum when administrators began noticing the seemingly inordinate amount of time they were spending on unresolved conflicts, and during the same period the legal affairs office reported a significant rise in legal costs. Many of the most time consuming or difficult disputes seemed to involve faculty or staff, and unlike students, these folks won't be graduating and moving on anytime soon.

We also noted a larger trend nationwide that suggested that we were not alone. For instance, studies have shown that the average legal defense costs for private colleges and universities rose nationwide by some 250% in the five years between 1992-97 (1). Among the faculty, a survey of more than 800 department chairs found inter-collegial conflict to be THE major category of stress experienced by department chairs (2). And graduate students who don't complete their degrees cited conflicts with faculty as one of the two most important reasons that they leave their graduate programs (3). All of this, combined with a recent "messy" staff dispute prompted the move to revisit and revise our entire system.

A number of general systems design books have been quite helpful as we get oriented to the whole idea of dispute systems thinking.

Costantino, C. A., & Merchant, C. S. (1996). Designing Conflict Management Systems: A Guide to Creating Productive and Healthy Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Slaikeu, K., & Hasson, R. (1998). Controlling the Costs of Conflict: How to Design a System for Your Organization. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ury, W. L., Brett, J. M., & Goldberg, B. (1988). Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Cost of Conflict. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The overview of dispute systems concepts as they relate to campus life found in Mediation in the Campus Community was also quite helpful. This new book focuses mainly on mediation, however, and as we are discovering, there are a lot more aspects to consider for a complete system, such as ombuds programs, multi-step grievance systems, skill training, consultation services and more.

Fortunately, we have also been able to draw on the experience of a growing number of colleges that are choosing to think systemically about how conflicts are handled. One particularly interesting and on target collection of papers are the Conference Proceedings from a meeting entitled "Reflective Practice in Institutionalizing Conflict Resolution in Higher Education" hosted by the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Georgia State University a few years ago. And we have been scouring the internet for sample policies that might provide inspiration, and we have found some interesting examples. The best source is clearly the list of policies found at the Campus Conflict Resolution Resources site. And it's not just individual colleges getting involved. Some entire university systems are looking into this approach, such as those in Georgia, Hawaii, and Missouri. The coming years are sure to be quite interesting.

Hopefully somebody will write the definitive work soon. It sure would make my job easier! Anyway, thanks for visiting us. You're welcome to hang out and have a cup of coffee if you like, but I've got to get back to my filing.

References:

(1) Casper, G., State of University Address, in Stanford Report Online Update. 1998: Palo Alto, CA.

(2) Gmelch, W.H. and J.B. Carroll, The Three Rs of Conflict Management for Department Chairs and Faculty. Innovative Higher Education, 1991. 16(2): p. 107-123. .

(3) Nerad, M. and D.S. Miller, Increasing Student Retention in Graduate and Professional Programs. New Directions for Institutional Research, 1996. 92: p. 61-67.

 

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