Resolve-it College Faculty Club

The faculty curriculum committee at Resolve-it College have been meeting over lunch for the last several months to discuss a proposal for a new undergraduate major and master's degree in conflict management. They have become aware of a rapid growth of new programs in the conflict studies area around the country, and most of the members feel it is time to try something at RC. They've already got a number of faculty who teach conflict resolution related courses, a supportive Dean's Council, and current and prospective students seem quite interested in the idea.

One of the committee members was fortunate enough to have stumbled onto a growing list of links to academic programs in the dispute resolution area. While somewhat overwhelming, the site provided the committee with an opportunity to visit and review some of the curriculums developed by other programs, both new and more established. Another member found a great collection of materials on peace studies programs that provided a valuable point of comparison. While in the past peace studies programs were often quite distinct from those that called themselves conflict resolution programs, these days it seems like there is more and more overlap. The committee at RC is leaning toward some kind of peace and justice emphasis in their program.

Also quite useful for their deliberations have been the results of a research project on the contours of graduate education in Dispute Resolution conducted by Bill Warters and a group of scholars working in the conflict studies field. While a fuller write-up is available in the Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Studies, the chair of committee brought a few of the key results of the study to lunch for review by the committee.

As a starting place, the participant experts in the study (conducted in 1996) were asked to comment on the current focus of dispute resolution as an academic field. As the statements and rankings presented in Table 1 indicate, Dispute Resolution was thought to be by its very nature interdisciplinary, both theoretical and practical, and to hopefully be more science than an art.

Table 1

(Note: 1 = no agreement w statement, 7=complete agreement w statement)
OVERALL FOCUS OF THE DISPUTE RESOLUTION ACADEMIC FIELD Average Score Central 50% of Responses Range of Responses
DR is essentially INTERDISCIPLINARY 6.6 6-7 5-7
DR in academia is essentially about the INTERRELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PRACTICE and THEORY 5.9 5-7 4-7
DR is essentially a PROBLEM-FOCUSED area of study, where students use their skills and knowledge to assess, intervene, and evaluate conflicts 5.2 5-6 2-7
DR in academia is essentially about the GENERATION OF KNOWLEDGE AND FRAMEWORKS for understanding and testing 5 4-6 4-7
DR is essentially an ART, NOT a SCIENCE 3.1 2-4 1-4

T
o get at the very essence of the academic enterprise, participants were asked to identify and then rank the core skill competencies students should take away from masters-level programs. As seen in Table 2, the list of core essential skills clearly indicates a shift away from a labor relations, arbitration-oriented emphasis that was found in an earlier 1986 study of conflict curriculum conducted by Paul Wehr. In the current survey, mediation skills are listed as most important, and while arbitration skills are mentioned, they are ranked last out of a group of 19. Negotiation appears in the group of skills considered second in importance only to mediation.

Table 2

CORE SKILL AREAS FOR MASTERS-LEVEL STUDENTS Average Score Central 50% of Responses Range of Responses
Mediation skills and procedures 6.4 6-7 5-7
Conflict assessment 6.3 6-7 5-7
Communication skills - listening/assertion 6.3 5-7 4-7
Ethical sensitivity 6.3 6-7 5-7
Negotiation (distributive and integrative) 6.3 5-7 5-7
Creative thinking/ problem-solving/ decision-making 6.2 6-7 4-7
Critical Thinking 6.0 6-7 3-7
Communication - written (basic and scholarly papers) 5.7 5-6 4-7
Application of DR theories in particular contexts 5.6 5-6 4-7
Understanding of FULL range of DR theories 5.6 5-6 4-7
Group facilitation 5.2 4-6 4-6
Understanding the use of social science research 5.1 4-6 1-7
DR systems design principles 5.0 4-6 2-7
Self-knowledge (self-awareness) 4.9 4-6 2-7
Mastery of a specific subject area specialization 4.9 4-6 3-7
Working in teams 4.8 4-6 2-6
Research design, data gathering and analysis 4.5 4-5 2-7
Basic understanding of the legal system 4.2 3-5 3-6
Arbitration, adjudicatory skills 3.7 3-5 1-5

In addition to skills, study participants were asked to identify essential areas of content knowledge that graduate students should master. The 12 areas most highly rated are listed in Table 3, out of a total of 28 areas identified. The diversity of areas identified is perhaps not surprising, given the interdisciplinary nature of the field, and the wide range of academic backgrounds study participants came from. Knowledge about the Labor-management area, which was the most common area of emphasis in Wehr's study, was listed as important by respondents, but was not highly ranked, at number 22 out of 28. Game theory, another key area of research and theorizing in the early days of the conflict resolution field, is also mentioned, but is listed last out of 28.

Table 3

ESSENTIAL AREAS OF KNOWLEDGE FOR STUDENTS IN DR
(top 12 out of 28 mentioned)
ESSENTIAL AREAS OF KNOWLEDGE Average Score Central 50% of Responses Range of Responses
Continuum of methods for addressing conflict 6.6 6-7 5-7
Ethics 6.4 6-7 4-7
Negotiation theory 6.4 6-7 4-7
Problem-solving methods 6.3 6-7 5-7
Power issues 6.2 6-7 4-7
Range of mediation models 6.1 6-7 4-7
Competition/cooperation theories 6.0 5-7 4-7
Cross-cultural: gender, age, race, class 5.8 5-7 1-7
Dispute system design 5.6 5-7 2-7
Social psychology/group dynamics 5.5 4-7 3-7
Sociology of conflict/social institutions 5.4 4-7 3-7
Communication, language, persuasion, debate 5.4 5-6 3-7

Clearly the committee has more work to do, but based on today's discussions, it looks like the the group will in fact vote in favor of launching the new programs. Hopefully they'll also be able to actually hire one of the new crop of graduate students graduating with Ph.D.s specifically in conflict studies to help carry the program into the future. With a field that is moving as fast as this one, they want to get some faculty on staff who are conflict studies specialists. And maybe they could help do something about the service at the faculty club while they're at it...

References

Warters, William C. 1999 "Graduate Studies in Dispute Resolution: A Delphi Study of the Field's Present and Future" Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution, Vol 2, No. 2

Wehr, Paul. 1986. "Conflict resolution studies: What do we know?" NIDR Dispute Resolution Forum April: 3-4, 12-13.

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