Traditionally a person in higher education is hired as an assistant professor. After an agreed-upon number of years, usually six, she or he is either tenured (aka, the Holy Grail of higher education) or terminated. At this time, the person also applies for promotion to the rank of associate professor. Of course, he or she is highly motivated to attain tenure and promotion in rank. This motivation to teach well, produce scholarly research, and have an enviable record of providing service to the department, school, university, and community is logically self-evident: the reward of tenure and promotion. The same reward-incentive system is in place when, after a number of years, this associate professor is rewarded with the rank of full professor. The person is rewarded based on how well she or he meets standards of teaching, scholarship, and service. However, of equal importance to the overall effectiveness of a person’s worth to a department is how she or he interacts with colleagues. If a person is downright nasty, unwilling to collaborate with colleagues, does not do a fair share of the work, and is consistently toxic to students, peers, and staff, should that person be rewarded with tenure and promotion in rank?
Deans and department chairs are constantly challenged by the need to engender greater civility in their professional environments. Academic disciplines thrive when diverse perspectives can be shared without differences of opinion becoming the basis for rancorous personal attacks and when colleagues work together harmoniously without succumbing to group think. Many of us have seen how a toxic, noncollegial faculty member can destroy a once-great department. Mean-spirited and uncivil people cause much damage to those they belittle, the bystanders who suffer the ripple effects, the overall department performance, and themselves.
That collegiality is important is irrefutable. The question is how to incentivize collegiality so that people are motivated to behave in a collegial way. In 2010, I surveyed 104 chairs who responded to the following question: “Should collegiality be the fourth criterion, in addition to teaching, scholarship, and service, for tenure and promotion decisions?” More than 86 percent indicated yes, and 13 percent said no, a 6.5 to 1 ratio. In 2011, 451 chairs responded to the question “If there was an objective, validated tool that assessed collegial behavior, would you be in favor of having collegiality as a criterion for tenure and promotion?” Eighty-eight percent said yes, and 12 percent said no. (Note: Jeffrey Buller and I  have developed and validated an assessment instrument, the Collegiality Assessment Matrix, that effectively measures a person’s collegial behavior and has been used at many colleges and universities in the United States and Saudi Arabia.) Further, in 2012, 528 chairs were asked, “Have you ever had an uncivil or noncollegial faculty member in your department?” More than 83 percent said yes, and 17 percent said no.
Collegiality is a multidimensional construct that represents a reciprocal relationship among colleagues with a commitment to sustaining a positive and productive environment that is critical for the progress and success of the university community. “A campus culture that values collegiality and civility is among the most important contributions a university can make.” (Cipriano, 2011)
Strategies for incentivizing collegiality
There should be an expectation that collegiality, respect, and civility will permeate the climate of the university. There are many resources that the institution can call on to establish a climate that values collegiality, and words and actions can send a clear and unambiguous message regarding the importance of collegiality. The actions may include terminating a person who continues to demonstrate noncollegial behavior.
- Make collegiality a criterion for tenure, promotion, and reappointment
- Include the expectation of collegiality in the university’s mission statement
- Prominently feature the importance of collegiality in position announcements for new faculty
- Encourage search committees to specify collegiality in interview questions
- Conduct campuswide dialogues on collegiality
- Create a campus culture that encourages faculty members to hold each other accountable for professional standards of behavior
- Build a supporting coalition of informal and formal peacemakers
- Gather documented support from the faculty senate, president, provost, deans, chairs, and faculty that noncollegial behavior will not be tolerated
- In the faculty handbook, clearly state expectations for civil behavior for faculty, staff, students, and the administration
- Implement and consistently reinforce clearly stated sanctions—up to and including termination
- Facilitate campuswide workshops about the importance of the university climate on morale and productivity
- Adopt a workplace harassment policy that encompasses more than just sexual harassment
- Develop a series of training sessions to educate the campus community on documenting what constitutes a lack of collegiality
Faculty input is essential when formulating principles and policies based on any of these strategies. Full and thoughtful deliberations will serve, at the very least, to bring the importance of collegiality to the forefront of a variety of constituencies throughout the university community. As academicians we should strive for nothing less than civility and respect in our daily encounters with our colleagues. After all, in the final analysis, don’t we all strive to be respected and treated in a collegial manner?
Robert E. Cipriano, EdD, is professor emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University and senior partner in ATLAS consulting.
Reprinted from Academic Leader, 30.1 (2014): 4, 7. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.