Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Mental Health Effects of Noncollegial Colleagues
Tracy Ford has just completed her PhD and is searching for a full-time position in a university. She is a much sought-after young academic as she has published six articles and presented at a national conference. Also, she has experience in teaching in an adjunct position, and her evaluations were outstanding. She is attending a national conference and is searching job listings for a position. One university catches her eye, and she is excited, as it is in the part of the country where she wants to reside, and the position sounds as if it was written specifically for her. Tracy discusses with colleagues the department where she will be if she is offered the job. The response by everyone she speaks with is the same: WARNING. TOXIC. STAY AWAY. People explain that the department is lethal and dysfunctional. Members of the department are in open warfare with each other. In sum, it is an awful place to work. She does not apply, and no one else does either.
Collegiality: The Cornerstone of a University (and a Profession)
Accepting and sharing responsibility for creating a productive work setting within the department and institution result, at least to a great extent, from how well each member of the community carries his or her own fair share of the common workload. The challenges faced by higher education institutions in the 21st century cannot be successfully mastered, nor can the efforts of dedicated professionals be sustained when the actions of a faculty member are divisive, uncompromising, and inflexible. In a similar way, it is destructive to a department’s morale and effectiveness when one or more of its members accept a significantly lower degree of responsibility for achieving a shared purpose. These elements lie at the heart of that salient, fundamental hallmark of successful interactions in academic life that is commonly called collegiality.
You are the chair of a department of six full-time faculty members. You have been chair for three years, are tenured, and hold the rank of full professor. Four of your faculty members are tenured, three hold the rank of associate professor, and one, Dr. Bill Dudas, is a full professor. One faculty member, Dr. Amanda Thompson, is a tenure-track assistant professor in her fourth year at the university. You consider Thompson your most valuable and productive faculty member. She is a master teacher, a great scholar with many databased articles published in highly regarded journals, and on five university committees as well as three key committees in the department. She is project director for a US Department of Education five-year grant to fund students in the department’s master’s degree program.
Seven Steps for Dealing with Problem Faculty
In a survey of America’s academic chairs almost 3,000 participants identified “dealing with problem faculty” as their greatest concern (Crookston, p. 13). The title of this article is not “seven easy steps for dealing with problem faculty.” The task was number one for a reason; rehabilitation is difficult and in rare cases may not be possible. Whether your problem person is a low achiever, a passive aggressive, a prima donna, a bully, or an exasperating jerk—you’ll probably spend far more time dealing with him or her than you want. One challenge is that problem faculty members are seldom self-made deviants; usually they are the product of ongoing department-wide neglect. From my experience as a department head and dean plus my research into the literature on leadership and chairing, I have identified seven steps that can help.
Positive Effects of Conflict
Conflict is inevitable—it is the natural outcome of human interaction, the result of competing ideas or options. However, anger, grudges, hurt, and blame are not inevitable. Being disrespectful and uncivil is a conscious choice that causes inefficiency. Fortunately, not all conflict is negative. Positive conflict can improve problem solving, clarify issues, increase participant involvement and commitment, and result in a better decision or outcome. The key is managing conflict to bring about these positive effects.
Collaboration at the Heart of Successful Change Initiatives
Successful change initiatives are driven by leaders and their teams, not solely by an individual chancellor, president, or dean. In the higher education environment, the individuals at the helm work strategically to develop a bold vision for their institutions and then devise an inclusive pathway of collaboration to achieve that vision. As the frontline change agents, they seek ways to influence and reframe opinions about newly proposed strategies that address trends in student needs, financial shortfalls, academic excellence, student access, and expectations of accountability. However, it is through a shared-governance model that they are able to create buy-in for change initiatives from a complex array of campus constituents.
When Colleagues Are Brats
Have you ever left a meeting in which you were trying to work with some colleagues on aligning the curriculum for a course that several of you teach, and decided that the best (printable) word to describe a colleague was “brat?” Does it seem like there is someone in your work environment who has a chronically poor attitude?
7 Ways a Chair Can Promote Collegiality
Department chairs can play a significant role in promoting collaboration and cooperation for the benefit of individual faculty members and the unit. In an interview with Academic Leader, Patrick Lawrence, chair of the department of geography and planning at the University of Toledo, outlined several practical steps that can help chairs support faculty and build a collegial department.
Civility on Campus: A Controversy Over Being Nice
There is a strong relationship between workplace civility climate and employee attitudes and experiences. Research on workplace incivility has clearly demonstrated that employees and organizations experience detrimental outcomes from experiencing and witnessing such mistreatment.
The Academic Leader’s Role in Promoting Inclusive Excellence
What atmosphere are you creating at work? Institutional polices form a threshold for promoting access and equity, but it’s up to academic leaders to create an environment in which people feel creative, productive, and engaged—an idea known as inclusive excellence.