I have had the privilege to be invited to many campuses to speak about strategies for incorporating a collegial-mindset within the university. A campus culture that values collegiality and civility is among the most important contributions a university can make. Academic departments recognize the desirability of a collegial environment for faculty members, students, and professional employees and that such an environment should be maintained and strengthened throughout the university. In an environment enhanced by trust, respect, and transparency faculty members can be revivified so that they can play an active and responsible role in academic matters. A collegial relationship is most effective when peers work together to carry out their duties and responsibilities in a professional manner.
Universities are one of the last bastions where people can share divergent ideas and thoughts. In fact, both shared governance and academic freedom are endemic to sharing knowledge – with students as well as with colleagues and peers. Collegiality does not impinge on the freedom of faculty members to make their views known.
What we strive for in the academy is a healthy and respected sharing of ideas and concepts where people feel free to express their divergent and oftentimes conflicting views. In fact, many historians consider this concept to be one of the hallmarks of higher education. We most certainly do not want affable Babbitts mimicking everything that a senior faculty member subscribes to or thinks. What we do want is dissent – more specifically, positive dissent. One of the dominant characteristics of higher education in that professors have opportunities to express their ideas openly and unafraid of castigation in the form of petty reprisals of a personal nature. Discussions may be passionate. Discussions may become heated. But, discussions should never become mean, nasty, or vindictive. Professionals may disagree, express their thoughts ardently, but never vindictively or personally.
Facilitating a culture of collegiality can be the synergistic agent of good relationships among members of a department – which all too often is severely missing. The clarion call can be agree to disagree with being disagreeable! It is clear that constructive arguments over ideas – but not personal arguments over ideas—drive greater performance and creativity. It is important for the department chair as well as other faculty members in the department to deal with and, as stridently and quickly as necessary, address the malefactors on the staff.
Contagion from uncivil and venomous faculty members can create significant short-term and long-term threats to the department. They become a ubiquitous presence that stifles the culture and productivity in a department. However, when people engage in disagreements over ideas in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, they develop stronger ideas and perform better. The end product is often superior to one person working alone in isolation. Working on a solution to a problem in an environment built on trust, reverence, and civility can awaken people from their self-afflicted torpor and enable them to contribute a meaningful resolution to a quandary.
Robert E. Cipriano is professor emeritus in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at Southern Connecticut State University. His latest book Facilitating a Collegial Department in Higher Education: Strategies For Success was published by Jossey-Bass in 2011. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Join Robert Cipriano for Fostering a Collegial Environment: Guidelines for the Department Chair, a live online seminar coming Sept. 18. LEARN MORE »