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Strategies for Creating a Collegial Department

Institutional Culture

Strategies for Creating a Collegial Department

Strategies for Creating a Collegial Department

In assessing an individual for tenure, promotion in rank, reappointment, or merit pay increase, how important are the following factors in the future success of the individual? How much potential do they have to greatly affect the work of the department?

  • Positive attitudes
  • Collaborative work
  • Flexibility
  • Positive interpersonal relationships within the university community
  • Demonstration of appropriate levels of responsibility with respect to one’s work in the university
  • Sharing in the workload of the department
  • Sociability

There is a growing interest in how factors such as those listed above serve to support a setting in which one’s department is the primary focus of a faculty member’s work. We look to one another as colleagues who are expected to conduct ourselves professionally in support of our students and each other.

Accepting and sharing responsibility for creating a productive work environment within the department and university is viewed in terms of how well we carry our fair share of the workload. The challenges faced by universities in the 21st century cannot be successfully mastered, nor can the efforts of dedicated professionals be sustained when attitudes and dispositions of personnel within departments are divisive, uncompromising, and inflexible or reflect a lesser degree of personal responsibility around a unified purpose. I am talking about the importance of that salient, fundamental hallmark of successful interactions in academe that we call collegiality.

Collegiality is reflected in the relationships that emerge within departments. It is often evidenced in the manner in which members of the department show respect, interact with each other, and work collaboratively with a common purpose. In those instances when it is held in high esteem, it may confidently be said that collegiality is the cornerstone of professional work. Yet in other settings the importance attached to it lacks clarity, as evidence by the range of opinions and responses it receives in discussion. In short, it has been celebrated in some settings, undermined in others, and in still other places completely overlooked and ignored. In the unique role of serving as an academic leader you are often requested to respond to the following questions regarding collegiality.

  • Should the ability to “get along,” “fit in,” or “work well” with one’s colleagues be a requirement for tenure?
  • Should collegiality be a separate factor in tenure decisions or should it be considered as a part of the evaluation of teaching, research, or service?
  • Is the university professor supposed to be a congenial coworker or a competent professor—or, to a degree, both?
  • In your department, can collegiality serve as a means for concealing discriminating treatment of others who are not like us?
  • Does a “winning personality and smile” count more in your department than quality teaching, superior research, or desirable service to the department?
  • Can an understanding of what the courts have ruled regarding collegiality be important to you?

Robert E. Cipriano is chair emeritus in the Department of Recreation & Leisure Studies at Southern Connecticut State University and senior partner in ATLAS-Academic Training, Leadership & Assessment Services-an international consulting organization providing services to institutions of higher education. Contact him at: ciprianor1@southernct.edu

Dr. Cipriano will conduct a pre-conference workshop on collegiality at the 2018 Leadership in Higher Education Conference, October 18-20 in Minneapolis. These and other questions will be discussed regarding how to foster a collegial department and university.


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