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Collegiality as a Criterion for Personnel Decisions

Institutional Culture

Collegiality as a Criterion for Personnel Decisions

Although some criticism still remains [see, for example, AAUP (2006) 39-40], case law in the United States has continued to uphold the use of collegiality as a factor in making decisions regarding faculty employment, tenure, promotion, and termination. (See Mayberry v. Dees and University of Baltimore v. Iz.) Indeed, the lack of civility or collegiality can be used as a legitimate basis to terminate a full-time faculty member (Bresnick v. Manhattanville College, Stein v. Kent State University).

Most position descriptions for college and university faculty will include benchmarks subtly indicating assumptions about collegiality. For instance, many universities include within the teaching or service components of tenure and promotion documents a requirement that the candidate demonstrates an “ability to work well with colleagues,” “show good academic citizenship,” or “contribute to a collegial atmosphere.” The department chair is the primary person who assumes responsibility for monitoring these types of activities among the faculty. Moreover, it is the job of the chair to determine whether faculty members meet expected standards for professionalism and institutional citizenship when decisions about tenure, promotion in rank, or reappointment are made.

Cipriano and Riccardi (The Department Chair, accepted for publication, 2012) completed a survey of department chairs regarding their thoughts on collegiality. A total of 451 chairs responded to the survey. The following question was asked of the chairs: “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?” Forty-six people (10 percent) responded “no,” 49 people (11 percent) responded “not sure,” and 354 people (79 percent) responded “yes.” Upon further analysis, the reason more people indicated “not sure” than indicated “no” was that collegiality was thought to be a vague, ambiguous, and subjective term. There was trepidation that collegiality could be a code word for “getting someone” who disagreed with a senior faculty member (i.e., someone who smoked or was overweight or had a different political belief than you).

The Collegiality Assessment Matrix (CAM)
What is needed is not only a consistent definition of collegiality but also a standard instrument that can be used to evaluate its presence or absence. The value of such an instrument is twofold. First, like a rubric used to grade a class assignment, the evaluation instrument can be used both to clarify exactly what the expectations are and to evaluate as objectively and coherently as possible whether those expectations have been met. Second, by creating a common instrument that can be used to assess the collegiality of faculty members at different institutions, in different disciplines, and at different ranks, it will be possible to develop a set of nationally normed data that can clarify an issue that has hitherto been debated only on the basis of anecdotal evidence.

Cipriano and Buller (2012) have developed an instrument, the CAM, which has been used in many universities across the country. In addition to the CAM, a faculty member can complete a similar instrument—the Self-Assessment Matrix (S-AM). It now becomes possible to compare a person’s rating of his or her own collegial behavior with how others (dean, chair, peers) perceive the same behaviors. So there are objective assessment instruments that can be used to measure a person’s collegial behaviors.

Chairs’ perceptions of noncollegial behaviors by faculty members
Cipriano and Riccardi (The Department Chair, accepted for publication, 2013) completed a study to determine how chairs would deal with a toxic faculty member. One question asked chairs whether they are currently dealing with or have ever had to deal with a noncollegial, toxic faculty member; 80 chairs indicated that no, they have not in the past or are not currently having to deal with a noncollegial faculty member; 413 chairs responded that yes, they have or are currently dealing with a noncollegial faculty member.

Collegiality as a fourth criterion: The time is now
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has influenced the conversation of including collegiality as a fourth criterion to be used in personnel decisions. It is clear that one person spewing venom can ruin a once-great department. Why do we in the academy tolerate and accept this behavior? Perhaps it is time for the AAUP to put its considerable weight and influence behind a movement to rid the academy of its twin evils: noncollegial and uncivil peers who intimidate and bully others.

Clearly the table is set; incivility is on the rise (Cipriano, p. 8), there is an identifiable need to include collegiality as a fourth criterion for personnel decisions, and we have an instrument to assess a person’s collegial behavior. If the AAUP wishes to continue to stifle a meaningful dialogue regarding collegiality, it risks being relegated to a 20th century behemoth so inflexible and stuck in its own “traditional” ways that it no longer has the capacity to lead or to be taken seriously. Most universities require students (and often staff) to follow a code of conduct, pledging to uphold principles such as mutual respect, dignity, and civility. Is it truly that unreasonable to expect our colleagues in the faculty to live by those same rules? Or have we forgotten that we too were once “students,” sitting in those very chairs that face us now? Why not “set the example” and make this a “teachable moment” that our students can use for the rest of their lives?

American Association of University Professors. (2006). “On Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation.” Policy Documents and Reports. (10th ed.) Washington, D.C.: AAUP. This document is also available online at www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/policydocs/contents/collegiality.htm. Retrieved April 18, 2011.

Bresnick v. Manhattanville College, 864 F. Supp. 327, Ed. Law Rep. 121.

Cipriano, R.E. (2011). Facilitating a Collegial Department in Higher Education: Strategies for Success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cipriano, R.E. and Buller, J.L. (2012). The Collegiality Assessment Matrix: Its Time is Now. Academic Leader, 28, 1.

Mayberry v. Dees, 663 F.2nd 502 (4th Cir. Ct. 1981).

Stein v. Kent State University Board of Trustees, 994 F. Supp. 898 (N.D. Ohio 1998) aff’d 181 F. 3rd 103 (6th Cir. 1999).

University of Baltimore v. Iz, 716 A.2d 1107 (Md. Ct. App. 1998).

Robert E. Cipriano is senior partner in ATLAS, an internationally acclaimed business consulting in academic leadership, and Richard L. Riccardi is director of the Office of Management Information and Research at Southern Connecticut State University. Email: ciprianor1@southernct.edu, riccardir1@southernct.edu

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