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.
Trouble in paradise
Thompson asks to speak with you about a problem she is having with Dr. Dudas and suggests the two of you meet in a nearby coffee shop off campus. After exchanging pleasantries, Thompson indicates she is actively looking for another job. You are astounded and ask why. She tells you that Dr. Dudas is unbearable: he makes disparaging remarks to her, tells students she is incompetent, rolls his eyes when she speaks, and is toxic to her. You tell her you will take care of this and reassure her that she is a wonderful colleague who is very valuable to the department. When you return to campus, you establish a meeting with the dean for the next morning.
Meeting with the dean
After a restless night of non-sleep, you attend your meeting with the academic dean. You explain the dilemma to Dean Aptness and indicate how you can’t afford to lose Dr. Thompson. Dean Aptness states that Dr. Dudas is a tenured full professor and he “can’t really be that bad.” The Dean says she is thankful you are such a great chair, you are doing a tremendous job, and she knows you will handle this. Maybe, just maybe, this will all go away soon. After this “atta-boy” speech, you are dumbfounded at the lack of help you are given. What would you do in this or a similar case?
- Your department had a statement on collegiality in your mission statement?
- You had the support of the president, provost, dean, HR department, and full-time faculty regarding the importance of collegiality?
- You had knowledge of what the US courts have ruled regarding personnel decisions as it concerns collegiality?
- You had a meeting with your faculty to discuss the importance of working in a collegial department, what constitutes collegiality, and what comprises non-collegiality?
- Your university had collegiality as a criterion for tenure, promotion, and reappointment?
- Your university prominently featured the importance of collegiality in position announcements for new faculty?
- A campus culture was created that encouraged faculty members to hold each other accountable for professional standards of behavior?
- The faculty handbook contained clearly stated expectations for civil behavior for faculty, staff, students, and the administration?
- Faculty attended campus-wide workshops about the importance of the university climate on morale and productivity?
- There existed an objective instrument that measured a person’s collegial behavior or lack thereof?
- Collegiality was incentivized so that people were motivated to behave in a collegial way?
Non-collegial behavior is on the rise throughout all institutions of higher education. We have seen how one toxic person can ruin a once-great department. For practical answers to the question of how to foster a collegial department and university, I invite you to my pre-conference workshop at the Leadership in Higher Education Conference, October 6, 2016, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Robert E. Cipriano, a recognized expert on the topic of collegiality, is professor emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University, an advisory board member of Academic Leader, and senior partner in ATLAS: Academic Training, Leadership & Assessment Services.