Monday, June 17, 2013

Collegiality as Factor in Personnel Decisions. . . But Only for Faculty

The issue of collegiality as a factor in personnel decisions, especially for promotion, tenure and increasingly post-tenure review, is highly contentious.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

The issue sits at the center of an American cultural dilemma, one that prizes the rugged individual rising to great heights of socially productive work against the equally prized notion in American culture that tends to discipline and marginalize these very people for their anti-social behaviors.  And it implicates another dilemma:  the tension between shared governance and labor management within a university in which knowledge production is an individual enterprise that is dependent on a strong connection to a supportive community of scholars.

Sadly, the issue is hardly ever framed in the heroic terms I used above.  The usual context in which collegiality becomes an issue usually involves a moderately well producing colleague who is at best disruptive, in the sense that she makes her colleagues or managers uncomfortable, or who at worst is highly destructive of an intellectual community for reasons other than the pursuit of knowledge.  Worse, the issue tends to serve in managing faculty but not administrators.  Though administrative personnel are equally adept at destroying intellectual communities through anti-social and ruthless behaviors, the discussion of civility, and its use as a disciplinary technique, tend to be confined to its use by superiors to control inferior personnel.  This tendency to mix opportunism--the use of civility as a cover for the extension of administrative power over faculty--with the legitimate issue of balancing individual expression and the enhancement of knowledge communities, tends to misdirect discussion of civility.

Yet, "civility" as a cluster of expectations of communally protective behaviors, has become increasingly important within the academy.   This post includes parts of an informative article by (and links to) Colleen Flaherty, "Tenure's Fourth Rail," Inside Higher Education, June 14, 2013. It highlights the important work of Robert Cipriano, professor emeritus and former chair of the department of recreation of leisure studies at Southern Connecticut State University and Richard Riccardi, director of Southern Connecticut State’s Office of Management Information and Research.

Tenure's Fourth Rail
Inside Higher Education
June 14, 2013

Colleen Flaherty

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Collegiality can be a dirty word in higher education -- particularly in regard to tenure or promotion, where it frequently becomes a catchall for likability and other subjective qualities that some faculty advocates say can be used to punish departmental dissenters. But two researchers are trying – through data-based definitions and metrics – to sanitize collegiality enough for it to be a viable, fourth criterion in personnel decisions.

In academic departments, “what we want is productive dissent,” Robert Cipriano, professor emeritus and former chair of the department of recreation of leisure studies at Southern Connecticut State University, and author of Facilitating a Collegial Department in Higher Education: Strategies for Success, said . . .

Cipriano and his colleague, Richard Riccardi, director of Southern Connecticut State’s Office of Management Information and Research, have conducted several studies and written numerous articles about how department chairs deal with their jobs, including difficult personalities. Some 83 percent of department chairs in their current, national study of 528 chairs reported having or having had an uncivil or non-collegial professor in their department; in another, earlier study of 451 chairs, 79 percent said they would be in favor of having collegiality as a criterion for tenure and promotion if there was an “objective, validated tool” for assessing collegial behavior.

Clearly, Riccardi said, collegiality matters -- an idea outside research supports. Belonging to a collegial department figured higher in faculty satisfaction than did work and family policies, clear tenure policies and compensation, according to one cited study. Having just one “slacker or jerk” in the group can bring down the team’s overall performance by up to 40 percent. . . .

Fostering a culture of productive dissent means first developing operational definitions of collegiality and civility – lest they be subject to the “I know it when I see it” test, coined by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in reference to the hard-core pornography at issue in Jacobellis v. Ohio in 1964, Cipriano joked. As an adjective, “ 'collegial' indicates the way a group of colleagues take collective responsibility for their work together with minimal supervision from above.” Civility indicates politeness and courtesy, demonstrated by collaboration, speaking in a professional and respectful manner toward others and “stepping up” when needed, among other similar traits.

Non-collegial faculty consistently fail to demonstrate these traits, Cipriano said. “It’s not a bad day. It’s consistent behavior, over and over again, when that person is labeled a ‘jerk.’ ” Riccardi said uncivil behavior is on the rise, due to economic uncertainty, the “classic” mandate to do more with less, and less motivated and prepared students.

Developing definitions is only half the battle, however; they then have to be shared with faculty as expectations in faculty handbooks, collective bargaining agreements and contracts, Cirpriano said. Discussions of collegiality should be proactive, not just reactive or punitive. . . .

In a separate, private venture, Cipriano and another partner also have launched the Collegiality Assessment Matrix and Self-Assessment Matrix. Each assessment tool features 10 statements designed to clearly assess the level of collegiality of a faculty member, for which the reviewer must select a level of agreement, on a scale of one to five.

Statements on the peer-review matrix include: “The faculty member speaks in a professional manner to others in his or her unit. For example, he or she avoids making remarks that are caustic, disparaging, undermining, or embarrassing." Statements on the self-assessment are similar and include: "I behave in a professional manner toward others in my unit. For example, I avoid such behaviors as frequent displays of anger or irritability, contemptuous or dismissive conduct, or the refusal to grant others in the unit common courtesies." The program has been adopted by institutions in Miami-Dade College, and in Saudi Arabia, he said.

As the Cipriano and Riccardi expected, their proposal to legitimize the “fourth rail” of tenure both faced both interest and criticism.

Robert Kreiser, associate secretary of academic freedom, tenure and governance at AAUP, found fault in the presenters’ ideal of “productive dissent.” Dissent doesn't always have to be productive, he said; furthermore, “[Your presentation] doesn’t make sufficiently strong distinctions between toxicity and unproductive dissent." . . . .

Pointing out that gadflies might not be collegial, Kreiser added: "Socrates could have been a jerk."

Donna Brauer, professor of nursing at Minnesota State University at Mankato, also said she was skeptical of the idea of collegiality as a tenure criterion, as well as a tool for measuring it, due to its ineffability. While other tenure criteria – research, teaching and service -- are “is” questions, she said, recalling Hume’s law, collegiality is an “ought” question. “You can’t devise a tool to answer an ‘ought’ question."

Larry Backer, professor of law and international politics at Pennsylvania State University, said that formally incorporating collegiality into personnel decisions was “beautiful in theory,” but – in the absence of similar standards for administrators – could make faculty vulnerable to “perversion” of such codes by bosses who would use them to their own ends.

. . . . .

Whether or not it’s explicitly counted in such decisions, Riccardi said, “They’re already using it.” (Cipriano added that numerous courts, including the U.S Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 1981, in Mayberry v. Dees, have upheld a university’s right to deny tenure based on collegiality, or lack thereof).

. . . .

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

For those with more interest in this area, a 2009 Q&A with Professor Cipriano may be useful:  Robert Kelly, Faculty Collegiality: Q&A with Robert Cipriano, Faculty Focus (Higher Ed Teaching Strategies From Magna Publications), April 15, 2009.  Cipriano¡s last point is probably most worth emphasizing, especially as the beginnings of an assessment basis for administratoive personnel:

Q: If a department lacks collegiality, what is a good first step that a department chair can take to promote collegiality?

Cipriano: A chair promotes collegiality by being trustworthy and an excellent communicator. Also, an effective chair fosters collegiality by:
1. emphasizing consensus
2. sharing power
3. consulting with all faculty
4. de-emphasizing status differences
5. being constructive and informative
6. clarifying performance expectations (Ibid.)

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