We have a problem at our campus, and I’m sure it happens elsewhere. Civility is a real challenge. People get so mad at one another that it impedes our work. This happens with our board, our administrators, and yes, with faculty. Does the Executive Committee have any suggestions?
Trying to Get Along
You have identified one of great challenges for all of us and a significant reason for conflict in many of our colleges. There is no simple solution, although some faculty have suggested adding a magic elixir to college air conditioning systems to improve the atmosphere at their colleges. It takes courage and determination on the part of faculty leaders and all faculty to address the challenges of incivility, and a short response here only scratches the surface of some basic ideas regarding civil engagement. Nevertheless, we have the following suggestions for you.
Human behaviors are sometimes linked to fears: fear that my program will be cut; fear that I’m being treated differently than others; fear that student/peer/administrator/board comments will be used against me; fear that incivility will go unchecked. If possible, have discussions about what people fear, and put those issues on the table. Whenever possible, try to assuage unfounded fears quickly and then move on to finding solutions to perceived and real problems.
Set ground rules for meetings that everyone agrees to. Keep them visible during meetings so that everyone can help keep the peace. Each person at the meeting, in the department or in the senate has a responsibility to be professional and to expect professional behavior from others. Use techniques at meetings that keep the focus on the issues instead of people. Rather than say “I agree (or disagree) with Lois,” try saying “I agree (or disagree) that we go in that direction.” The goal of meetings is not to take sides but to solve problems.
Don’t be afraid to speak in a civil and gracious manner even when others are not speaking with such grace. It is hard to do so given our passion for certain issues, students, programs, and our senses of right and wrong. Vilifying colleagues rarely helps the situation. However, recognizing that one has stepped over the line in civil discourse means that there is opportunity for growth. If colleagues (students, board members, etc.) show improved behavior, let them know that you noticed.
Finally, borrowing a line from Star Trek, communication is the final frontier. Why should speaking directly with someone be the last option of choice? With more ways to communicate today, it often appears that we communicate less well with one another rather than better. Pick up the phone and call the person who seems frustrated or disgruntled and talk. Listen and try to find common ground. Then do it again. Have coffee, and let the person know why you care enough to talk to them directly. Has your senate developed a resolution or policy on professional communication?
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